Bringing Life to a System
It’s easy to get lost in the bureaucracy side of aviation safety management systems' (SMS):
- Policies and procedures;
- Safety accountabilities;
- SMS training;
- Risk management processes;
- Management of change;
- SMS documentation requirements;
- Demonstrating continuous improvement;
- And so on
I freely admit that in writing aviation safety articles, I find myself getting lost in writing about the bureaucratic side of SMS implementations. To speak frankly, it’s easy to get burned out. But the truth is that all aviation systems are enforced by people, human factors in safety programs play a decisive role, and where there are people, there is room for creativity.
Related Aviation SMS Implementation Articles
- Why Should We Implement Aviation SMS?
- SMS First Steps - How to Create an SMS Implementation Plan
- 5 Easy, Low-Cost Steps to Improve Aviation SMS Implementations
Aviation SMS Implementations Can Be Fun
An aviation SMS implementation isn't simply a large, impersonal and never-ending effort towards documenting risk management activities and demonstrating continuous safety improvement. SMS implementations can be more creative than that – and creativity is fun and inspiring.
In the case of many aspects of an aviation SMS implementation, a spark of creativity can breathe life into
- a stagnating or lackluster aviation SMS;
- non-performant or resistant safety cultures; and
- a safety manager’s satisfaction with his/her career.
Ask Creative Questions to Uncover Hazards and Risks
As aviation SMS implementations develop, grow, and change, risks and hazards can manifest in rather ingenious and unexpected ways. Having a creative approach toward implementing and maintaining an aviation SMS isn’t just about being creative, it is also about:
- Asking creative questions;
- Considering “what-if” risks that aren’t immediately obvious; and
- Thinking outside the box.
Asking and considering such what-ifs should be aimed at mitigating possible risks and hazards in the operational environment. This is a process of being proactive and even engaging in predictive risk management activities when you have data to support your analysis.
While mature aviation SMS have had the experience and time to develop highly effective, proactive/predictive analysis strategies, as well as their policies and procedures, they have also had the experience necessary to ask the right creative questions.
It’s an important point to note that mature SMS implementations are also creative systems.
Related Aviation Risk Management Articles
- Difference between Reactive, Predictive and Proactive Risk Management in Aviation SMS
- How to Practice Reactive, Proactive, and Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS
- Going from Reactive to Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS
Proactive Programs Are Adaptable
On a similar note, aviation SMS that have matured enough to become proactive will also have a much easier time being adaptable. Unlike newer SMS implementations whose level of adaptability remains focused on reactive risk management strategies, proactive SMS implementations are adaptable with their ability to be flexible and anticipate future events.
In other words, developed aviation SMS are adaptable in the way they deal with potential risks and hazards.
A great example for this is how an aviation SMS might incorporate a new technology, such as a new risk analysis algorithm for analyzing data, to address possible risks in the future. Adaptability, in this case, means creating more sophisticated changes (adapting) based on an increased ability/awareness of possibilities.
Simply put: adapting to possibilities.
Adaptable SMS Implementations Are Patient
Adaptability is also about the ability of a system to address sudden changes with efficiency, which is another way to say they are able to incorporate sudden changes quickly. Adaptability is a hallmark of aviation safety assurance. For SMS implementations to do this, they will have had to be:
- Small step oriented
- Firm in their implementation
Firm as in solidifying each piece of an aviation SMS implementation before trying to implement the next piece of the safety management system. When an aviation SMS implementation is patient, policies and procedures tend to fairly reflect real life practices.
When an implementation is rushed to try to incorporate too many changes too quickly, there will be deficiencies and gaps left in the aviation SMS. Such deficiencies, while not only being a risk in and of themselves, are another way of saying lack of adaptability.
Consider the following example: a smaller organization with a limited number of employees, where each employee holds a moderate level of responsibility. When one employee leaves and a new employee is hired, there will be an element of risk until the new employee is brought up to speed. In a small organization, such a change will definitely impact safety performance.
In this example, adaptable organizations will have well-documented rules, duties and responsibilities, but moreover, their documentation will be fairly in-line with the actual, real-life responsibilities. The benefit? The new employee only has to learn one job, as opposed to the job description in procedures and policies, AND the job as it is actually practiced.
Related Aviation SMS Articles
- Distinguishing between Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability in Your Aviation SMS
- Best Practices for Safety Accountabilities in Aviation SMS - with Resources
- 5 Steps to Define Safety Accountabilities in Aviation SMS
Recognize Key Personality Traits in Employees
I tend to tout the “SMS is reliance on a system rather than a person” horn often in articles, and while I certainly think this is the ultimate framework for aviation SMS implementations, the basic fact remains that aviation SMS are carried out by people. People from
- many different socio-economic backgrounds,
- levels of education,
- work experiences,
- ethnicity and cultural values, and
Getting employees to work cooperatively is an essential component of implementing safety systems to the point of maturity.
In fact, when it comes right down to it, even with-
- cooperative management
- creative policies and procedures
- and excellent organization and documentation
-if a safety manager cannot utilize the strengths of each employee towards the greater whole, the system will fail. As one commentator mentioned in a previous post about make it or break it aviation SMS, “you’re no better than the people who work for you, they will make you or they will break you.”
Key personality traits are also where safety managers can create creative applications of an SMS. It’s a matter of looking at a particular position and recognizing beneficial traits of the employee that holds the position, in order to cultivate progress in the function and responsibility of the position– both in actual practice and in the documentation.
Consider it this way:
- Recognizing key personality traits
- Growing the position around those traits
- Improving the SMS through clarification and growth of positions
The creative thing about this type of approach is that each organization, with its different personalities and strengths, will eventually develop a program whose integrity and maturity are built around the organization's unique needs. In short, this is one of the key indicators of a strong safety culture.
Final Thought – Finding Enjoyment
I have spoken with several aviation safety manager friends about their struggle to find satisfaction with their career. The prospect of never-ending, continuous safety improvement is daunting, to say the least.
For selfish reasons beyond trying to improve an aviation SMS, I think it would behoove every safety manager to make a concerted effort at finding creativity in SMS implementations for the simple goal of finding enjoyment in his/her workday.
Moreover, when employees can see and feel that their responsibilities are continually being honed towards what they do best, they can also find enjoyment.
Documenting duties and responsibilities for key safety personnel is a requirement for every aviation SMS implementation. Here are some templates of key safety positions for aviation SMS implementations, regardless of whether you are working at an airline, airport, or aviation maintenance organization.
Published January 2016. Last updated July 2019.