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How to Practice Reactive, Proactive, and Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS

Posted by Tyler Britton on Sep 4, 2017 6:05:00 AM

What It Means to Practice Reactive, Proactive, and Predictive Risk Management

How to Practice Reactive, Proactive, and Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS

If you want to practice reactive, proactive, and predictive risk management in aviation safety management systems (SMS), you first and foremost need to understand the difference between these types of risk management in modern aviation operations.

Understanding what each type of risk management is does not involve just understanding the “conceptual” difference, but how each practice differs in the actual operational environment.

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The most common misnomers around the types of aviation risk management are:

  • Predictive/proactive are “better” forms of risk management than reactive;
  • There is little difference between predictive/proactive; and
  • Inability to clearly define what each type of risk management looks like.

Here is a table that very broadly defines the difference between each type of risk management:


Reactive Risk Mgmt

Proactive Risk Mgmt

Predictive Risk Mgmt


Actions in response to hazard/risk occurrence

Actions that address perceived hazard/risk occurrence before it actually occurs

Actions that attempt to forecast future, potential hazard/risk occurrence

Primary Management Activity


After hazard/risk occurrence, taking measures (i.e., corrective actions) to prevent re-occurrence

Before hazard/risk occurrence, creating control measures to prevent initial occurrence

Analyzing current operations to identify areas of potential concern in the future, hypothetical situation

Primary Front-Line Employee Activity


Once hazard occurs, take action to prevent risk occurrence, or if the risk occurs, actions to mitigate damages

Hazard mechanisms and threats are identified before hazard occurrence (and hazard occurrence is mitigated)



The important distinction above in practicing reactive, proactive, and prediction risk management happens on a bureaucratic/management level, as well as an issue-by-issue operational environment level.

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Download aviation safety risk management checklist

How to Practice Reactive Risk Management

Ground operation airport

Reactive risk management is the first type of risk management that an aviation SMS will practice. We might call this “baseline” risk management because it’s the type of risk management process that will be built first in safety programs. Here are the basic elements of practicing reactive risk management.

Resources you need to practice reactive risk management:

Top activities of reactive risk management:

  • Creating corrective actions;
  • Classifying safety issues as they are reported;
  • Root cause analysis (can be proactive too) on safety issues;
  • Investigation of safety issues; and
  • Risk mitigation training.

Outcomes and goals of reactive risk management:

  • Prevent risk occurrence after hazard occurrence;
  • Mitigate potential damages and consequences of risk occurrence;
  • Monitor effectiveness of risk controls; and
  • Prevent the recurrence of a safety issue.

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KPIs Best Practices Quiz

How to Practice Proactive Risk Management

Proactive risk management is a risk management practice that will begin to grow after aviation safety programs have:

  1. Enough historical data to begin to establish trends and precursors; and/or
  2. Developed supporting safety cultures that increase proactive hazard identification and reporting among employees.

In short, proactive risk management will be more relevant as an SMS implementation matures and employees embrace the concepts of just culture.

Here are the basic elements of practicing proactive risk management.

Resources you need to practice proactive risk management:

  • Historical data;
  • Sophisticated data analysis tools;
  • Well-established key performance indicators or leading indicators;
  • Effective methods to promote safety agenda;
  • Ability to quickly and efficiently create and monitor risk controls; and
  • Understanding main root causes, hazard mechanisms, and threats to SMS program.

Top activities of proactive risk management:

  • Creating risk controls around expected hazard occurrence;
  • Creating checklists and procedures;
  • Listing (identifying) and establishing top root causes;
  • Analysis of classification data in order to understand areas of exposure;
  • Emergency response drills;
  • Consistent safety promotion efforts, i.e., newsletters, surveys, banners; and
  • Identify growing threats from root causes before the hazard occurs.

Outcomes and goals of proactive risk management:

  • Prevent hazard occurrence that can reasonably be prevented;
  • Actively seek out exposure before it becomes a safety concern;
  • Increase identification technique and ability of hazard mechanisms; and
  • Understand underlying causes of safety behavior.

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How to Practice Predictive Risk Management

Safety managers

Predicative risk management involves attempting to foresee safety concerns that have not occurred in the operational environment by reviewing and analyzing historical data. Trend analysis is perhaps the most well-known predictive risk management tool in a safety manager's toolkit.

Predictive risk management involves looking at operational processes and attempting to understand how those processes might fail in a given situation. You might call predictive risk management “hypothetical stress testing for SMS.”

Resources you need to effectively practice predictive risk management:

  • Very strong operational processes;
  • Strong understanding of operational systems and ability to imagine them in a given situation;
  • Historical data in order to know how people and SMS respond to certain situations;
  • Tools to easily classify safety concerns and audit findings;
  • Efficient and timely ability to retrieve data and analyze trends;
  • List of key performance indicators to focus data analysis activities; and
  • Strong understanding of Human Factors in the operational environment.

Top activities of predictive risk management:

  • Safety cases;
  • Data analysis;
  • Trend identification;
  • Management of change; and
  • Hypothetical scenario analysis.

Outcomes and goals of predictive risk management:

  • Identify new hazards;
  • Verify effectiveness of risk controls;
  • Assess performance limits of the safety management system;
  • Review operational processes for areas of potential exposure; and
  • Demonstrate continuous improvement of the aviation SMS.

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Final Thought: Practicing All Types of Risk Management

The important takeaway when understanding all three types of risk management are:

  • Know when to use which type of risk management;
  • Understand in which types of risk management your organization is strong/weak;
  • Be clear about which type of risk management you are currently practicing; and
  • Establish clear, relevant activities for your aviation SMS program.

To increase your ability to sustainably practice risk management in your aviation SMS, you will find that an SMS database is the required technology to acquire, store, and retrieve safety data.

One of your ultimate objectives as a safety manager is to successfully engage in predictive risk management activities year after year. The SMS database is critical to saving time and energy for the safety team. You will also increase your level of safety, reduce risk, and reap the real benefits of having an SMS database software program that can be used for all aviation SMS activities, including:

  • Hazard reporting;
  • Managing the SMS implementation process;
  • Risk management;
  • Safety assurance; and
  • Safety promotion.

If you want to have a real SMS and not a paper SMS, we can help you achieve your goals. Ask us to be your SMS partner.

Download SMS Implementation Checklist

Last updated March 2024.

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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