Power of Safety Goals on Shaping Aviation Safety Culture
Goal-setting is required for every ICAO-compliant aviation SMS program. The objective of goal setting is to
- Improve an operator's safety performance;
- Shape organizational safety culture, which
- Contributes to the bottom line.
There is not a defined method to guide safety managers in goal setting. Every safety manager has their preferred strategies for goal setting. Their methods are commonly based on available tools and the SMART acronym.
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Goals and Objectives
- What Are Safety Objectives in Aviation SMS - with Examples
- How to Create Safety Objectives in Aviation SMS with Examples
- How to Maintain Monthly Aviation SMS Hazard Reporting Goals
If you are not familiar with SMART goals, the concept states that goals should be:
- Realistic; and
Safety goals and objectives have the powerful ability to set a vision to all employees participating in the aviation SMS. Safety managers must carefully choose and word their safety goals in order to send the right vision to the organization. Safety goals have incredible power to shape your safety culture and wrongly worded goals may send a conflicting message to employees.
Examples of Aviation SMS Goals
Safety managers frequently have brain-block when they try to come up with safety goals and objectives. More than once I've had safety managers confess that they take my sample SMS goals for their first couple of years. Safety managers slowly understand more about what SMS goals can do to monitor SMS performance.
One reason that safety managers have troubles in the early years of the SMS implementation is that their key performance indicators are not yet developed. You may call them SPIs or safety performance indicators, but I've always preferred the more generic term "key performance indicator." KPIs are the same as SPIs, except SPIs have either a direct or indirect relationship to safety.
Now isn't that a rub? I said that SPIs are either directly or indirectly related to safety. My gosh, that really narrows things down, doesn't it? That could mean anything. Well, you are right. KPIs or SPIs are related to your safety goals and objectives. Your safety goals are "your safety goals," which could realistically change from year to year.
Related Articles on Aviation Key Performance Indicators
- What Is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in Aviation SMS? - With Free KPI Resources
- 6 Sources for Aviation Key Performance Indicators
- How to Set and Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Existing SMS
If you are like many other safety managers who need some inspiration for aviation SMS goals, here are some to use right away. Feel free to modify them as you see fit. You should also get an idea of which KPIs may support these goals.
Sample Aviation SMS Goals
- Identify and eliminate hazardous conditions within our aviation related processes and operations;
- Perform hazard and risk assessment for all proposed new equipment acquisitions, facilities, operations and procedures;
- Promulgate an on going systematic hazard and risk assessment plan;
- Provide relevant SMS training/ education to all personnel;
- Provide a safe, healthy work environment for all personnel;
- Minimize accidents/incidents that is attributable to organizational factors;
- Prevent damage and injury to property and people resulting from our operations;
- Improve effectiveness of safety management system through yearly safety audit that reviews all aspects of the SMS.
Creating the Vision with Aviation Safety Goals
Our western culture commonly measures accidents (or lack of) as an indicator of success. I'm not sure this is the most appropriate measure for healthy safety cultures. Does your company have safety promotion signs, like:
- xxx Days since last accident; or
- Zero Accidents is Our Goal!
These types of goals indicate that your organization is interested in measuring accidents or reducing accidents. There is no indication of how you plan on achieving this goal. More appropriate goals may revolve around:
- Hazard reporting (number or safety reports);
- Safety meetings (frequency and average attendance);
- Time to close safety-related tasks (corrective actions, issues, investigations);
- Time to start and close investigations;
- Employee participation in SMS (safety reporting, read files, SMS training, etc.);
- Percentage of audits completed on time
Again, these goals (some may call them objectives) are measuring healthy activities that contribute to the ideal goal of "Zero Accidents." The problem with goals that measure accidents is that these goals state an outcome and not an informative strategy to achieve the lofty objective of "zero accidents." This goal of "zero accidents" also stresses an importance of accidents and not on close calls, hazards or irregularities.
These goals, and the KPIs behind them are what the safety team and accountable executive should be focusing on as they monitor SMS performance.
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Performance Monitoring
- How to Monitor Aviation SMS Performance - Safety Chart
- 5 Useful Safety Performance Monitoring Tools in Aviation SMS
- My Safety Score - What's Yours? Aviation SMS Performance Monitoring
What Vision Do You Want to Communicate with Your Goals
What vision does your safety team and the accountable executive want to communicate to employees when you want "Zero Accidents?"
More positive visions can be created with a statement like "135 Issues Reported" for a goal, such as "Increase hazard reporting by 10%."
I'm not saying that every goal can be worded appropriately to contribute to the organizational vision of being a safe, proactive workplace. What may be appropriate is that there are two sets of goals:
- one private set for management; and
- another public set for safety promotion.
The public facing set of goals is designed to shape the corporate vision.
Tracking Safety Goals and Objectives
Safety teams become rightly apprehensive when tasked to come up with safety goals and objectives. The apprehension comes from the inability to easily collect, sort and generate reports that complement organizational safety goals. Larger companies that have quality management systems, or integrated safety and quality management systems, commonly have databases that monitor organizational quality. These databases are flexible enough to track other types of systems, including:
- Environmental; and
Sadly enough, most safety managers are still stuck using spreadsheets or point solutions in tandem with email and spreadsheets to manage SMS documentation requirements.
Monitoring safety goals manually from a spreadsheet is brutal for even the most dedicated safety manager. What happens is that safety teams may update their spreadsheets wholeheartedly for the first year, and grudgingly the second year. Then nothing the third year.
SMS Database Tracks Safety Goals Most Effectively
There are easier, more sustainable ways to track safety goals. Modern commercially available SMS databases store all SMS data in a centralized database. The advantage is that many safety goals are tracked automatically for you. In addition, it becomes very easy to set and monitor KPIs that are associated with safety goals.
Even smaller companies with 40 to 50 employees can afford these modern SMS databases. There are no excuses for accountable executive to jeopardize their operating certificates over a few thousand dollars per year.
Related Aviation SMS Database Articles
- What Is an Aviation Safety Database
- 5 Most Important Things to Know before Buying Aviation SMS Database
- How to Choose Aviation SMS Software - Educating SMS Professionals
Besides tracking safety goals, these SMS databases are capable of serving as:
- safety reporting system;
- SMS training manager;
- risk management processes;
- proactive hazard analysis (safety risk analysis);
- hazard register;
- auditing system, and much more.
If you need an SMS database to track safety goals, then you should get one SMS software system that can handle all SMS documentation. When your SMS data is strung across the enterprise like dirty laundry in a bachelor's house, SMS auditors become concerned. A best practice is to use a commercial system that was designed specifically to address ICAO SMS documentation requirements.
Spreadsheets and point solutions make tracking safety goals more difficult and more prone to copy/paste and calculating errors. Over the past dozen years, we have seen many medium-sized operators go through an SMS data management maturation phase.
In the beginning years of their SMS implementations, these medium-sized operators use custom built, in-house databases to manage SMS data. They may retro-fit an existing software tool, like SharePoint or a help desk ticketing system to manage safety issues. Does this sound familiar?
We continue to see a pattern that in about eight years, the organization realizes that their in-house systems cannot talk to each other and they don't have a way to present data to management in a timely and professional manner. That is when these operators start hunting for commercially available SMS database to replace their short-sighted SMS data management strategy.
Aviation service providers will suffer a lot of pain before they abandon the SMS data management system. Truth be told, they are loath to abandon any software system, despite how painful it may be. In this case, when you SMS data management strategy is not working, something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
SMS is a process. You will not benefit from the SMS unless you can easily manage all the SMS documentation. And I mean more than simply copy/pasting emails to a spreadsheet or a point solution and managing the reported safety issue or audit findings. These are common hacks that serve no good toward the ultimate goal of using this data for predictive risk management. The single database approach is best. Otherwise, you will not be able to routinely create reports to assist in decision making.
Related Articles on Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS
- The Truth about What Predictive Risk Management Is
- Best Data Mining Methods: Predictive Aviation Safety Risk Management
- How Aviation Safety Managers Reach Predictive Analysis Phase
Final Thoughts on Creating Vision with Safety Goals
Properly worded safety goals and objectives have the power to shape employee behavior. The use safety goals on safety promotion materials carries the additional benefit of aligning safety culture to organizational goals. Periodically reinforce organizational commitment in:
- Safety newsletters (articles by accountable executive or penned by safety team);
- Safety messages (read files);
- Safety surveys designed to instruct and generate awareness;
- Safety posters and banners.
Most aviation SMS share organizational goals and objectives with all employees. You may not be comfortable sharing all safety goals and objectives, but the ones you do share should be carefully considered.
Structure the message of public facing goals in a positive light that will shape behavior and improve the safety culture. I am sincerely hoping the days of the bland "Zero Accidents is Our Goal" are over.
Finally, if you cannot easily track and monitor safety goals, it will not be done year after year. That is not a sustainable process. Don't be the safety manager that at the last minute scrambles before auditors come to set and monitor safety goals and objectives. It doesn't have to be that way.
If you need an SMS database to manage all SMS documentation, as well as help you track safety goals and KPIs, we can help. SMS Pro has been helping aviation service providers address SMS compliance since 2007. SMS Pro is a full-featured database. The original developers continue to support and enhance the system. We work with all aviation industry SMS.
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Posted November 2018. Last updated May 2020.
An E4-B aircraft ground crew member... image by PICRYL