Idle Time Doesn’t Have to Be Dreaded
Aviation safety managers are hardworking professionals, and their daily work schedules can be hectic, challenging, and extremely busy. But for many safety officers – and I’m guessing you may be one of them – there may be times when things become pretty quiet on the "SMS front", as if everything is under control...finally. And a big sigh of relief comes.
Then you suddenly find yourself rubbing your hands together, wondering how to best spend your time. What can I do to add value to our aviation safety management system (SMS)?
Should I work on strengthening our safety culture? or
Maybe I should tidy up the SMS' documentation so an auditor won't have any concerns about how our reported safety issues have been treated?
Related Articles on SMS Documentation
- Why Documentation in Aviation SMS Is Important - Beyond Compliance
- 5 Times Documentation Saves Safety Managers in Aviation SMS
- Best Practices for Documenting Your Aviation SMS
What's Expected from Aviation Safety Managers?
I’m guessing the general consensus, or default expectation – and one I’m sure most safety managers dread – is to start:
- digging through your organization’s aviation safety policy and risk management procedures;
- analyzing documentation related to organizational hazards, associated risks and risk controls;
- self-auditing your SMS using an SMS implementation plan checklist; or
- reviewing safety accountabilities and safety training documentation.
For many SMS managers this is the default expectation. Safety officers will do just about anything they can to not have idle time. Most safety managers I have met are type A personalities. They are driven.
But because aviation SMS implementations have such broad scopes and encompass the entire organization, there are many little corners of "idleness refuge" that safety managers can count on. Moreover, these "idleness refuge areas" help the SMS implementation in small but extremely effective ways.
The Fun: Informal Socializing on a Personal Level
Socializing seems like a rather counter-intuitive way of helping improve an aviation SMS' effectiveness. But socializing is all about making your face a friendly one, and considering an aviation safety manager is the face of the aviation SMS (right behind the accountable executive), then socializing is *really* a clandestine and subtly effective safety promotion tool.
The great thing about socializing is that it’s active and fun. Plus, socializing is extremely beneficial for enhancing safety cultures regardless of whether the socializing directly references the aviation SMS, or whether it is simply informal chatter.
The benefits informal communications, such as water-cooler chats, work on several different levels.
For one, first and foremost, informal socializing gives you an opportunity to become more intimately acquainted with employees. Intimacy and community play significant roles in informally encouraging a culture of safety. When employees-
- See your face
- Enjoy a friendly exchange
- Learn something about you
-it sends the message that managers supporting the SMS implementation are active and involved in their work environment. Informal socializing has the tendency to cultivate teamwork and improve organizational communications in SMS implementations with weak safety cultures.
Moreover, when you remember the employees’ names and some tidbit about them, it earns their respect and makes them want to help the "friendly, personable, yet professional safety manager" by contributing to the safety team's apparent agenda of promoting safety and improving operational processes.
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- Career Advice for Aspiring Aviation Safety Managers
The Confirming: Informal Socializing about Organization's Aviation SMS
A second benefit of socializing is that it gives you an “off the record” way to get feedback about the SMS implementation.
What doesn't work?
What can be done better?
If you were doing my job, what would you do about xxx? (you pick your pain point)
Feedback is all about:
- Getting a sense of employee morale;
- Gauging the level of employee commitment to their SMS duties and responsibilities;
- Engaging employees and their thoughts on efficacy of the SMS implementation;
- Making employees feel involved in the accountable executive's "pet project;"
- Reinforcing that they are vitally important to improving safety and business processes; and
- Eroding invisible communication and cultural barriers between management and the workforce.
In many ways, feedback is simply emotional safety promotion.
And while in some ways feedback *does* play on employees’ vanity, it’s mainly about positive reinforcement through listening and discussing. Especially in organizations that struggle with resistance to change and the adoption of a "new way of doing business," informal socializing is a great way to reduce resistance to change for the majority of aviation safety managers.
The Informative: Data Research and Analysis
Some people love research, others don’t. Some people love analysis, others don’t. But one thing most people have in common is a fascination with data.
Data may be:
Thus, researching data about aviation issues in general, or analyzing data from your own SMS implementation is an extremely informative way to spend idle time. Data analysis helps safety managers truly understand risk management processes and the importance of classifying reported safety issues and audit findings.
Without classifying incoming safety issues properly, safety managers' analyses will lack depth and substance. Furthermore, the classification process in your documented risk management processes should be required! With a user-friendly SMS database, your entire organization benefits and classifying safety issues becomes another simple, easy-to-perform risk management task that adds tremendous future value to the organization.
Related Aviation SMS Database Software Articles
- What Is an Aviation Safety Database for SMS Implementations?
- How to Choose Aviation SMS Software - Educating SMS Professionals
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Safety Managers Love Trending Charts - For Good Reason!
I have written before – and I maintain to this day – that trending charts are the safety manager’s best friends. Trending charts will show you, in cold hard numbers, the relationship between just about any activity over time. Their ultimate benefit is that the goal of trending charts aligns exactly with the ultimate goal of predictive aviation SMS risk management activities:
to stop the accident from happening!
Beyond this, trending charts allow safety managers to:
- Get the most value out of data;
- Establish hazard relationships;
- Determine where to focus short and long term risk management activities; and
- Understand strong and weak performance areas of the SMS implementation.
Looking for External Data Sources to Help SMS Implementations
Beyond a safety manager’s own organizational data sources, researching over-arching safety data, such as perusing ICAO’s annual safety report, can be a rather stimulating way of absorbing aviation safety data, and thus understanding the SMS better as a whole.
Doing this, a safety manager might:
- Be pleased to see a 13% drop in safety accidents and 60% drop in fatalities between 2012 and 2013 (those numbers make a safety officer feel that their job *is* very important;
- Make a mental note for his/her organization that Accident Investigation is the least industry-wide implemented area of aviation safety at 54%;
- Want to see if his/her organization is below or on par with accident rates by category, such as Runway Safety accounting for an industry-wide 35% of accidents; or
- Identify system-wide safety concerns that may not have yet impacted their own operations.
The point is this: researching industry-wide data will make a safety manager an expert on how their own performance stacks up to the industry.
In other words, key performance indicators.
In order to compare apples-to-apples, the safety manager will need to be able to normalize their safety data to make an accurate comparison. This may be done manually in spreadsheets; however, the most efficient method is to have your aviation SMS database software normalize the data and present it for you.
External data sources provide an abundance of inspiration...causing safety managers to consider safety aspects from a different perspective. This may afford you the opportunity to "get ahead of a problem" before it adversely affects operational and safety performance. This is what a proactive safety manager would do, and this is what I think that you would also do. After all, the most successful safety managers are continuously improving their education and searching for new ways to perform their jobs more effectively and in a shorter period of time.
In short, we can easily surmise that a "paper SMS" where the operator is only interested in "checking the SMS box" will not likely be researching ways to improve operations via their "SMS vehicle" that they are paying for. It will be the proactive safety managers who are searching out for this information and these are commonly the safety managers who have already acquired Web-based SMS databases and are well-situated to conduct a statistical comparison of their safety activities to the industry.
Related Aviation SMS Database Software Articles
- 7 Signs You Need an Aviation Safety Management (SMS) Database
- When to Design Your Own Aviation SMS Database
- 5 Most Important Things to Know before Buying Aviation SMS Database
Idleness, if used in ways that are interesting and fun, can very easily become a time that safety managers look forward to.
It is also a good way to prioritize the oft-dreaded policies, procedures, risk controls and documentation review for times when it may be more relevant and pressing, such as before audits.
The long and short of the effective use of idle time is this: idle time gives you golden and stress-free opportunities to specifically focus on gaps identified during the gap analysis.Where does your SMS implementation currently sit in relation to the entire spectrum a regulatory compliant and performant SMS?
And what do you want your SMS implementation to be? A paper-SMS? Or one that will help prevent the next accident?
Published January 2016. Last updated May 2019.