Successful Aviation SMS Implementation Through Self-Reflection
The process of aviation SMS implementation in airports, airlines, and other aviation service providers is largely a process of understanding where many parts of your aviation safety program are, and what is needed to successfully reach the next step in your plan.
That sounds nice and easy on paper, but actual realities are quite a bit more complex.
The fact is that self-reflection in aviation safety programs is a difficult activity. This is mainly due to the reasons below, all of which highlight the fact that implementation in aviation SMS is always a study in relativity.
- Aviation safety programs can be huge, with many qualitative and quantitative parts;
- SMS is dynamic, and as internal and external forces work on a program, it might itself suddenly much further along or further behind than the previous week; and
- The performance of an aviation safety program will fluctuate day to day, and pinpointing a level of implementation requires looking at larger trends in a company.
Successful SMS Implementation through Self-Reflection
SMS implementation is like being on a football field whose lines are always shifting. A moment ago you were on the 20 yard line, but the working environment shifts – i.e., FAA unveils a policy change, your aviation safety manager leaves, employee turnover, etc. – and suddenly you’re back at the 15 yard line.
So when we say SMS implementation is relative, it simply means that we measure implementation against goals that are ever changing. Simply put, implementing safety programs is dynamic. A critical part of understanding your own implementation is understanding how you approach it.
While many approaches to aviation SMS implementation have been tried, we can probably group them into one of the following three categories.
1 – Quantitative Approach to SMS Implementation
The quantitative approach to SMS implementation focuses on time-based implementation. What this looks like is the following:
- Performance for reaching goals in the 4 phases of SMS implementation is dictated by how “on pace” it is with the overall time-goals of the implementation;
- Implementation plans will revolve around efficiency in order to mature a program as much as possible within a given time frame; and
- Is considered quantitative because – ideally – you would be able to measure how far along the SMS implementation is simply by counting the amount of time that has passed since the beginning of implementation.
The upside of this approach is that implementation will necessarily have a very detailed, structured plan in order to keep pace with time. The downside is that it might not allow for time to address issues that arise before moving on to the next set of implementation goals (in order to keep pace).
A good way to summarize this approach vs the Qualitative approach is that the Quantitative approach is always concerned with the “bigger picture.”
2 – Qualitative Approach to SMS Implementation
The qualitative approach towards aviation SMS implementation focuses goals on various milestones or “phases.” With this approach, safety mangers are most concerned with the overall maturity of the safety program above all else. What this looks like is:
- Performance is based on how well the program is meeting its current implementation goals; and
- Setting goals is often in reaction to the behaviors, actions, and needs of current environment rather than by “forcing” goals to happen by a certain time.
This approach can definitely be considered a “natural approach” due to letting the maturity of safety behaviors and safety attitudes in the program evolve at its own pace – safety mangers using this approach might say, “…with the pace it needs.”
The clear potential benefit of such an approach is lack of resistance to change, as well as being having a close relationship between the SMS bureaucratic backbone and actual practice and behaviors. The downside is that this type of implementation can take a long time.
Unlike the quantitative approach, this approach is not concerned with the “bigger picture” so much as the highest priority needs of the moment, and is definitely the most “safety performing” of the three approaches.
3 – Rapid Approach to SMS Implementation
Long story short, the primary goal of the rapid approach is to bring the organization into compliance with SMS regulations as quickly as possible, regardless of whether or not fundamental changes in safety practices and safety attitudes have actually taken place. This approach will:
- Usually feature very aggressive aviation SMS training regiments in order to meet compliance requirements quickly; and
- Highly focus on documentation, policies, and procedures, and acquiring SMS tools to rapidly meet SMS requirements.
This approach is the most “prescriptive” of the three, and the primary benefit is that once SMS requirements have been met safety managers can shift most of their effort to cultivating quality safety behavior.
Why Approach Matters: Choose SMS Implementation Tools
I’m not suggesting that any safety management teams out there are rigidly using one approach for their aviation SMS implementation. Rather, I would hope that pointing out these behaviors is useful to identify:
- The natural leaning of your company towards one approach or another; and
- When/where you adopt different approaches to meet different implementation needs in your company.
Also, being able to identify your approach(es) will be extremely useful for choosing different tools for aviation safety program implementation.
- Quantitative: calendar notifications for tasks, methodical approach to scheduling training in advance, etc. – many time based, task based tools with built in reminder functionality;
- Qualitative: Complex use of charts, data, and surveys to make various interpretations about different aspects of the program; and
- Rapid: vigorous training schedule and SMS compliance tools.
Here are some checklists to review your aviation SMS implementation, or if you are merely beginning the process, offer a road map to your SMS program.