The Concept of Management Commitment in Aviation SMS Programs
Management’s commitment to aviation safety management systems (SMS) is an extremely important part of the Four Pillar’s Safety Policy component.
Without a doubt, your SMS will fail without support from senior management.
Successful aviation SMS have exceptional safety cultures that rely significantly upon strong management commitment. The reason's management commitment is so critical for Safety Policy in the Four Pillars and aviation safety culture are:
- Aviation SMS are implemented from the top down, and without management commitment it will be nearly impossible for a mature safety culture to develop in front line employees;
- Commitment needs to “codified” in safety policy in order for all employees to see it and have clear expectations;
- When commitment is codified, management has incentive to hold itself to its creed of commitment, or else become a hypocritical SMS showpiece (paper SMS) or (check-the-box SMS);
- Safety accountabilities are unable to be fulfilled without sincere commitment.
Related Articles on Safety Accountabilities in Aviation SMS
- Distinguishing between Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability in Your Aviation SMS
- 5 Steps to Define Accountabilities in Aviation SMS
- Best Practices for Safety Accountabilities in Aviation SMS - with Resources
It’s extremely important to point out that management commitment in aviation safety programs is not simply a pledge towards safety in general. For commitment to be worthwhile and useful, it needs to translate into:
- Policies that address specific expectations;
- Particular safety goals, objectives, and philosophies; and
- Detail the organization’s stance on non-punitive reporting, as well as disciplinary action for willful misconduct or negligence.
Here’s a more specific look at 5 actions needed for management commitment in aviation SMS programs.
1 – Make Safety Reporting Procedures Simple, Explicit, and Non-Punitive
Hazard identification and safety reporting are the foundation of SMS. Safety reporting metrics are the main indicator of safety performance and progress toward achieving the ideal objective of every SMS, continuous improvement. Without hazard identification and safety reporting activity, it’s impossible to practice your documented risk management processes because there’s nothing to manage.
While hazard identification and safety reporting may seem like “common sense” to people with experience working in hazardous environments, employees who are new or unfamiliar with aviation SMS may have little understanding about:
- What hazard identification and subsequent safety reporting is (i.e., when and what to report);
- What happens with submitted safety reports (i.e., why hazard reporting is important); and
- The resulting risk management process or cycle for hazard identification, safety reporting, and reviewing risk.
Because of this, safety reporting policies and procedures need to:
- Be as simple as possible;
- Be written in relevant native languages;
- Explicitly state how to report; and
- Have non-punitive policies listed in an obvious location, such as on the safety reporting form.
When management makes a concerted effort to make safety reporting as easy as possible, they communicate in policy and practice a commitment to safety.
Related Aviation Safety Reporting Articles
- How to Develop Healthy Safety Reporting Cultures in Aviation SMS
- Understanding Role of Hazard Identification Training and Safety Reporting Forms in Aviation SMS
- How to Monitor Aviation Safety Reporting Culture Using Safety Charts
2 – Management Commitment Policies Need to Be Visible
Merely posting policies in a public or frequently visited location simply does not count as making management’s commitment “visible.” When was the last time you actually looked at federal employment posters, which are required in US workplaces?
Policies about management commitment need to be posted:
- Someplace where employees will actually look at the policies and/or have easy access to them;
- With incentive to reference those policies on a regular basis, such as a yearly review, during SMS induction, etc.; and
- Should be frequently referenced and distributed to employees in safety promotion media.
With the last point, management can make a practice of referencing its commitment to safety policies in:
- safety newsletters;
- safety email messages and read files;
- aviation safety meetings; and
- safety posters.
Safety teams should always remain alert for an opportunity at other corporate events to redistribute management's message of total commitment.
The whole point of making the management commitment visible is to consistently and positively reinforce safety by keeping it fresh in employees’ minds.
3 – Critical That Management Commits in Policy and in Behavior
It’s equally important that with commitment in aviation SMS that management follows documented safety policy to the letter. Employees will be extremely sensitive to any hypocritical actions on the part of management.
If management strays even a little from their commitment policies, such as by employing punitive measures despite having a non-punitive reporting policy, the programs will face the serious risks of:
- Appearing to support corporate culture;
- Demonstrating an abuse of power by management;
- Being phony; and
- Having employees lose faith in participation.
In short, management needs to consider:
- What is realistic to commit to;
- How to clearly state its mission for commitment to the SMS; and
- Then follow that commitment absolutely.
If management sees reasons to change its commitment behavior, this is a serious change that needs to be communicated ahead of time and implemented with due caution. Changes in policies and procedures will go through the SMS' management of change process.
Related Articles on Management of Change in Aviation SMS
- What Is Management of Change in Aviation SMS
- Understanding Management of Change in Aviation SMS
- What Are Best Practices for Change Management in Aviation SMS
4 – Commitment Needs to Include Clear Safety Behavior Expectations
This is without question the most common failure of management commitment policy in aviation SMS. This is what happens:
- Management spends a great deal of time and energy creating policy for what it will commit to; and
- Management forgets to create a safety policy about what specific safety behaviors it expects employees to commit to.
Notice the word “specific” in safety behavior. Having clear safety behavior expectation is NOT about listing desired safety behavior concepts like “risk attitude,” or “safety mindset.” Rather, some good examples of specific behavior are;
- A list of situations that require mandatory or optional safety reporting activity;
- The expectation that employees will follow all procedures and checklists fully, and express concerns with the efficiency/safety of a procedure with management;
- All work will be double-checked;
- Employees should speak up about any and all safety concerns – management will consider each suggestion and give feedback;
- All safety communication should be responded to within one business day; and
- Employees are expected to speak up about other employees unsafe behavior without fear of punishment, but only to further lessons learned and improve operating processes.
There are many such examples.
Each organization will have their own list of safety behaviors that are most critical for their safety success. This kind of information is helpful because it sets boundaries and expectations for employees where, otherwise, it would be up to each employee to define his/her own version of good safety behavior.
Final Thought: How to Satisfy Management Commitment
The safety commitment element of safety policy is satisfied when an aviation service provider has:
- Clearly defined each commitment;
- Fully defined every needed commitment; and
- Has documented clear evidence that their safety policy is committed to in policy as well as in practice.
Satisfying this commitment is an extremely important step in implementing your aviation SMS.
A great resource for your commitment to safety is a safety culture manifesto, which defines the desired safety behavior in our company. Use our free manifestos in your safety commitment policy, or use them as a template for creating your own policy.
Published April 2019. Last updated June 2021.
airBaltic Bombardier CS300 mainenance image by Kārlis Dambrāns on flickr