Or How to Create an Aviation SMS in 7 Simple Steps
You’re probably familiar with the 4 Phases of SMS implementation outlined by ICAO 9859. Here, I’ll break them down another way, into 7 steps.
For a deep dive into how to use the 4 Phases of SMS implementation, start with How to Complete Phase 1 of Aviation SMS Implementation.
If, for whatever reason, the four phases don’t resonate with you, here is another way to look at building an SMS for aviation service providers. Much like the 4 phases, these are not steps that must be taken in order.
It’s more like learning the seven steps of a line dance. Sometimes you’ll go forward, and sometimes you’ll go back.
1. Establish Responsibility and Accountability
First, identify your accountable executive. Your accountable executive should be the CEO or company owner. This is their SMS and they are accountable for its success.
The next person to identify is the responsible manager for the SMS implementation. This person reports to the accountable executive. In a very small operation, the manager may be responsible for other departments. In most organizations, this is a dedicated safety manager or your director of safety.
These two people are key to creating a functional SMS, but they are not alone. Everyone will have some part to play in your SMS, and some will be key stakeholders.
Identifying these people allows your safety manager to enlist their help. These key stakeholders will be invaluable in the analysis and planning steps. In small operations where safety managers have limited time, this is especially important.
Related Articles on Safety Accountability in Aviation SMS
- 5 Steps to Define Accountabilities in Aviation SMS Programs
- Best Practices for Safety Accountabilities in Aviation SMS - with Resources
- Distinguishing between Responsibility, Authority, and Accountability in Your Aviation SMS
2. Communicate Commitment
Once your organization establishes accountability, you can commit to safety. The accountable executive should write and distribute a safety policy. This demonstration of commitment will jump-start your program. In the "real world," we commonly see safety managers create the document on behalf of their accountable executive, who then signs and dates this important SMS document.
This safety policy document is a critical part of the SMS that will be incorporated into the SMS manual down the line. For now, it serves to communicate the organization’s commitment to safety, helping to secure buy-in as your SMS matures.
Make sure that this commitment is communicated to everyone in the organization. Company email, bulletin boards, and town hall meetings are all excellent ways to accomplish communicate commitment. Enthusiasm can be contagious, so make sure to convey "excitement" and "purpose" in these communications.
3. Analyze the Operation
Your analysis of the operation begins with a gap analysis. The gap analysis is a "best practices checklist" that helps identify missing SMS elements from your organization's planned SMS. This will lay the foundation for your implementation plan.
It's also important to establish goals to guide your SMS. Take time to identify the high-level goals of SMS implementation. Identify 10-15 goals that are important for ensuring safe operations. Establishing goals early will help guide the process and hopefully focus the team on a process that may require considerable time.
Identify any quick wins to secure buy-in for the SMS. For instance, setting up a confidential reporting system can be quick and easy. It demonstrates a commitment to safety and begins fostering an effective safety culture.
Related Articles on Aviation Safety Culture
- SMS First Steps - Which Safety Policy?
- SMS First Steps - Gap Analysis
- 3 Best Practices for Your Aviation SMS Manual
4. Create a Plan
Push any quick wins to the front of the line. By tackling these first, you will demonstrate change in a timely, concrete way. This will help win people over. People will not believe in the change unless management gives them a reason to.
You've analyzed the operation and developed a clear vision of the SMS program. You also have a couple of ideas for quick wins. Start working on those while crafting the rest of the plan.
Remember that this plan could take years to achieve, so don't get too attached. Be prepared to review and change the plan as the SMS matures. Using data from the gap analysis, layout steps for achieving a functional SMS.
For each element to be added or improved, be sure to consider the
- responsible parties,
- resources, and
Check in with subject-matter experts and department heads as you develop the plan. Ask them if they see any flaws. Finding these early on will save time and energy for everyone.
5. Implement the Plan
The implementation plan may not come together all at once. Focus on quick wins early on, while planning the rest. Keep a sense of urgency about the plan and goals to keep people invested.
Another easy win could be communicating safety information. Flyers, emails, and training are cost-efficient ways to start conveying safety information. Information is available all over the place. Check out our archives for lots of safety ideas you can talk about.
Actual implementation will vary depending on the size of your organization and the plan laid out. Implementation has many moving pieces. Having a plan will help to keep implementation on track. The plan may change, but it’s important not to throw it out completely.
During the implementation, identify, describe, and document systems and safety resources. There's going to be a lot of documentation, as you'll be documenting all the hazards and risks as well. All of this documentation should be compiled and organized into an SMS manual. When necessary, your SMS manual should document data sources touching the SMS, such as SMS databases, hazard registers, and document repositories.
6. Monitor the Plan
The ball is rolling, you have elements of the SMS in place, and it’s looking like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It's time to throw another key variable into the equation. As you implement elements of the SMS, you’ll be establishing KPIs to monitor success.
Monitoring KPIs, regular reviews, and audits will all contribute to the efficacy of the SMS. These three mechanisms allow you to identify any weaknesses in the system and correct them before something goes horribly wrong.
Related Articles on Aviation SMS Implementation Plan
- How to Create Aviation SMS Implementation Plan - with Templates
- SMS First Steps - How to Create an SMS Implementation Plan
- What Your Emergency Response Plan Should Include
7. Improve the Plan
The final step is consistently improving the plan. As your organization grows and SMS matures, the SMS must change as well. Whenever a review comes up, be ready to make changes. An SMS shouldn't be static.
How has your SMS grown and changed over the years? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Last updated April 2023.