Apathy: The SMS Killer
Apathy is the bane of any aviation SMS program.
Apathy is the most insidious kind of resistance any aviation safety manager will face. It can take many forms, such as:
- Lack of budget approval
- Lack of participation
- Poor hazard reporting numbers
- Lack of accident improvement
- Lack of SMS program’s growth
- Resistance to change via doggedly following old procedures
The list goes on.
When employees and/or management doesn’t care about their SMS program, employees will regard it similarly to the way most people regard the “Employee Rights” posters – they hardly ever look at, and rarely think about except when they have to.
While that comparison may be a tad extreme, it’s certainly in the same vein. Aviation SMS programs cannot grow when employees don’t care about them.
Here are three reasons why employees are generally apathetic about your aviation SMS program.
1 – Don’t Feel Engaged
Engagement plays a critical role in helping employees care about their SMS program. When employees aren’t engaged it’s usually because the SMS program is passive.
Engagement means employees have consistent and easy access to safety issues, information, training resources, and safety philosophy.
This can take many forms:
- Convenient hazard reporting methods
- Consistent and useful safety surveys
- Regular interaction with the safety manager
- Training that is interactive or interesting/fun
I have observed that when employees aren’t engaged, it’s a direct result of the SMS program not being pushed into their field of vision enough.
2 – Don’t Feel Opinion Matters
Few people like it when areas of their life change without their opinion. We have words for it:
While that’s not what necessarily exactly happens in an SMS program when employees feel that-
- They have no input
- Things are the way they are because management decided it to be that way
- Changes happen because management decided on it
-they tend to feel oppressed and powerless, which are common ingredients for apathy.
What’s especially unfortunate about this is that the same employees who don’t care about their SMS program (because they don’t feel involved) would otherwise be invested in the safety program if they were involved.
3 – Don’t See Results
While resistance to change is a fairly common issue, the opposite can also be true. If hazards and issues that are consistently being reported are not addressed by changes, employees will lose faith in the safety program.
It makes sense. The logic is this: if there is a consistent problem, and the safety program cannot adapt to meet the problem – then what’s the point of the SMS program?
It’s also gratifying to see what happens to an issue when it is submitted. Part if this harks back to feeling involved in the process – that an employee is not just putting an issue into a black hole and waiting for some final resolution to fall into their lap.
Being able to track step by step what happens with reported issues lets employees see that management is actively working to improve their safety and dealing with the issues.
Overcoming Apathy Takes Work
Overcoming apathy is not an easy task. It requires a tremendous amount of work by a safety manager – especially if the source of apathy is from management.
The safety manager will not only have to constantly find new ways of engaging employees and incorporating them into the implementation of the SMS program, he/she will have to do that in addition to all of the other responsibilities, such as managing issues, attending training, etc.
While I mention from time to time my support of safety surveys, using them is a fantastic way to assess how involved employees are and feel about their SMS program. Safety newsletters and safety articles are also used to promote your safety program.
Crash Turkish Airlines TK 1951 plane engine image via Wikimedia
Published January 2016. Last updated June 2018.