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Advanced Aviation SMS: Top Management Support Drives SMS Profits

Posted by Christopher Howell on Mar 3, 2021 6:00:00 AM Find me on:

Management's Absence Creates SMS Adoption Challenges

Advanced Aviation SMS: Top Management Support Drives SMS Profits

Many newly-appointed safety managers try to single-handedly push their organization's aviation safety management systems (SMS) to success. Safety managers are hired to perform an ambitious undertaking that is not heartily welcomed by the entire organization.

SMS implementations require consistent change management activities. These activities naturally induce frustration and resistance to change.

Safety professionals strive to speedily implement aviation SMS with minimal organizational disruption. This strategy aligns with management's desire to concurrently satisfy business operations, which generally equates to "making money" or keeping the aerospace transportation system functioning.

In short, the organization has a business purpose. The "universally-accepted" SMS design supplements and even enhances business performance. Aviation SMS is not designed to detract from business performance.

Aviation SMS Enhances Business Effectiveness!

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Aviation SMS' Organizational Perspective Must Change

Aviation SMS must be seen as a business tool to assist organizations to satisfy their business mission, which in most cases equates to generating profits with the least amount of input. In too many countries, senior-level managers maintain suspicions that SMS is another way for regulatory agencies to exert increasing operational control that detracts from organizational profitability.

While aviation SMS is designed to positively support business operations, safety managers seldom enjoy elevated levels of support from other department leaders. This lack of support ends up costing the organization tremendous sums in:

  • Recurring audit findings;
  • Lost opportunities;
  • Increased employee turnover;
  • Decreased effectiveness resulting from embittered, disillusioned managers; and
  • Sunk costs in a nonperforming, stagnant, poorly-implemented SMS.


Has your organization been waiting to capture the promised economic benefits from an aviation SMS?

Has your "functional SMS" been implemented for more than five years and still not generating profits?

Do you believe that your SMS can generate profits as promised by the regulatory SMS guidance materials?


Aviation SMS are designed to save organizations money while concurrently enhancing system safety. If your SMS is not generating profits, we should ask ourselves some serious questions. In every case, failed aviation SMS results from a lack of top management support, mostly due to a lack of education and not resources, as most failures would want you to believe. If your SMS enjoys top management support, I recommend that you review your SMS implementation by conducting an honest Gap Analysis.

Download Aviation Gap Analysis Resources

Aviation SMS Fail Consistently Without Top Management Support

Across the globe, I see operators taking shortcuts by pencil-whipping their SMS to satisfy EVERYBODY but the company paying the bill.

An SMS must make business sense to the company; otherwise, you end up with a "paper SMS." You may know this as a "check-the-box SMS" or "satisficing SMS," which means the SMS was implemented with the core purpose of satisfying regulatory or client contractual requirements instead of implementing the SMS with real financial benefits as the end-game. SMS is business. Your SMS should pay for itself. If it is not, ask yourself, "Why not?"

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Teamwork Improves Organizational Performance

Aviation SMS will continue to financially rob your company until managers realize that an SMS requires teamwork! Teamwork starts from the top!

For example, safety managers commonly draft safety policies and procedures without input from other departmental managers. In more cases than I'm comfortable reporting, safety managers manipulate/manage/accept hazards beyond their authority and responsibility. This incorrect behavior must change as SMS implementations mature and regulatory oversight becomes more effective.

I'm not saying that safety managers should never be the sole editor/creator of safety policies and hazard registers. In a high percentage of cases, these tasks would never be completed should the organization rely upon apathetic department managers with no interest or experience in aviation SMS initiatives.

SMS regulatory compliance challenges will continue to surface as future auditors review policies, procedures, and hazard registers and they discover:

  1. Policies have never been reviewed by accountable executives;
  2. Departmental managers have never reviewed documented hazards, risks, and risk controls over which they maintain risk-acceptance authority; and
  3. Employees fail to follow documented safety procedures created in a vacuum with imperfect information.

These are the result of failed top management oversight and woefully inadequate involvement in the aviation SMS implementation.

Download Aviation SMS Safety Accountabilities

Accountable Executive Remains Responsible

Accountable executive remains responsible

The accountable executive drives organizational activities through policies and procedures. This will be an important point to remember as we delineate the steps necessary to transform your regulatory-compliant aviation SMS into an income generator.

When accountable executives remain ignorant of an SMS' latent power, they will not fully account for this core business function in their strategic planning. Opportunities are missed. SMS opportunities must be pulled into the accountable executive's purview. What is your plan?

Since the accountable executive is responsible for the SMS implementation, you will need to ask permission before you adapt your aviation SMS into a financial risk management powerhouse. Hang in there. We'll get to making money.

Changing Mindsets-Aviation SMS Implementations Rely upon Teamwork

Future inefficiencies result from organizational mindsets holding that "safety managers" must perform the heavy lifting related to aviation SMS implementations. This mindset retards necessary change and pushes SMS success further from reach.

To become truly effective and earn significant revenue from the implemented aviation SMS, the adopted mindset embraces this "new way of doing business." A "paper SMS" should never be the "new way of doing business." Yet this is what we see in 25-35% of fully-implemented SMS.

I argue that myopic, senior-level managers are so focused on business operations that they consistently overlook the SMS seed that they have paid for.

With a bit of creative ingenuity, managers can nurture their SMS seed to identify and execute otherwise hidden opportunities.

The first step to nurturing this seed is to educate managers and show them a truly great vision of a successful aviation enterprise. However, managers need to participate, as an SMS cannot be pushed uphill. An SMS flows from the top-down, therefore, the accountable executive must shepherd this group.

This becomes another reason you will need to ask permission to generate revenue from the aviation SMS. Only the accountable executive has the authority to focus organizational energy on identifying opportunities as well as identifying threats to operational safety or security.

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Download Aviation SMS Implementation Resources

Safety Managers Fail Due to Lack of Support

Why do safety managers exceed their mandates by pencil-whipping their SMS documentation? Expedience and fear.

Safety managers find it easier to simply do the heavy lifting than risk being seen as incompetent for not doing their assigned job. Unfortunately, safety managers may not know how to assert themselves and enlist help from other managers.

Reducing friction and team coordination are two primary benefits of enlisting the accountable executive as your SMS champion. By asking the accountable executive for permission to generate revenues from the SMS, you are more apt to align the accountable executive's attention to the SMS. This is one path to earning visible top management support that every aviation SMS requires in order to deliver on the promise of "never-ending-continuous-improvement."

Expanding Scope of Implemented Management System

There is a trend developing among the younger, business-educated managers who recognize that an SMS' accompanying risk management workflows are equally effective for issues far removed beyond the scope of safety. These younger managers have been using their SMS implementations for other types of concerns, including:

  • Quality;
  • Environmental;
  • Security;
  • Operational;
  • HR; and
  • Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA or OHSA)

I first started seeing this trend in Canada and then recently in the United States. I'm certain it will expand globally after other managers realize the self-evident truths that:

  1. An SMS is very similar to a quality management system; and
  2. Operational issues can be collaboratively managed very effectively within the aviation SMS framework.

I must urge caution. You should not expand your scope too rapidly, otherwise, the results are short-lived.

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Expanding Slowly and Surely

When expanding the scope of the aviation SMS, managers are encouraged to focus on one target area to ensure processes become ingrained into the organization's culture. This becomes important as you must make incremental changes in the organization. When you move too quickly, management's attention may be diverted to future projects instead of ensuring their past efforts have been internalized within the organization's culture.

For example, instead of stressing a hyper-vigilant, responsive safety culture, your cultural shift may lean toward continuous safety improvement by continuously improving operational quality through innovation and marketplace synergies.

Again, it goes without saying that you will require permission to effect these changes, as they will affect Safety Policy as well as Safety Promotion activities. Yes, we just included "Safety Promotion!" This is another important reason that your SMS will require an efficient SMS data management strategy. Yes, I'm talking about a modern SMS database.

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Automated SMS Data Management Required

Ground operation airport

If your SMS relies upon spreadsheets, these advanced topics are too far beyond your reach. These advanced methods to earn income from your SMS are purposefully designed to be sustainable for the long term.

If your processes are not easy, then they will not be sustainable.

To make the most money, we are implementing a sustainable system that will encourage employees to identify and report many opportunities. In order to achieve this, we need to significantly enhance the safety reporting culture. Furthermore, increasing organizational effectiveness while managing safety issues very quickly ensures that management can address higher levels of reporting activity.

As your safety team prepares to become efficient, we also need to change the way our organizations report safety and quality concerns. Instead of encouraging employees to submit safety reports only after damage or injuries result, we need to encourage employees to report all types of safety and quality concerns. In short, we need to super-charge the organization's safety culture.

I'm assuming we all have an audit-worthy SMS implementation. Consequently, super-charging safety reporting activity will be very easy, as we have many tools available, including:

  1. Electronic message boards;
  2. Safety training materials (both initial and recurring);
  3. Safety newsletters to promote safety and quality;
  4. Meeting Manager (online Web meetings); and
  5. Safety surveys.

It goes without saying that if managers are not onboard and ready to manage incoming opportunities, then there will be considered wasted effort. Don't worry, you will not be alone as I see many companies struggling to change their safety cultures to reduce friction among managers.

SMS requires teamwork!

Final Thoughts for Safety Managers

Safety managers are often lower in the organization's management hierarchy than many department heads.

Safety managers must use interpersonal skills to influence and educate these managers on the benefits that are being overlooked in aviation SMS. The tragedy is that the organization has paid for the SMS implementation. To make matters worse, the organization will continue paying increased sums to maintain the SMS perpetually.

When will your organization stop wasting money and use SMS as a very important business tool? Are you ready?

Like many safety managers, you may feel that I'm describing your company. I could be, as I've worked with thousands of operators over the past dozen years.

Would you like a recommendation for change? Admit to your accountable executive that your SMS fails to deliver financial benefits. Advise the accountable executive that an SMS was designed to deliver profits while concurrently enhancing safety.

Would you like more recommendations? Remain alert for more articles in this Advanced SMS series.

If Processes Are Not Easy, They Will Not Last!

In this Advanced Aviation SMS series, I'm laying out a roadmap to turn a stagnant SMS implementation into a money-making SMS. This is very possible and within reach of most organizations. After all, this is how aviation SMS was designed by worldwide subject matter experts.

Quality tools are important to efficiently complete complex tasks. Each aviation SMS overflows with many complex, interrelated tasks.

Purpose-built database software makes SMS management more sustainable. Learn how SMS Pro can help your company become more efficient and turn your SMS into a money-making machine.

Watch SMS Pro Demo Videos

Last updated in August 2023.

Topics: Aviation SMS Implementation, 1-Safety Policy, Quality-Safety Management

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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