When Lobbyists Prohibits SMS
The Accountable Executive is the person within an aviation SMS organization, being airport or airline, who has demonstrated control of the financial and human resources. SMS can be generally interpreted as applying a quality management approach to control safety risks. Just like other management functions, safety management requires planning, organising, communicating and providing direction. All these SMS tasks are time consuming and takes time away from providing customer service. When assessing the risk level there will be a conflict between on-time performance, customer expectations and safety-risk level assigned for the simple reason that the expectation of safety is to add one or more policy restrictions. When assessing the risk, the SMS operator must make a choice between safety or on-time performance. Not only does a risk assessment negatively affect customer service, but the customer, or a lobbyist, may have a direct input on how to interpret the risk and what corrective action is required. When there is a conflict between safety and on-time performance, on-time performance will always win.
|It is not policy non-compliance but forward looking time that is of the essence is in SMS|
SMS is proactive, or a forward-looking system. The SMS policy is not a backwards-looking policy to hold someone accountable, but a forward-looking policy to improve safety in operations and become aware of incident types with high occurrence probability. It might be tempting for a customer to demand that an operator has a policy in place to hold an individual accountable. Let’s for a minute assume that an individual damaged an airplane by pulling a cart into it. This could be a small, medium or large aircraft, inside or outside a hangar. The customer becomes emotionally involved with the operator and demands that the operator submits to the customer a policy that will hold the individual accountable. Without this policy there is a high probability that the customer finds another supplier. This is not good for business and the operator makes up a policy on the spot that will hold the individual accountable. Now what? Problem solved, case closed and business as usual. On-time performance just won the confrontation and safety lost.
When the priority is to find someone to be held accountable, there is no room to move forward with safety improvements for that type of incident. The key to success in safety is to apply the principles of SMS and training. An SMS policy supports training and communication. After an incident, just like the cart strike, the operator must collect that data from the incident, turn data into information, then gain knowledge to comprehend one system and other interacting systems. With this approach something can be done to prevent future incidents. Not only does this approach becomes a corner-stone with a high probability to prevent same types of incident, but this approach is also an awareness tool to prevent other unrelated types of incidents. In an operational just-culture, where there is trust, learning, accountability and information sharing the trend becomes to apply SMS principles to all aspects of operations rather than focusing on one individual’s action.
A non-SMS individual who does not comprehend SMS, as the customer in the story above, would associate SMS with safety and demand actions to fix safety. They would not consider an option to fix the system moving forward. This type of personality does not accept that training and communication in operational processes is a more valuable tool for on-time performance than a policy to hold an individual accountable.
SMS is an extremely specialized field. Successful businesses hire accountants, tax-experts, lawyers, pilots, professional mechanics, truckers for truck driving, surgeons for surgeries, police officers for police works and CEO business managers. Imagine if an airline hired non-pilots to fly the airplane? It makes good business sense to develop a business plan where professional are in the position of their profession within the business. Having professionals in the organization is done as a support tool for the operations itself with an expectation of a higher return on investment. However, when it comes to the Safety Management System all professionalism goes out the window. The same business who hired other professionals gives the SMS position to a non-qualified person. In addition, this same business now expects that safety will negatively affect the ROI. No wonder that SMS gets a terrible reputation when businesses sets and achieve their negative SMS goals. It does not make good business sense that any CEO establishes an SMS office that will negatively affect the ROI by hiring non-qualified personnel. When a CEO accepts that their own SMS culture will negatively affect their bottom line, this opinion then becomes their subconscious goal to work towards. On the other hand, if this same organization operates with a culture that is open minded and prepared to learn the facts about SMS, they will take necessary steps to allow for SMS to improve their processes. Improved processes should improve ROI, improve process effectiveness and be a tool for the SMS to become a revenue generator rather than a liability.
When lobbyists, or a customer runs the SMS, the nuts and bolts of the systems are forgotten.
A successful SMS is solely dependant on what culture the Accountable Executive lives in and what lobbyists they are affected by. It is the AE who has the final word, and authority to override any SMS decisions made by SMS experts in the organization. However, when the AE is affected by customers lobbying for non-SMS principles as a money-saver, the SMS becomes another liability. E.g. social media videos taping personnel taking necessary, but unpopular safety actions turn the public opinion into a negative reputation of the operator. An AE without a just-culture vision and comprehension of SMS becomes the greatest liability to profitability. The key to success of an SMS is for the AE to accept forward-looking SMS operations, ensure that there are SMS experts onboard and promote SMS to the customers as a system rather than operational safety. Remember, including the AE, everyone wants service, but nobody appreciates interruptions.