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5 Habits of Highly Effective Aviation Safety Managers

Posted by Tyler Britton on Sep 22, 2018 6:56:00 AM

Creating a System of Organization

5 Habits of Highly Effective Aviation Safety Managers

Even smaller aviation safety management system (SMS) are still a leviathan of

  • policies and procedures,
  • SMS documents,
  • reported safety concerns,
  • investigations;
  • SMS training materials; and so on.

A disorganized aviation safety manager will slowly kill an aviation SMS every time.

Related Aviation Safety Manager Articles

Symptoms of a disorganized safety manager will arise, such as:

  • Risk management processes will not be followed
  • Corrective actions and preventive actions will not be completed on time
  • Safety audits will be late, messy and stressful, and fail
  • SMS implementation activities will always be behind schedule
  • Safety meetings will not be documented or scheduled properly
  • Safety newsletters
  • It will appear to the employees that the safety manager just doesn’t quite “have it together”

On the flip side of this coin, a well-organized aviation safety manager usually administers an efficiently functioning SMS. The significant hiccup areas, such as passing safety audits and SMS implementation activities, will be far more successful because a safety manager will be able to focus their efforts where it counts, rather than simply "getting it together."

Safety Management Style Quiz

Tools and Personality Play Role in Aviation SMS Success

Creating a system of organization that functions with energetic integrity is a combination of a safety manager’s/team’s personal habits, as well as the aid of a formal system of structured risk management processes, such as those offered by aviation SMS software.

Without a doubt, commercially available, low-cost SMS software greatly amplifies the efforts of a safety team. Instead of focusing on menial documentation details commonly found in SMS documentation requirements, safety teams can focus on adding more value to the SMS with more service offerings, such as

  • Safety Newsletters;
  • Safety Surveys; and
  • SMS Training.

I'm not saying that safety managers cannot manage their SMS without aviation SMS software. Very small, simple operations may be able to succeed using paper, MS Excel, and MS Word. Based on experience, if your operations have more than 40 employees or smaller companies with high employee turnover, low-cost SMS software will easily be one of your best investments in SMS. In Europe, SMS databases are required to hold hazard-reporting data.

For other operators, if your company has more than 60 to 80 employees, I recommend an aviation SMS database to reduce the SMS documentation efforts. The sooner you start using an SMS database, the sooner you will be able to participate in predictive risk management.

Related Articles on Predictive Risk Management in Aviation SMS

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Before we jump into the habits of effective organization for aviation safety managers, let’s briefly look at what well organized actually means.

What “Well Organized” Means for Aviation SMS

Analyzing document

A well-organized safety manager will be able to answer most questions that start with things like-

  • “What is the status of ...”
  • “What’s going on with ...”
  • “When is ... happening ...”

-at the drop of a hat, or at least after a moment's reference. When we talk about being well organized in an aviation SMS, we are talking about trackability of safety activities, especially including those that become "audit worthy."

A safety manager will constantly be tracking things like:

  • Reported safety Issues currently in the risk management process
  • Important calendar dates, such as internal audit schedules, policies, and procedure review, etc.
  • Newly reported safety issues and submitted audit findings
  • Status of SMS implementation activities
  • Safety survey progress
  • Safety newsletter publish due dates

And so forth. In layman’s terms “trackability” simply means being on top of it, and doing it with methods that everyone else can see and clearly understand. In the SMS, trackability is considered "safety performance monitoring." Safety performance monitoring assures us the SMS is working appropriately by continuously monitoring hazards, risks, and control measures.

Have You Read

If you are starting your new aviation SMS implementation, or have been working on it for some time, here are 5 effective habits that good safety officers use to become organized.

1 – Build a Trusted Workflow System

This doesn’t mean creating an in-house aviation SMS software program. As stated previously, there is no substitute for an industry-accepted, professionally built aviation SMS database to keep safety teams organized. Rather, in this case, building a trusted system is a personal system that means:

  • Putting things where they belong right away
  • Create a hierarchy of priorities
  • Create automatic reminders for important items
  • Establish a personal method of how to manage issues within your formal issue manager

Basically put, building a personal trusted system of organization means: creating a system of your workflow

So that if you were, for example, training a new safety manager, you could show step by step how you deal with various elements.

Download Aviation SMS Implementation Resources

2 – Write Everything Down (Documentation)

Years ago I worked as a project manager and my boss insisted that anytime information was passed between myself and clients/vendors/herself/etc., I write it down, date it, and file it away for future reference. It sounds tedious.

And it is tedious. But it will save you time and time again – it has certainly saved my coworkers and me many times. For a safety officer, this might look like

  • Writing down important decisions – i.e. what was said and who said it – at safety meetings, safety committee meetings, or meetings with management
  • With the new FAA standard granting safety managers the ability to give informal “warnings” instead of corrective actions, it would mean meticulously documenting what happened and what exactly was said between you and the warned employee
  • Writing down and dating employees' verbal concerns, management’s resistance to change, your solutions, etc.

Any information with a relative degree of importance should be scribbled down. Usually, it’s also best to write these things down on the relevant piece of paper/documentation.

Basically, a pen and paper are a well-organized safety manager’s sidekicks. Things are constantly being documented and dated.

Related Aviation Safety Manager Articles

3 – Place for Everything

Of course, being able to document and track many pieces of information requires some place to put it. This takes several forms:

  • The email contains a well-organized folder and buckets to drop relevant safety emails into
  • Having a filing cabinet with detailed folders to store safety and documented information
  • Having a spreadsheet, such as MS Excel, to make dated notes about the safety program, as discussed above – i.e. an electronic filing cabinet
  • The hazard register is well designed, filtered, and with documentation notes for actions taken on hazards, hazard consequences, and risk controls.

Having a place for everything has subtle benefits that go beyond your own personal effectiveness and sanity as a safety manager. For example, should you leave your current organization, get sick, have someone fill in for you, etc., another person would quickly and easily be able to fill your shoes.

It means that the functioning of an SMS is dependent on the safety manager’s system and method of organization, rather than on the actual personality of the safety manager him/herself.

Download Aviation KPIs Resources

4 – Deal with Issues Right Away

Aviation safety managers must work hard to stay focused on their aviation SMS implementations, which means good documentation

We all know this to be true, especially in aviation SMS where safety-related data is constantly pouring into your lap: things build up quickly.

The best safety managers I’ve seen address reported safety issues and actionable items right away. It involves having strong multi-tasking abilities of course, but it is also dependent on item three. If a safety manager doesn’t have a place to put information, it will sit.

And in an SMS, things that sit, build up and get messy. Addressing safety concerns right away means taking the appropriate action for that moment, documenting it, and filing that information in a designated place with a reminder of when it needs to be addressed again.

5 – 30 Minute Review Every Morning

As you are well aware, aviation SMS is huge. Safety managers who start their day by spending 20-30 minutes doing the following:

  • Review the previous day’s reported safety issues, meetings, etc.
  • Prioritize the current list of items for the day
  • Check that there are no pending or overdue reported safety issues, requirements, elements of the SMS that haven’t been addressed, etc.

And so on. This allows safety managers to get their bearings – mental organization if you will – and establish their directives so that they can maximize their working efficiency and ability to stay on task.

Basically, a morning review is simply past/present/future task organization.

Related Aviation Safety Manager Articles

Final Thoughts for Effective Safety Managers

Aviation safety manager’s organization boils down to creating a system out of personal workflows. It involves

  • Documenting/dating all important safety information
  • Having places to organize it
  • Having the ability to easily retrieve SMS documentation for auditors
  • Establishing documented workflows for managing issues, setting reminders, etc.

Being extremely organized not only makes safety managers and the SMS perform well, but it also safeguards the safety manager’s role in the SMS should something happen to him/her. All this, and not to mention that passing audits will be simple as pie.

An SMS database solution will save considerable time. An SMS database comes with defined risk management workflows that may benefit your organization. If you don't have documented SMS risk management workflows, then I recommend acquiring an SMS database to help you out.

An SMS database will also assure the accountable executive that the SMS is managed properly. An SMS database solution offers:

  • Accountability;
  • Transparency; and
  • Ability to continuously monitor hazards, risks and controls.

An aviation SMS database is a safety manager's best friend. The SMS database will make your safety and quality team's work more professional and structured as processes are well-defined by a community of safety professionals.

Download SMS Implementation Checklist

When was the last time you reviewed your risk management procedures? Here are some useful workflows to compare your system with that of others.

Download Risk Management Procedural Workflows

Last updated November 2023.

Topics: Aviation SMS Implementation

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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