SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Use Leading Indicators in Aviation SMS

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jan 31, 2018 5:48:00 AM

What is an Aviation Leading Indicator

How to use aviation leading indicatorsAviation leading indicators measure the safety inputs of your SMS activities.

Safety inputs are the behaviors, attitudes, skills, and other factors that lead to safety performance outcomes. Safety outcomes are simply how well you organization mitigates hazard/risk occurrence as they arise in your operational environment.

Adopting leading indicators is very helpful for organizations because they:

  • Maximize your ability to tap into existing aviation safety data;
  • Reveal root causes for positive and negative safety performance;
  • Save significant amount of time trying to make sense of safety data; and
  • Ensure that the right decisions are being made in response to safety outcomes.

Leading indicators are given in the forms of metrics, such as:

  • Percentages;
  • Rates; and
  • Averages.

Leading indicators are usually a composite of two highly correlated pieces of safety data.

How to Create Leading Indicators

To create leading indicators, your company should have a significant number of different safety data. While this is not a requirement for all aviation leading indicators, it is a requirement for most.

Here is a list of 40 leading indicators to get you started:

 Our list of leading aviation SMS leading indicators is completely free!

A good place to start with leading indicators is to adopt a few leading indicators early on in SMS implementation. Some examples of places to start are:

  • Frequency of safety meetings;
  • Number of risk controls vs. number of high-risk reported issues; and
  • Average time to close safety issues per each risk level.

These are leading indicators that require little historical data to get started. After this, the process for creating leading indicators is:

  • Identify two pieces of important safety data, such as:
    • Meetings,
    • Reported issue severity,
    • Employee turnover, etc.
  • Compare these two pieces of data in a unique way, such as:
    • Rate of employee turnover vs. average risk assessment;
    • Number of hazards vs. number of hazards where reporter was given direct feedback;
    • Number of employees vs. number of employees whose safety performance was reviewed in last year;
    • Number of jobs with checklists vs percentage of safety issues where job task was root cause of issue.
  • Track these metrics over time and see if there are meaningful trends.

When you identify meaningful trends, you have identified an important aviation leading indicator that you can use to predict performance.

Furthermore, identifying these trends allows you to use safety promotional and safety risk management tools to influence safety performance at its root level.

What is Difference Between Leading and Lagging Indicators

Aviation leading indicators measure the performance inputs of your SMS. Aviation lagging indicators measure the performance output. We’ve discussed input, but safety outputs are simply the hard numbers.

Hard numbers measure historical data, such as total number of high risk issues reported in last year.

Leading indicators usually compare two or more lagging indicators in order to identify a trend and understand/predict future performance.

Lagging indicators identify one area of performance in order to understand the historical performance of the SMS.

Lagging indicators are what most aviation SMS develop through use of trending charts, key performance indicators, and data analysis. The danger with trying to use a lagging indicator to identify future performance is the mantra:

  • Past successes/failures are not future guarantees.

In other words, lagging indicators are great for reports and letting stakeholders know how the program is doing. Leading indicators are an indispensable risk management tool for safety managers to use to make good safety decisions for the future. For more information, see this article on leading vs. lagging indicators.

What is Relationship Between Leading Indicators and KPIs

Leading indicators can make excellent KPIs. KPIs can make excellent leading indicators. But many KPIs will not make good leading indicators, and many leading indicators will not make good KPIs.

Leading indicators make excellent KPIs ONLY IF a leading indicator is closely related with one of your company goals. In this case, leading indicators are better than their lagging indicator alternative.

For example, consider the following:

  • Objective: improve employee safety culture
  • Lagging KPI: average satisfaction from safety survey
  • Leading KPI: average satisfaction rating vs rate of employee turnover

The leading KPI places lagging indicator in context. The lagging KPI does not answer the question: does improved safety survey satisfaction data lead to better employee retention? The leading KPI DOES answer this question, and is a better indicator of actual key performance.

Examples of Great Leading Indicators

A few helpful leading indicators that most aviation safety programs can adopt without sophisticated risk management tools are:

  • % Employees Who Can Access Aviation Safety Training in Native Language;
  • Frequency of Safety Meetings;
  • % SMS Training Courses Featuring End-Of-Course Assessment;
  • % Employees’ Performance Review That Is Safety Related;
  • % Employees With Over 5 Years Employment At Company;
  • Average Turnover Rate Per Year;
  • % Jobs That Have Checklists; and
  • Average Number Days To Complete CPAs / Close Issues By Risk Level.

Furthermore, some of these leading indicators make may good key performance indicators.

You may also find the following helpful for evaluating your SMS:

SMS Quality Quiz

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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