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Learn 4 Aviation Risk Management Attitudes. Which Is Best? What Is Yours?

Posted by Tyler Britton on Sep 21, 2022 6:00:00 AM

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Learn 4 Aviation Risk Management Attitudes. Which Is Best? What Is Yours?

Many of the most important misconceptions about aviation safety management systems (SMS) revolve around the relationships and resistance that hurts SMS implementation.

Generally, the misconceptions about aviation SMS revolve around differences in attitudes about safety risk management. In such a case, differences in attitudes between two employees generally leave each person feeling that:

  • The other person doesn’t value the SMS;
  • The other person doesn’t understand the goals of SMS; or
  • That their risk management strategy is the right one.

But what aviation SMS managers, employees, and executive management need to understand is that there is no one correct approach towards aviation SMS and aviation risk management philosophies. Different attitudes toward risk management stress the importance of different

  • safety practices,
  • attitudes, and
  • aspects of safety culture.

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Conflicting Risk Management Attitudes Generate Discord in SMS

Far too often safety programs struggle to gain momentum not because of poor management, poor safety practices, or poor value systems, but simply because employees' risk management attitudes don’t agree.

In the same way that the best sports teams don’t always have the best players, they are able to work together under the best management teams.

Effective safety management teams are effective in developing an adaptable aviation SMS with quality risk management techniques. Safety managers' success hinges upon employees understanding each other's risk management attitudes and working together. Very similar to a marriage, safety teams that recognize each other's strengths and weaknesses are naturally more resilient to adversity.

Safety Management Style Quiz

Pragmatist: The Hazard Mitigator

Plane take off

In terms of risk management strategies, the Pragmatist doesn’t value the “predictability” of future events. This risk management attitude believes that the best way to understand risks, identify hazards, and mitigate incidents is by focusing the SMS on:

  • Effective reactive to change techniques; and
  • An adaptable safety culture.

Their motto would probably be in line with “past successes and lessons aren’t future guarantees.” As aviation safety managers, they tend to spend less time on policies and procedures, instead stress safety training that equips employees to efficiently deal with:

  • manifesting hazards,
  • emerging risk consequences; and
  • failing risk controls.

As employees, they may see too many policies and procedures as superfluous rules, and Conservator manager types may find them to be “resistant.”

Employees who are Pragmatists value practical tools and techniques to actively practice aviation risk management. They don't want any fancy parades celebrating hollow-sounding safety goals. Pragmatists are realists and don't respond well to insincerity.

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Conservator: The Risk Eradicator

The opposite of the Pragmatist, the Conservator aviation risk management attitude values predictive risk management.

The Conservator focuses their risk management strategies around:

  • Aviation safety data analysis;
  • Safety trending charts; and
  • Policies and procedures that reflect their analysis.

This risk management attitude tends to believe that many risks and hazards can be, for all intents and purposes, eliminated through careful planning. As managers, they have

  • sophisticated hazards analysis workflows,
  • very good working knowledge of the conditions of past and present safety issues, and
  • extremely serious attitudes toward safety investigations.

As workers, the Conservator is dutiful in their observance of prescribed policies and procedures. They respond very well to detailed, documented, and organized aviation SMS with clear rules, goals, and strong reasoning behind actions. They can become frustrated with SMS whose procedures and rules are too “open-ended,” and may view management Pragmatists as “lazy.”

Download emergency response plan checklist for aviation SMS

Maximizer: The Continuous Learner

Benefits about safety database

The Maximizer attitude approaches risk management through personal experience. They tend to be “easy-going” in terms of safety and put a high value on the performance end of their duties.

This type of employee tends to be:

  • Confident in his/her performance abilities;
  • Willing to accept adverse effects of safety events if they learn a lesson; and
  • Less concerned with the SMS than they are about their personal experience with safety.

As managers, Maximizers value safety performance above all else.

Being naturally more independent, such managers find aviation safety compliance a tedious task and are more concerned with their personal ability to measure safety, such as through the use of their own safety standards. They take continuous improvement very seriously.

Such a risk management attitude has both costs and benefits for employees.

Maximizers tend to have a proven track record of safety, are highly competent, and are somebody you probably wouldn’t worry about. At the same time, they may be vulnerable to overconfidence and make mistakes because of it. These employees would do well to stick to the motto “trust but double-check.”

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Traditionalist: The Balancer

Finally, the Traditionalist is probably the most “standard” type of risk management attitude. They believe that the best risk management practices are in line with the prescribed methods provided by experts, such as by safety oversight agencies like the FAA, ICAO, or EASA. Of the four risk management attitudes, they are:

  • The most top-down;
  • The most compliance is driven; and
  • Focus the most on the framework of their SMS.

As managers, they try to balance good safety data and impeccable compliance. They monitor CPAs (corrective preventative actions) very closely and are serious in their efforts to maintain excellent documentation to prepare for both internal and external audits.

As employees, they tend to prescribe their risk management strategies to the attitudes and opinions of management. In uncertain safety situations, such employees will defect to management’s opinion rather than be assertive or interpret the applicable policy/procedure.

Download Risk Management Procedural Workflows

Final Thought: Know Your Peers’ Risk Attitude

Diversity in risk management attitudes is often the reason aviation SMS continually struggles. While diversity is their greatest weakness, such diversity can also be a safety program’s greatest strength.

Aviation SMS implementations with diversity add what the Swiss Cheese Model would call “layers of protection.”

Different attitudes will identify and react to different risks, and therefore expand an SMS's ability to identify and mitigate.

Too much of one attitude promotes “groupthink.” Groupthink in SMS is dangerous because, though it adds one strong layer of risk management protection, it remains vulnerable to ideas, practices, and values outside itself.

An often undervalued responsibility of SMS managers is to lose the thinking “my way is best” and try to understand what employees/management risk management attitudes are so that the safety manager can best put differing viewpoints to good use.

It would not be responsible to say that one risk management attitude is superior to another. Just as there are multiple ways to travel to London, there are multiple ways to successfully implement and subsequently maintain a healthy, functional SMS.

Are you looking for an interesting, fun way to promote your SMS? Check out this hazard and risk quiz. Share it with others to educate and promote the SMS.

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Last updated in November 2023.

Topics: 2-Safety Risk 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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