Be Aware of Your Aviation Safety Management Myths
Awareness is a great weapon for overcoming problems in aviation safety management systems (SMS). When aviation safety managers try and implement an aviation SMS while at the same time clinging to myths:
- People get hurt;
- The company loses money; and
- The SMS makes no progress.
Myths plague aviation SMS implementation – we’ve all been guilty at one time or another of clinging to false beliefs. It’s part of the learning curve.
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- Is Your Aviation SMS Implementation a Farce? - with Self-Assessments
- Why Should We Implement Aviation SMS?
- How to Create Aviation SMS Implementation Plan
Here are 3 myths safety managers struggle with when starting an SMS implementation.
Myth #1 SMS Will Improve Safety
How many aviation SMS out there is simply a showpiece? The answer is many. Whether it’s a non-performing program wrapped in aviation SMS software or an SMS manual, such SMS does not influence the daily operations of the organizations in which they exist. We call this a "paper SMS" where the operators' main focus is to "check the box" while continuing operations unhindered.
For example, we have had numerous clients in the past where nobody logged in to their safety portal in months. Such safety cultures illustrate the fact that aviation SMS can make no difference for safety.
For an SMS to work:
- The SMS needs to be properly implemented;
- It needs to be interacted with by all employees;
- The SMS must demonstrate performance in all areas of the organization;
- Safety managers need to push the SMS by providing incentives for it;
- Safety managers need to demonstrate the kind of safety culture needed for a successful SMS;
- The SMS needs a safety champion.
Without all or at least some of the above points, an SMS will remain limp and useless. A risk management program is a tool, and like any tool, it’s only useful if it’s being used.
Myth #2 Aviation Safety Manager Owns the Safety Program
Aviation safety managers do not own aviation SMS – the manage it. In fact, the accountable executive (e.g., CEO) is the person who owns the safety program.
The safety manager facilitates safe operations, but the accountable executive is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the aviation SMS.
The executive is:
- Responsible for providing sufficient SMS budgets;
- Has the “final word” on all safety decisions, but risk acceptance authority may be delegated downward;
- Oversees both quality and safety operations;
- Charged with incorporating quality and safety equally;
- Responsible for reviewing SMS performance on a regular basis;
- Charged to correct any substandard SMS performance.
Safety managers answer to the accountable executive. Safety managers are usually the ones charged with managing the SMS implementation. It is for this reason that safety programs depend on upper management's support.
When executives and or safety managers do not understand this:
- Needed safety tasks “fall through the cracks”;
- SMS is not properly funded for proper implementations;
- SMS does not receive the "visible" upper management support that it needs; and
- Safety managers are tasked with responsibilities that are far beyond the scope of both their ability and responsibility to perform.
Related Articles on Aviation Safety Managers
- How to Be a Better Aviation Safety Manager
- Career Advice for Aspiring Aviation Safety Managers
- How Safety Managers Increase Their Power in Aviation SMS
Myth #3 Employees Will Be Open to SMS
It seems in every employee’s best interest to be open and accepting to participate in aviation SMS. After all, having an SMS means better workplace safety. Yet, resistance to SMS is probably the most common problem organizations face. Resistance can be:
- Managers who attempt to undercut or navigate around the prescribed SMS procedures;
- Upper management/executives who refuse to provide the program with the necessary resources or attention the SMS needs to be successful; and
- Front-line employees who don’t report issues, don’t try and improve safety behavior or continue to cut corners when the boss isn’t watching.
Resistance is a central source of frustration for safety managers everywhere. It’s probably why
- Turnover in aviation safety management is surprisingly high; and
- Why private consulting is often very desirable in the aviation industry.
Resistance will happen at one point or another in every program – in fact, it will probably never go away. Keeping it at bay will take persistence.
Final Thought: Doing Implementation Over Again
Probably all aviation safety managers would make at least some different decisions if they were to redo their aviation SMS implementation. Implementations are marathons, not sprints.
Safety culture doesn’t happen overnight. The above myths all reference incorrect expectations about safety culture in one way or another.
This SMS implementation checklist will prove helpful as you implement your risk management program.
Just Starting Your SMS Implementation?
Have you just started your SMS implementation, or would you like to start over?
A major reason SMS fails is that they lack tools to sustain the SMS and to properly monitor SMS performance. If you ever have to redo an SMS implementation or start a new one at another company, you are recommended to start with an SMS database after getting top management support.
This may sound like slick snake-oil salesman talk because we provide an SMS database to manage all SMS requirements in a centralized database. But you can ask any safety manager who has successfully implemented an SMS, and they will tell you to get an SMS database as soon as possible. It will save you considerable grief.
SMS Pro comes with a very complete, SMS manual template with over 100 pages that are also cross-referenced to address FAA's Part 5 required processes.
Watch our videos and see if we are a good fit for you. We are here to help.
Last updated in May 2023.