Building Safety Management Capacity in Aviation Organizations
Building Safety Management Capacity in Aviation Organizations
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Building Safety Management Capacity in Aviation Organizations

Jason Starke

By Jason Starke
Director of Standards, Baldwin Aviation - Safety & Compliance

Over the last decade, aviation organizations have been preoccupied with implementing safety management systems (SMS), aviation safety action programs (ASAP), flight data monitoring programs (FDM), and other safety initiatives. Many have done so in response to regulatory requirements, industry standard requirements, or plainly to improve safety performance in the organization. The result, whether implemented as a compulsory or voluntary act, is the increase of safety capacity in the organization.

Broadly, the capacity of an organization is the net output or effect a process or program can attain in the present state.4 In the case of safety management capacity, this would be the net effect on safety management that programs, systems, policies, and processes are presently achieving. In a sense, it is the organization’s safety management capacity that allows it to meet the established safety goals and objectives.1 Without the proper capacity to meet demand, safety management efforts will fail. Therefore, aviation organizations need to engage in safety capacity building as part of their safety management strategy. In essence, this means investing in the people of the organization as well as procuring the proper training and tools.

What is Safety Management Capacity Building?
Capacity building, in the corporate sense, is an organization investing in the people, processes, and equipment to meet the demands of customers and work towards its mission.6 In other words, it is increasing the output of work an organization can achieve through increasing the resources and ability to do that work. In the safety management sense, increasing safety management capacity is increasing the organization’s ability to effectively manage risk as well as increase the output of safety management systems in the organization. Building safety management capacity in the organization isn’t merely a matter of adding more people, tools, resources, and education; but instead strategically identifying where capacity can be increased to make the most significant impact. In some cases, improving one aspect of capacity building – say technology – can release additional capacity in the resources already in place.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) infers the notion of safety capacity building when it describes setting process-based objectives. These process-based objectives are proactive and meant to improve or add to the process to influence a positive outcome.5 An example of a process-based objective would be training 100 percent of the pilots on stabilized approach criteria to influence the outcome, which is hoped to be fewer unstable approaches. The training provided increases the safety capacity of the organization through awareness and mitigation of a potential issue. Training is just one facet – albeit an important one – of capacity building. However, organizations can, and should, increase capacity across different areas as well.

Areas to Build Capacity
Below are just a few critical areas where capacity building efforts can be focused to make the most substantial impact:

  • Leadership
  • Training
  • Safety resources
  • Technology

Building leadership capacity – precisely safety leadership capacity – can have a profound impact on the organization. Leaders can influence at the micro, or individual, level and need to create a culture that fosters trust, innovation, and productivity. Leaders have the opportunity to influence across two pathways: a psychological pathway that addresses the needs of the followers, and a knowledge pathway that provides the followers with the information to perform optimally.2 It is the psychological pathway that enables leaders to create a culture that fosters trust, innovation, and even safety. Building capacity in safety leadership should focus on the stability of finances dedicated to safety management, safety management system stability, and growth of the safety management system.

Building capacity across training relates to the knowledge pathway. Building training capacity is providing knowledge and information employees need to do their jobs safely and effectively. This flow of information increases organizational learning and overall knowledge capital in the organization.7 Therefore, organizations should invest in formal functional training for their employees. Additionally, organizations that provide training and develop a learning culture are prone to having higher employee engagement and retention.3

Building capacity across safety resources and technology can be closely related in the current era. Tasks that are routine and take time in the past used to rely on human resources. However, today many technological resources – especially in safety – have the effect of releasing capacity back into the organization. In other words, software and web-based solutions to handle routine or complicated tasks can free the individual to work on more innovation-based projects. For example, solutions such as the Baldwin Web Portal allow safety managers to focus more on improving safety management efforts while the Web Portal handles report submissions, audit scheduling, data analysis, and even communication logistics. Increasing capacity across resources and technology can definitely have the additional effect of releasing currently bound capacity.

Building operational capacity is critical in today’s organizations if they want to continue meeting demands while maintaining efficiency. The same is valid for building safety management capacity. Organizations that want to improve and expand safety management efforts need to build capacity across leadership, training, resources, and technology. Developing safety leadership and training capacity can have a profound effect on the safety culture of the organization. Growing capacity across resources and technology has the added benefit of releasing latent capacity. Capacity building is a deliberate action performed in organizations, and building safety capacity should not ever be overlooked.

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3 Egan, T. M., Yang, B., & Barlett, K. R. (2004, Fall). The effects of organizational
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4 Gill, A. (2015, December). Strategic capacity planning process in construction business.
Journal of Applied Business & Economics, 17(4), 95-104. Retrieved from:

5 International Civil Aviation Organization. (2018). Safety Management Manual (Doc.
9859, 4th Ed.). Montreal: Author.

6 Jooste, K., & Cairns, L. (2015, May). Comparing nurse managers and nurses’
perceptions of nurses’ self leadership during capacity building. Journal of
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