SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

Roles in Aviation SMS: Essential Roles Every SMS Should Have

Posted by Tyler Britton on Feb 13, 2019 5:58:00 AM

What Are Roles in Aviation SMS Software

Essential roles in aviation SMS

Roles in aviation SMS software are different categories of permissions and access assigned to users accessing your SMS database. Each role will have different responsibilities and authority.

Roles allow you to organize the human elements in your safety management system. This helps you:

  • Manage your expectations of employees;
  • Provide guidance for what is expected of each employee based on his/her role; and
  • Control access to information based on roles.

Developing roles is one of the first things you need to do when implementing your aviation safety management system. Roles should be:

  • Mapped out in your org chart;
  • Included in your safety policy;
  • Described in detail by listing each role’s responsibility/authority; and
  • Assigned to individuals in your company.

For example, John Doe might have a role of SMS-Investigator and SMS-Safety-Manager. Jane Doe might have a role of Accountable-Executive.

Over time employees role will change as they are promoted/demoted in your organization. You may even need to add/remove roles as your organization changes.

List of Common Roles in Aviation Safety Management

It’s extremely important to point out that SMS roles are not the same as roles in your company. SMS roles are specific to the safety program, including:

  • Authority for making safety decisions;
  • Access to safety information;
  • Safety communication and hierarchy; and
  • Duties and responsibilities in managing safety.

The most common roles that you will see in nearly every aviation service provider’s aviation SMS are:

  • Accountable Executive role;
  • Safety Manager role;
  • SMS User role;
  • Data Entry role;
  • Subject Matter Expert role (usually called Department Head role);
  • Confidential Manager role;
  • Investigation Team role;
  • Safety Team role; and
  • Vendor role.

This article will look at the roles bolded above. Aviation Service providers will also have additional roles that are specific to their operations. For example, an airline will probably have a Pilot role. An airport may have a Security role.

Accountable Executive Role in SMS

The Accountable Executive role in aviation SMS is the person ultimately responsible for the SMS. Each organization will only have one Accountable Executive. Here are the markers of this role:

  • Owns the safety management system;
  • In charge of providing funding and other resources;
  • In charge of ensuring the SMS is being implemented;
  • In charge of ensuring actions are taken on the SMS to maintain compliance;
  • Answerable to stakeholders for negative performance; and
  • Responsible for organizing the SMS.

This role is usually fairly “hands off” in that they will not interact with the SMS every day. Mostly, this role will delegate responsibilities to others, and then receive regular status reports. The Accountable Executive must ensure that responsibilities that are delegated are actually being carried out.

Safety Manager Role in SMS

The Safety Manager role in SMS is the steward of the safety management system. Besides the Accountable Executive, they have the most authority in the SMS. Here are the markers of a Safety Manager role:

  • Responsible for day to day management of SMS;
  • Should NOT be the same person as Accountable Executive (conflict of interest);
  • Champions getting budget and resources;
  • Usually one safety manager in smaller organization or one per division in larger organizations;
  • In smaller organizations, may also hold duties of Subject Matter Expert;
  • Responsible for managing day to day implementation effort;
  • Responsible for ensuring safety issues are being managed in a timely manner;
  • Responsible for proactive risk identification;
  • Develops operational risk profile and Safety Risk Management process, by documenting the SMS;
  • May also assess and assign issues.

By the time an organization reaches around 80 people, the organization’s Safety Manager should be a full time safety personnel. He/she is the expert of all things safety related: compliance, performance, documentation, and policy.

In smaller organizations with less things to accomplish in the SMS, the Safety Manager role may be assigned to someone who also has non-safety duties (pilot, department head, etc.)

Subject Matter Expert Role (Department Head) in SMS

The Subject Matter Expert role, usually called the Department Head role, is someone who knows the ins and outs of a particular part of an organization. The markers of this role are:

  • Responsible for managing corrective actions (assigning them, reviewing them);
  • May perform investigatory work on issues to establish root causes;
  • Usually manages a particular department or is a long time employee;
  • Responsible for managing safety issues that are assigned to them by the safety manager; and
  • Has some level of authority (formal, informal) in the business structure.

Subject matter experts manage issues in their particular area of knowledge because they likely know the best fix for that issue. Department heads also carry authority in the business structure of an organization. In small organizations with little complexity, the same person might have both the Department Head role and the Safety Manager role – this is okay so long as it’s manageable.

Typically, an organization will have a Department Head role assigned for every 20-30 employees.

Data Entry Role in SMS

The Data Entry role is a very useful role because it allows otherwise regular employees to have elevated access to safety information for the purpose of entering data or retrieving data (i.e., “reading from” and “writing to” the SMS). For example, this role might be given to an administrative assistant.

The markers of this role are:

  • Enter data into safety spreadsheets or SMS software;
  • Pull reports from spreadsheets/software;
  • File reports on behalf of other people; and
  • In manual SMS, should be responsible for maintaining electronic file record of safety information.

This role does not make safety decisions, they simply help manage safety data.

SMS User Role in Aviation Safety Management

The SMS User role in aviation safety management is the base role assigned to employees. It simply means: this person is an employee and is responsible for interacting with the SMS. In general, here are the markers of an SMS User role:

  • Front line employees and other staff;
  • Responsible for identifying and reporting hazards in the operational environment; and
  • Low level of safety decision making power.

The SMS User role will be assigned to a majority of users in your organization.

Final Thought: Additional Roles Your SMS Should Have

It’s outside the scope of this article (covered in another article) but additional roles your SMS may have are:

  • Investigation Team role;
  • Confidential Manager role;
  • Safety Team role;
  • Vendor role; and
  • Safety Committee role.

These roles fill specific safety function, and most of them will help you further organize your safety management efforts.

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Topics: 1-Safety Policy, Safety Roles and Responsibilities

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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