SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

Social Psychology of Risk in Aviation SMS

Posted by Tyler Britton on May 7, 2018 4:44:00 AM

Why Social Psychology of Risk Is Important

Social psychology of risk in aviation SMSSocial psychology plays a tremendously important role in safe operations. In fact, it may play the most important role in safety outcomes. Safety performance in your aviation safety program will hinge on your ability to create a climate of positive social psychology through:

Human Factors play a major role in the social psychology of risk; however, they don’t completely explain it, as there are other factors too.

Major factors that affect the social psychology of risk in SMS are:

  • How informed employees are about applicable danger;
  • How familiar employees are with their tasks;
  • How accurately employees estimate their capabilities;
  • Existing Norms; and
  • The risk tolerance of role models and leaders.

Let’s look at how these factors affect the social psychology of risk.

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Knowledge of Dangers

Severity of outcomes while performing certain tasks tends to have a good effect on employee’s tolerance of risk. In other words, knowing dangers has a positive effect on the psychology of risk.

When employees know a particular task has severe consequences for poor safety behavior, they tend to be more aware of how their actions affect risk.

On a social level, risks need to be communicated to employees via safety training and promotion. When many employees are aware of potential danger, it can have a very good social effect on safety for many tasks.

Familiarity with Tasks

Being familiar with tasks can have a very negative effect on the psychology of risk, especially in the case of rote or boring tasks. As employees become very familiar with their routine tasks from performing them day after day successfully, their vigilance will lapse.

Combating this on a social level can be difficult. One good option is to use many safety checklists. At the very least, this will ensure that certain tasks are completed in full.

Secondly, promoting a policy of “trust but verify” is another good way to positively affect risk sociology with safety promotion.

It should be mentioned that familiarity with tasks can have a positive effect on risk awareness when employees have personal experience with negative outcomes.

Accurately Estimating Capability to Perform Task

Inexperienced employees, or employees who are unfamiliar with tasks, tend to have expectation of capability that far exceeds actual ability.

Experience employees tend to have a fairly accurate measure of their personal capability. It is one of the reasons have experience employees is a good way to create a very good social climate of safety awareness.

Finding ways to make employees satisfied with their jobs is important for safety, as they will gain experience under the umbrella of your organization. Just consider that employees with less than one year of experience are responsible for a majority of aviation incidents.

How Assertiveness Affects Risk

Lack of Assertiveness on a social level is an extremely risky climate. Companies with silos, bullying, and other negative social pressures will inevitably suffer from more adverse incidents that were otherwise avoidable.  

Safety managers have long been trained on the dangers of not speaking up, as there have been many aviation accidents caused by Lack of Assertiveness. At the very least, employees should:

  • Feel comfortable reporting safety issues;
  • Be able to report issues anonymously; and
  • Be able to report issues without certain managers intervening.

This will ensure that employees have options to be assertive. Even better is a social climate where employees can actively speak up.

Existing Norms

Norms naturally play a big role in the social psychology of risk. The way other employees act will affect each employee’s actions every day.

When Norms are bad, employees have incentive (social pressure) to either:

  • Behave in-line with other employees; or
  • Not act in accordance with desired safety behavior.

One of the primary purposes of Safety Promotion is to create positive Norms.

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Role Models / Leaders Accepting Risk

Employees will look to role models and leaders as exemplifying the kind of risk tolerance that they too should adopt. Leaders who care about safety can create a very positive social risk psychology. On the other hand, they can destroy safety culture as well.

Finding good safety leaders is tough and is not something your SMS necessarily has direct control over. In programs with lack of safety leaders, safety management should heavily promote the safety program as providing the leadership/guidance for how to act. This is much easier said than done.


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