What is the Best SMS Tool? – YOU ARE!
What is the Best SMS Tool?
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What is the Best SMS Tool? – YOU ARE!

Christopher Young

By Christopher Young
Director of Safety Solutions, Baldwin Aviation - Safety & Compliance

Do you remember the old U.S. Army recruiting posters depicting “Uncle Sam” and the slogan, “I Want You”? It might be a throwback to a challenging time when our nation was in the perils of war, but I think it is loosely relevant today when we consider what more can be done to benefit aviation safety. Certainly, if you consider that aviation was just in its infancy when those Uncle Sam posters were being circulated, we have made enormous progress with improving reliability and performance with these awesome flying machines. However, I challenge that we still have far to go to achieve even higher levels of positive safety outcomes in our flight and ground operations – and it involves YOU!

For almost 20 years, much work has been accomplished in the aviation industry to promote the implementation of the Safety Management System (SMS). Its understanding and acceptance has been slow to take hold among general aviation, but it has clearly been a meaningful contributor to the improved safety record of air carriers worldwide. Within the FAA’s SMS framework, systems are described as “integrated networks of people and other resources performing activities that accomplish some mission or goal in a prescribed environment.” This cohesive unit of people is intended to comprise all levels of the organization, not just a select few charged with sustaining their SMS. Having worked with numerous operators, I often see a weakness with how an organization’s people effectively interact with one another as well as a deficiency in how active those participants are in their safety initiatives. SMS compels organizations to examine how they conduct their operations and the decisions made involving those activities. Without everyone’s genuine involvement and commitment this effort frequently falls short of the intended goals and allows for vulnerabilities in their process. These potential gaps can enable the organization to have a false sense of security and thus expose itself to unnecessary risk.

So, what can YOU do about it? A lot! It includes several key attributes that everyone from the top-down and bottom-up need to fully embrace in their SMS process:

  • Engagement
  • Attitude
  • Decision making
  • Accountability

When our workforce is actively engaged and motivated, our business (and SMS) benefits tremendously. Our people and their ability to contribute are one of the principal assets an organization has. The author Jim Collins said in his book Good to Great, “There’s a huge difference between the opportunity to ‘have your say’ and the opportunity to be heard.” He further adds that by creating a culture wherein people can be heard, ultimately the truth will be heard. This is very powerful and becomes critical for enabling effective collaboration with continuous improvement activities, identifying root causes, and implementing corrective actions. Having a positive work environment facilitates an organization’s employees to want to be involved and seek out proactive ways to manage risk in a systematic approach. Sidney Dekker once stated, “The question that drives safety work in a just culture is not who is responsible for failure, rather, it asks what is responsible for things going wrong.”

No one likes to work with someone who has a bad attitude. That situation can be stressful and frustrating, and can negatively affect other people or even an entire organization’s performance. Successful companies work very hard to foster positive attitudes among their workers. They emphasize that learning opportunities are valued and are an important element to future success. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) identifies five hazardous attitudes: anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, macho, and resignation. There are several others to consider such as complacency and lack of empathy.

It is important for individuals, co-workers and leadership to recognize these mindsets and help to take measures to prevent their intensification. Individuals with hazardous attitudes are more willing to reject constructive feedback, take shortcuts, be less aware of others’ negative habits, push the limits, and be more susceptible to external pressures. Each of us is responsible for taking a positive approach to how we perform. We also need to collectively help one another to motivate and sustain healthy safety attitudes.

Decision Making
Wilbur Wright once wrote, “In flying I have learned that carelessness and overconfidence are usually far more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks.” This viewpoint is quite profound considering when he made his remarks – long before SMS and proactive risk management were ever envisioned. He instinctively makes reference to decisions surrounding the assessment of hazards we may encounter (as well as negative attitudes). In AC 60-22, the FAA defines aeronautical decision making as a “systematic approach to the mental process of evaluating a given set of circumstances and determining the best course of action.” This course of action can be challenging, especially when under pressure or overwhelmed with excessive information and/or tasks.

Individuals need to prepare themselves as much as possible ahead of time to diagnose potential hazards and enable a smoother transition as new information is received or issues develop. The active decision making process can be broken down into three basic steps: anticipate what could go wrong; recognize when something has gone wrong; and act by evaluating your options and choosing one (from AOPA Safety Advisors). Simply put by AOPA “good decision making is about avoiding the circumstances that lead to really tough choices.” The more effective organizations and their personnel can be at evaluating the severity and probability of hazards, the better they will be at making risk-tolerant decisions.

In an effective SMS, all levels of the organization are equally accountable for the proactive approach to risk management and safety assurance. It certainly starts with quality leadership that inspires employees to do their best and empowers them to openly question abnormalities or nonconformities. Accountable executives need to demonstrate their commitment to a successful SMS through established policy, effective communication, clear vision, and modeled behavior.

Accountability also involves the enlistment of stakeholders or stewards that share in the company’s core values and will champion the right causes. Companies need individuals who have strong character traits and innate capabilities that result in them “…doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” (C.S. Lewis). Sidney Dekker also stated, “But accountability is about looking ahead. Not only should accountability acknowledge the mistake and the harm resulting from it, it should lay out the opportunities (and responsibilities!) for making changes so that the probability of such harm happening again goes down.” We all have an obligation and duty for safety performance as well as to be responsive when actions drive negative outcomes.

As SMS continues to evolve and becomes more indispensable, aviation organizations will need to adapt along with it and further integrate it into their normal business process. This will deeply involve the active participation of all the organization’s individuals to enable successful implementation and sustainment of their SMS. Through active engagement, positive attitudes, effective decision making, and absolute accountability YOU will help your organization truly improve operational performance and enhance safety. Each of these attributes is intertwined and often affect the success of another. I WANT YOU to reflect on these and determine how YOU can make a difference in your organization and our industry.

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Customized Safety Management programs 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, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport and Regional Airlines by providing advanced software, an outstanding customer experience and our Commitment to Excellence.

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