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5 Things You Wish You Knew before Your First Aviation SMS Implementation

Posted by Christopher Howell on May 8, 2019 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Aviation SMS Implementations Take Years to Fully Mature

5 Lessons Learned in Aviation SMS Implementations at airlines, airports and maintenance organizations

Safety managers are fresh, fully motivated when starting their aviation SMS implementations.

SMS Implementations are marathons, not sprints. Initially, you will be able to have many short bursts to get you out of the starting gate. These short bursts may be attributed to:

  • Management pressure;
  • Upcoming audits (regulatory or client); or
  • Stage of your aviation SMS implementation.

Regardless of whether this is the first time you have implemented an SMS program, or whether you have participated in others, we hope to share some lessons.

Aviation Safety Managers’ Hindsight Is 20/20

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and do something over? This is especially true after you have the experience. I have seen a lot of SMS implementations. And I have spoken with hundreds of safety managers and worked with them in various stages of the SMS implementations.

Related Aviation SMS Implementation Articles...

Here are some lessons learned that hopefully will give you some vicarious experience.

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1. Not Everyone Is Interested in Your Aviation SMS

For most aviation service providers, aviation SMS programs are required. Most employees believe they are already safe.

I'm as guilty as they come when it comes to being apathetic to the boss' safety program. In my twenties, I worked in the timber industry. We'd have weekly safety meetings on Friday. To me, they were a waste of time. I was not atypical. You will find many employees don't care about your safety program.

This will include other managers.

Your job is safety. Their department is (you pick...operations, maintenance, cabin, engineering, facilities). From my perspective, these operational managers want you to focus on the safety requirements and let them focus on their operational requirements.

These managers who believe this need to be trained on SMS principles. SMS implementations affect the entire organization, and managers should be actively involved in the SMS implementation.

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2. Gap Analysis Is Your Best Friend

Most aviation safety managers know what a gap analysis is. I am guessing that most safety managers perform the gap analysis once. This is an educated guess based on our data. Approximately 10-15% of safety managers will perform a gap analysis regularly.

Aviation Safety Solutions have gap analysis tools to use as checklists to ensure the SMS program is on track

The gap analysis should be your primary SMS implementation checklist; although there are SMS implementation plans as well.

A gap analysis checklist is more detailed than an SMS implementation plan checklist.

There are many models for a gap analysis, such as:

Review the gap analysis checklist annually. Submit any shortcomings as an issue and manage the corrective preventive actions accordingly.

Related Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Articles...

3. Safety Champion Does Not Have to Be Safety Manager

For the smoothest SMS implementations, I recommend that you solicit a safety champion. A safety champion is:

  • A safety super-hero;
  • Visible to employees;
  • Charismatic;
  • An excellent communicator;
  • A highly positive influence on others (management & line employees).

I have to speak plainly. I know hundreds of safety managers and not all of them fit into the safety champion mold. Some of them are simply not charismatic or engender excitement to a cause.

If you are starting your SMS implementation, and you do not consider yourself a safety champion, find somebody in your company who can help promote the safety program.

Safety champions help smooth out the rough spots with managers and employees - and every SMS implementation has rough spots. If necessary, take this idea to the accountable executive and advise him of the need for the safety champion.

A safety champion isn't doing the heavy lifting in the safety program. Furthermore, once the SMS implementation is well underway, there will be little need for the safety champion, unless he also happens to be the safety manager.

4. Use Audit Checklists As Pre-Audit Preparation

SMS audits are a fact of life. Get used to them. I know a Canadian operator who has successfully passed at least 50 SMS audits in the past seven years. Their company is known as having a best-in-class SMS program. She has experience and she prepares for their arrival.

A typical Russian trait is to wait until the last minute for everything.

Studying for a test? Wait until the last moment.

Have a project that takes three months to complete? Start on it three days before the due date.

An SMS implementation commonly requires three to five years to become fully mature. You cannot be a Russian and wait three days before the auditor is expected to arrive and hope to have stellar results.

I recommend that you use an audit checklist to prepare for your audits. Time spent reviewing the audit checklist will pay dividends when the SMS auditors arrive. You will know exactly what they need to see. It is not uncommon for a prepared safety manager to have an SMS auditor leave within two hours after arrival.

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5. This Is Your Boss’ SMS Program

Telling Upper-Level Managers about the Boss SMS program is a better way to gain Support

Safety managers devote considerable time and energy to ensure the SMS implementation runs smoothly. There are considerable amounts of SMS documentation required, not to speak of:

  • SMS training;
  • Safety promotion activities (safety newsletters, safety posters, safety surveys);
  • Safety assurance activities; and
  • Risk management activities.

Due to the emotional investment in the SMS program, aviation safety managers tend to take ownership of the safety program. This is a good thing! What safety managers need to stress to others is that you are implementing this safety program for the boss, the accountable executive.

There will be less resistance to the safety program when other employees see that you are working "for the boss."

Remember, this is NOT "your SMS program," BUT the "boss' SMS program."

Final Thoughts on SMS Implementations

Just because you pass an SMS audit one year does not mean you will do well in succeeding audits. SMS auditors change tactics and focus on different SMS elements as your SMS program matures.

Aviation Safety SMS Software Tools offers assurance to accountable executives

After your third year, you should have a well-developed hazard register. A hazard register requires the participation of all operational managers to review risks and control measures. Don't focus too much on the hazard register in your first year or two. Focus on reactive risk management strategies, policies and initial SMS training for managers and employees.

Good aviation SMS software tools save time and keep your company well organized. It is painful to see safety managers run around with their hair on fire whenever an SMS audit approaches. Good aviation SMS software tools ensure accountability and can be used by the entire company, thereby distributing the aviation SMS documentation workload. The best tools will certainly provide a good return on investment. See the benefits of aviation SMS software tools.

Good luck with your SMS implementation.

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Published February 2016. Last updated May 2019.

Topics: Aviation SMS Implementation

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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