The Effects of a Learning Mindset on Safety Culture

Mark Myers

By Mark Myers
Senior Safety Manager, Baldwin Safety & Compliance

Posted on July 8, 2024
Woman signaling the pilot with marshalling wands at airport

At Baldwin, we annually conduct extensive safety-culture surveys to measure the success of SMS implementation and performance across all types and sizes of operations. By analyzing six key cultural dimensions (Leadership, Reporting, Justness, Accountability, Learning and Safety Citizenship), the survey data provides invaluable insights into how safety culture is inextricably linked to the broader organizational culture.

As aviation departments strive to enhance their safety performance, a critical yet often overlooked element is the need to foster a learning-culture mindset. This mindset shift can unlock invaluable opportunities for continuous improvement, employee engagement and creating a resilient safety environment. From a behavioral management perspective, as your company’s learning culture goes, so goes the ongoing success of your SMS.

However, cultivating a learning-culture mindset is not without its challenges. Let’s explore the top three management challenges that aviation departments must navigate to effectively create and sustain this transformative approach to improving safety culture.

1. Formalizing a Just-Culture Framework

A just culture, where employees feel empowered to report safety-related incidents without fear of punitive action, is a foundational element of a learning-culture mindset. Our safety culture survey data shows that employees generally understand the non-punitive aspects of just culture. However, survey comments indicate that fewer managers know how to effectively use the tool’s coaching and counseling elements (to create learning opportunities) ahead of taking punitive action.

Managing just culture is a delicate balance between accountability and fairness. Department managers must ensure that safety breaches or errors are addressed with a non-punitive approach while still coaching the need for clear standards and expectations.

To overcome this challenge, management should invest in ongoing just-culture training to maintain a comprehensive, just-culture framework. This includes clearly defining the principles of accountability, establishing well-defined processes for incident reporting and investigation/feedback and consistently applying these standards across all levels of the organization.

2. Promoting Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning

At the heart of a learning-culture mindset is a relentless pursuit of continuous improvement. Aviation departments must adopt an attitude that views safety-related data, incidents and lessons learned as opportunities for growth and prevention rather than simply treating them as problems to be solved.

This challenge lies in transitioning from a reactive, compliance-driven approach to one that prioritizes proactive and data-driven decision-making. Managers must take the necessary time to facilitate a systematic analysis of all safety information, ensuring that insights are effectively translated into actionable safety enhancements for all employees in all departments. Our survey data indicates that low safety-culture scores are often due to a lack of timely and effective reporting feedback that addresses the latent errors buried in many report submissions.

In the busy environment of aviation departments, the challenge arises in breaking down departmental silos and facilitating the seamless flow of safety-related information across all departments. Managers must make the time to maintain clear and open communication channels, ensuring that safety decisions, lessons learned and best practices are transparently shared with the entire workforce. A proactive SMS is not a “top-down” system but a “middle-out” system that maintains the continuous exchange of safety-related information, fostering two-way communication, learning and a collaborative learning environment.

3. Improving Collaboration

The success of a learning-culture mindset hinges on the ability of aviation department management to foster effective communication and collaboration among all stakeholders, from frontline employees to executive leadership. Cross-departmental collaboration is crucial in cultivating a learning-culture mindset, as it allows the department to leverage diverse perspectives and expertise to drive continuous improvement.

Our safety-culture data is sorted by work role, location and employee demographics. When there were statistically significant score differences between work roles and/or locations, respondents commented about their lack of feedback on reports, ineffective change management, lack of understanding of their issues and low leadership trust scores.

To address this challenge, aviation department managers must increase the use of cross-functional employee makeup in as many collaboration platforms as possible. It is time to pull more frontline problem solvers into more frequent and pertinent safety meetings, daily/weekly safety action groups and digital collaboration tools. These platforms should foster learning, humble inquiry and a resilient knowledge base to manage a “middle-out” SMS for all stakeholders.

Build a learn-it-all safety culture! Nurture and grow your employees’ learning mindset with purposeful, timely and constructive feedback for all safety reports. Accelerate continual learning and build your knowledge base through increased use of cross-functional safety action groups. In a learning middle-out SMS culture, the “learn-it-alls” can trump the “know-it-alls” while building the organizational knowledge and resiliency demanded.

Baldwin Safety & Compliance Baldwin Safety & Compliance
Customized Safety/Quality Management programs and related business solutions developed by experienced and credentialed safety professionals include training, manual management and SMS implementation/software. Based on ICAO and other international standards and regulations, Baldwin’s programs support Business Aviation, Charter, MRO, Ground Operations and Handling, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport, UAS and Regional Airlines by providing scalable/flexible software, an outstanding customer experience, and our Commitment to Excellence.

© 2024 Baldwin Safety & Compliance. All Rights Reserved.

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