SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

Advanced Aviation SMS: Rewriting Duties to Align with Business Goals

Posted by Christopher Howell on Mar 24, 2021 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Aviation SMS Implementations Follow Forked Path

Advanced Aviation SMS: Rewriting Duties to Align with Business Goals

Since November 2006, operators inadvertently followed a forked path while implementing required aviation safety management systems (SMS). In some cases, they made conscious choices, but in most cases, the path they chose was forced upon them due to imperfect information.

I prefer to believe that most who started the SMS journey had hoped that they would succeed and reap the expected rewards while simultaneously improving global transportation system safety. That is a true win-win.

From my global perspective, results have been less than spectacular, but there is hope.

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Which SMS Path Are You On?

The preferred aviation SMS path will deliver many promised benefits offered by an earnest SMS implementation. Unfortunately for most operators, they are neither on their chosen path nor heading toward the preferred path. But again, I repeat, there is hope.

In this Advanced Aviation SMS series, we attempt to coach operators back onto the proper path toward implementing value-generating aviation SMS. This path offers more realistic strategies for achieving the financial and societal benefits from sincere aviation SMS initiatives.

In short, we attempt to educate safety managers to find promised riches arising from SMS-generated opportunities.

I sincerely hope that you have not been disillusioned to the point that you have surrendered to the "check-the-box" path.

In the previous article, we discussed the logic of why strategically structured "Safety Accountabilities" ensure greater chances for SMS success. This assumption requires that you are not wanting to remain stuck forever with your existing budget-draining, lackluster SMS implementation.

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Safety Accountabilities Help Feed SMS Engines

This article is not for beginners. We are jumping right to the point.

As every SMS professional knows, your SMS manual has an important section outlining "Safety Accountabilities," or "Duties and Responsibilities." These sections are synonymous and we'll ignore any argument over terminology.

SMS Pro database users will recognize "Duties and Responsibilities" under the Policy menu section.

Every user reviews their expected SMS duties during initial SMS induction.

A best practice is that employees review their "Duties and Responsibilities" annually or during recurrent SMS training.

Again, in SMS Pro, users can easily document that they have read and understand their assigned safety duties and responsibilities. This pain-free automation reduces considerable management oversight burden while also offering a significant safety promotion opportunity. SMS training delivery and documentation must be easy. Otherwise, it is not sustainable.

If SMS processes are not easy, they will not last.

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Success Advances When All Minor Issues Are Reported

Airport worker

To align employees' focus on "safety-through-quality," you will be making changes to their expected SMS duties and responsibilities.

Employees are now encouraged to report all safety and quality concerns, regardless of how trivial they may appear. Forward-thinking operators also include operational issues in this requirement, as the SMS risk management framework flexibly organizes operational issues just as effectively as safety, quality, and compliance issues.

Unless you have an automated system, there will be much managerial resistance to accepting the many, obviously minor issues. These short-sighted individuals are ignoring easy money and missing the big picture. Furthermore, they don't understand or have not been considering the 1:600 rule.

For every 1 major event, there are 600 opportunities to fix it first!

I'm not here to teach you SMS. I'm here to teach you how to make money using your SMS.

More reported issues mean more opportunities will appear in your risk management framework.

Furthermore, running operational issues through your risk management framework allows managers to easily classify, treat, and monitor for recurrence. There are few operators with fewer than 500 employees that have automated operational risk management tools as effective as their existing SMS data management tools. The tragedy, from my perspective, is that only about 5% of safety professionals can communicate this effectively to senior management.

Back to the point, we need employees to report minor issues and close calls. It's not about blame but identifying processes that can be improved.

Don't be alarmed by imagining the horrendous workload. There will be many times when the reported issue is simply:

  • "noted,"
  • risk assessed,
  • categorized appropriately and
  • "flagged" for business strategists.

With an automated system, this process is incredibly fast. Too often, we see operators burdened by cumbersome risk management processes. Are you one of them?

More on the business strategy later. For now, we need to substantially increase employee safety reporting activity. See the Voluntary reporting section in the first blog article below for the logic.

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Nobody Likes a "Drama Queen." But I Do!

Reporting minor, trivial issues becomes a very sensitive topic. Employees may be chastised for being a "drama queen" who is constantly blowing things out of proportion. The "concerned reporter" may get the stink eye.

To become an effective team capable of generating opportunities, we must avoid negative, self-defeating behaviors, especially from management. From more than one company, I have heard reports of managers telling employees to stop reporting minor issues as they are:

  • skewing the "numbers;"
  • making more work for the rest of the team;
  • adding no real value to the company; or
  • making the company look bad for auditors by having so many safety reports, which they equate to as "safety problems."

This above behavior must change! If your company is doing this, you are shooting yourself in the face by eschewing future opportunities coming from drama queens. We need drama queens. Drama queens often have good ideas, especially consumer-focused ideas.

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Hazard Identification Training Fuels Reporting Quality

Hazard identification training is an expectation in every aviation SMS. This training isn't overly complicated and is relevant to the users' role in both:

  1. company operations; and
  2. SMS' reactive risk management processes.

For most line-level employees, hazard identification training is purposely kept simple, such as:

  • What is a hazard?
  • How to report a hazard?
  • What types of items should we report?
  • Are there any opportunities to "improve the system," thereby improving safety?
  • Are there any threats or opportunities involving our vendors or competitors?

During training, Instead of focusing solely on hazards and threats, include opportunities for continuous improvement. Don't limit "continuous improvement" to safety, but leave it open and encourage employees to learn not only about safety but about quality and economic opportunities.

Provide examples that resonate within your particular environments. Effective hazard identification training sets the tone for future safety reporting activity. We need this activity! If not, you must return to "checking the SMS audit box." This means reduced financial rewards.

As a bonus, I suggest training employees on the rudimentary concepts of value. Value is not always obtained by selling another seat on the aircraft or coaxing vendors to deliver more for less. Value also comes from preventable losses, regardless of whether there is a safety component involved.

Focus on safety, and you only get safety.

Hazard/Issue Reporting Poster

Changing Focus for Senior Management Participation

Safety managers and department heads work together in an effective SMS.

We can hope the relationship is harmonious, but in reality, some department heads treat safety managers like their personal administrative assistants when it comes to managing SMS documentation.

Safety managers become exasperated when department heads direct them to manage the entire SMS documentation burden. This behavior also introduces unacceptable risks to the SMS. Luckily, this behavior is evident in a minority of operations. I see it approximately 15-20% of the time.

Department heads with risk acceptance authority should be actively reviewing and managing hazards. These tasks are not meant to be delegated to unqualified safety team members. Opportunities are lost and risk increased when safety teams remain the primary editors and contributors to hazard registers. This practice may have been expediently necessary for the earlier SMS years, but it is not a good practice to sustain.

Safety managers should not pencil whip hazard registers to satisfy SMS auditors. We can agree to this. Logical reasoning accounts for this very common behavior, estimated at 30-60% of companies. These reasons include:

  • lack of user-friendly, automated data management tools;
  • lack of training; or
  • lack of training on automated tools.

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Expanding Duties for Managers

Just as we expanded the expected duties of employees, we are going to slightly expand the duties of department heads with risk acceptance authority over reported safety concerns. We must remain tactful and never overwhelm this managerial group.

We must consciously make reasonable requests.

Department Heads are the true subject matter experts in our company. Our strategy relies upon exploiting their creative energies for the common benefit. Our jobs are to facilitate the nurturing and presentation of opportunities to these critical-thinking subject matter experts.

Science and technology are used to increase the availability of opportunities.

Science and technology can be used to increase the visibility of these heretofore hidden opportunities.

Humans are required to identify and execute these opportunities.

Humans are busy. Thinking requires time. Sometimes, safety managers need to "help with the thinking." Below, we provide some generic tips that are designed to focus managerial attention on business threats and opportunities. You hopefully have other ideas to include, as each operator operates in a different environment.

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Mining for Financial Opportunities

Financial opportunities

Our first request for expanding department heads' duties affects a critical activity before closing each safety concern (actually any type of concern).

Before closing each issue, the department heads should ask themselves whether the underlying factors have been evaluated not only from a safety perspective but also from a business perspective. Do we detect any business-related:

  • Threats; or
  • Opportunities?

What type of threat or opportunity has been identified?

If a threat or opportunity exists, has this issue been flagged for future investigations or analytics?

Does this issue warrant escalation to the secured Biz Strategy division, where it may undergo a private, formal business analysis?

In short, managers' existing duties now include an obligatory, concurrent business analysis as they treat the reported concern or assigned audit finding. They are already doing most of this work during their reactive and proactive risk management processes.

This analysis does not have to be a huge burden. Once this process becomes an "expectation," each issue passing through the risk management processes will be evaluated for its impact on business. As managers practice the business risk management component, their acquired insights and skills will gradually compound to drive more opportunities.

Astute, veteran safety professionals will agree with the concepts above. Yet you should be asking: "How will this practice be enforced?"

SMS Pro database users are in luck again. We'll discuss this further in our discussions on aligning the risk management processes to support our safety-through-quality paradigm. Rest assured, it will be very painless.

If your processes are not easy, they will not last!

Highlight Business-Impact through Risk Management Training

The above discussion for amplifying department head duties in the risk management process requires a training component.

Managers are thinkers. They need more details than the line-level employees, as these managers are critical in increasing the rate at which the SMS generates financially significant benefits.

As we discussed, not every manager has a formal business background. Luckily, this is not required. Intuitively, most managers recognize a potential opportunity and this is enough.

Whenever a manager detects a potential threat or opportunity, the underlying issue should be flagged for committee review.

Again, automation removes the toil. SMS Pro database users recognize that safety concerns can be flagged for committee meetings held in the Meeting Manager. This is an example of smart automation in an expert system.

If your SMS data management system does not have a meeting utility, you may still be able to export these flagged committee-related issues for review. Again, I stress that you do not need SMS Pro to use these tips in the Advanced Aviation SMS series.

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SMS Quality Quiz

Final Thoughts on Expanding SMS Duties and Responsibilities

As we have seen, SMS is a system. When we focus on safety, we only get safety.

I want you to have more than safety. I want you to also have money! Why not? Your company is already paying for the SMS. The decision comes down to whether you want to maximize this opportunity.

No rules preventing your company from making money from your SMS implementation. Your SMS implementation is the poor man's quality management system. You are already paying for the SMS, and if you have an SMS, you have the most important elements of a QMS.

Finally, automation is required. I have studied this system for almost fifteen years. I know SMS. I know databases. I create SMS databases. I also create expert systems.

My goal is to share my insights so you can benefit financially from your safety initiatives. Peter Gardiner and ICAO understood that the only way for SMS to become successful is if we can make the business case.

SMS makes the business case! But you have to do it right. Remember, SMS is an interdependent system. We have many other topics to discuss in this Advanced SMS Series. I hope you benefit.

SMS Automation Opens Up Opportunities

To maximize SMS benefits, an automated, built-for-purpose SMS database provides best results.

The SMS Pro database is an expert system built for business.

As a formally-trained businessman and expert systems designer, I recommend SMS Pro as a business tool that will both:

  1. satisfy SMS documentation requirements; and also
  2. facilitate more efficient, profitable operations.

Learn how you can benefit from automated tools.

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Last updated in November 2023.

Topics: Aviation SMS Database, 1-Safety Policy

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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