People make performance


Up until now, most of the focus of Safety Professionals was directed towards building a Safety Management System. However, the intended end goal of having an SMS is to improve Safety Performance.
More and more organisations are starting to figure out that simply having a bunch of procedures, manuals, reporting systems etc. is not enough to meaningfully impact their safety performance.

Like all fields of human endeavour, performance is made by people. I strongly believe that in order to actually improve Safety Performance, just having an SMS by itself is not enough.
The Safety Professional will need to develop what I call modern Safety Management Skills.

These skills fall largely into 2 parts:

Firstly, the ability and skills to understand safety at a systemic level.
Secondly, not less important, the ability to influence the organisation and other people when talking about safety.

Because most people involved in safety come from a technical background, their focus tends to be directed at technological issues,
They try to address safety issues with mechanistic solutions, even treating the SMS itself as a mechanistic system.

The assumption is that the right processes and procedures will generate the right data which will automatically lead to the right safety decisions.
Experience in industry shows that there are huge obstacles to identifying, investigating and solving safety issues, these obstacles are usually “social” not “technical” in nature. Even when the right issues and solutions are identified, it is a long hard “fight” to convince the decision makers in the organisation that there is a problem and they should act to resolve it.

Safety management needs to compete for the attention of the management team with a whole host of other organizational responsibilities and daily crises.
In order to be effective and make other people understand Safety, Soft Skills not hard technical skills will be most necessary. The good news is that these can be learned. As a matter of fact, most experienced safety professionals learn this by trial and error along the way.

soft skills to boost safety performanceA modern safety professional needs to understand this social side of safety management so that he or she can effectively gain the attention of the management team and facilitate the decision-making process around safety to ultimately improve the safety performance of the organization. To do this they should develop tools and skills that allow constructive collaboration, effective communication and safety leadership by influence rather than authority.

As a consequence, a modern curriculum for safety professionals, besides hard technical skills and knowledge, needs to include “soft” skills and knowledge to be up to date. It needs to cover a basic framework of human performance, psychology, systems thinking, social dynamics and decision making.

In addition it needs to develop skill in critical thinking and creative problem-solving, collaboration, effective written and verbal communication as well as creativity and imagination to look at problems from different angles and come up with creative win-win solutions to safety issues.

This page is a continuous work in progress and will link to relevant sources of information on the topic where relevant. I would really appreciate any comments, as I am sure that this will need significant polishing and updating, I see it more as a point of departure for constructive discussion than anything else!



Curriculum for developing Modern Safety Management Skills


Part I : Understanding safety

  • safety concepts and paradigms

    • What is safety? 

    • Is safety the #1 priority? Safety vs. the system’s goals. What is it that we are trying to accomplish?

    • What is Risk?


    • What is a Safety Management System?

    • evolution of safety management in aviation

    • What should the SMS do? Swatting mosquitos vs. draining swamps.

    • What is the role of the safety professional in the SMS?

    • What is the management of Safety, who manages safety?

    • The safety management process

    • Quality Management and SMS, the role of compliance or safety


    • Management commitment to the SMS and Safety management

    • What is management commitment? to what? How do you get it? How do you keep it?

    • Motivational factors in the organization around safety: how problem-solving turns into firefighting

    • Addressing the WIFM’s: how to make the SMS relevant to individual managers

    • Understanding how SMS can be perceived as a threat by managers

    • The importance of constructive collaboration and achieving trusted advisor status as a safety professional.

    • SMS and bureaucracy



    • Understanding your accident model: 
      Implications of complex socio-technical systems on safety and the limitations of our paradigms.

      • Paradigms that shape our safety views about accident causation

    • The Newtonian-Cartesian worldview and accident causation

    • Taylor’s scientific management still shapes our assumptions and interventions

    • The evolution of accident causation theory

      • Chain of events

      • The triangle Heinrich made up, how it can lead to false expectations about accident causations

      • Reason’s Swiss cheese and how it falls short

    • Complex Sociotechnical Systems: implications

    • Social context of safety and safety failure

      • The problem with trying to find root cause

      • How ideas of justice and fairness impact corrective actions in our organization.

    • Motivation paradigms : Stick & Carrot v. Intrinsic motivation ( Self-determination theory)


    • New ways of looking at safety

    • Organizational drift: why Murphy is wrong.

    • Safety I & ll : looking for failure vs. identifying success

    • Systems theory: Building a systemic view of safety


    • Safety goals and objectives 

    • Benefits of having goals

    • Problems with the wrong kind of goals

      • perverse incentives that hurt safety performance

    • Setting productive goals and objectives


  • Understanding the role of human performance in safety

    • Introduction to Human Factors

      • Human performance: capabilities and limits

    • Cognitive/mental/ emotional

    • Senses

    • Physiological limitations

    • What humans are and are not good at

    • Human Performance influencing factors

    • Individual

    • Communication, processing information, 

    • Environmental

    • Organizational

    • Understanding normal work

      • the command and control illusion: Tayloristic view of work

      • Work as imagined vs. work as done : understanding practical drift and the messy details of real work

      • Efficiency-Thoroughness Trade-Off’s

      • Goal-conflicts  

    • Understanding unsafe acts

      • “Human Error”

    • Definitions:

    • Understanding “Human Error” the old view and the new view

    • Problems with the old view, simple explanations for complex systems

    • Challenges for the “new view”

      • Violations and non-compliance

    • Distinction between errors and violations

    • Reasons for violations

    • New view: Human error as the start of the investigation not the end

    • Local rationality vs Monday morning quarterbacking


  • Obtaining operational safety data

    • Why do we want safety data? Data driven safety management

    • Hazards, risks, occurrences, near-misses, accidents, … What data do we want? Quantitative vs. qualitative

    • How do we get it? Sources of safety data

      • Getting personal: the human intelligence gathering vs. dependence on hi-tech

    • Active listening

    • Observation of normal work

    • LOSA

    • Shop floor walkabouts

    • Reconnecting management with sharp-enders

      • Improving the reporting culture: getting useful reports

      • Use of FOQA/ FDM programs 

    • Data rich – information poor: potential for data overload

    • How to transform safety data into actionable intelligence: 

    • Defining the right problem

    • asking the right questions

    • Statistical analysis of data


  • Investigating safety 

    • What to investigate? When to investigate?

    • Different types of investigations: accidents, occurrences, pro-active investigations

    • How to investigate:

    • Understanding our own biases as investigators

    • Critical thinking: The ability to ask really good questions and defining the right problem

    • Why? Why? Why? Why? WHY?

    • Applying 10 principles of applying systems thinking to human error

    • How to effectively interview, developing active listening skills

    • Dealing with difficult situations

    • Data gathering during the investigation

    • Converting investigation data into actionable intelligence

    • Effective recommendations for systemic Error management


  • Just culture and “Human error”

    • What is Just culture? Why do we need it?

    • Implication of Just Culture on investigations, Paradigm check: what are our assumptions?

    • Why do we need a Just Culture? Impact on Learning and reporting cultures.

    • Essential elements for a Just Culture

    • Obstacles to Just Culture

    • Just culture models






  • Understanding risk

    • Risk and uncertainty: definitions

    • The risk formula ; mental traps

    • Perceptions around risk : 

    • cognitive limitations of our sometimes irrational mind, 

    • avoiding wishful thinking and complacency

    • Risk appetite, do we know what level of risk we are exposed to?

    • Risk avoidance vs. production

    • The dynamic nature of risk, risk in context

    • Organizational drift, impact on risk


  • Identifying risk: risk analysis

    • Risk analysis is not the inverse of accident investigation: connecting the dots with imperfect knowledge. 

    • Can we model uncertainty? Past performance is no guarantee of future performance!

    • Can we model complex systems? Are these models useful ?

    • Calculating uncertainty: expressing risk in probabilities

    • Risk assessment by subject matters experts

    • Problems of subjective assessments

    • Calibrating SME’s

    • Risk assessment Barrier models

    • ARMS

    • BowTie


    • Documenting and ranking risk: Risk registers 


    • Management of change

    • Risk of change in the operation

    • How to evaluate risk of change

    • building a safety case


  • Managing risk in complex socio-technical systems:


    • What is the Purpose of Risk Management ?

    • the problem with applying linear accident causation models like Swiss cheese  to risk management

    • What Risk do we try to manage ?

    • How can we manage risk in the operation?

    • Managing risk at the design stage.

    • How risk mitigation can locally reduce but increase Risk globally.

    • Effective risk mitigation

    • Maintaining a dynamic view of risk


Part II Making other people understand safety ISSUEs and take action 

  • Psychological aspects of a being an effective safety professional

    • Self-knowledge

    • Being conscious about your personal purpose in the organization

    • Emotional intelligence: dealing with conflict, anger and frustration

    • willingness to be a dissenting voice, staying non-conformist

    • developing a vigilant mindset - avoiding complacency

    • Assertiveness, 

    • identifying and overcoming your own mental biases

    • increasing your creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills

    • How to make friends and influence people to take safety enhancing action!

    • dealing with conflict and frustration

    • developing empathy

    • The science of persuasion, influence and negotiation

    • Becoming a Trusted Advisor

    • Coaching your organization to better safety performance

    • Overcoming mental blocks to organizational change 

    • Becoming a leader in safety

    • Creating consciousness, responsibility and action

    • Following up on action plans

    • How to effectively use Goals and Objectives to drive continuous improvement

    • The Kaizen mindset

    • Lessons from High Performance teams

    • Safety Culture: Know your organization

    • What is culture? Different views on culture

    • Can we change it? How?


  • Effective safety communication that generates action



    • What are we trying to achieve with safety communication?

    • We are all trying to move people - selling safety

    • Understanding intrinsic motivation : designing more effective safety messages with self-determination theory

    • Inspiring vs. manipulating people: “Start with why”

    • Crafting more effective safety messages: 

    • Credibility of safety messages. 

    • Avoiding information overload: rule of 3’s

    • Paradigms for engaging safety communication. Be careful saying "Be careful! "

    • Addressing local rationality and goal conflicts . Creating a systemic view of safety.

    • stages of getting from data to action, stages of safety communication

    • Make your safety messages stick, using stories to keep people engaged


    • Tips for better communicating in written form

    • Tips for effective verbal presentation



    • Feedback : the most important and least understood tool in safety management

    • What is feedback supposed to do?

    • Forms of feedback

    • giving vs Receiving feedback

    • How to become a catalyst for better communication: facilitation skills

    • Effective safety training in your organization

    • Using the new forms of media to your advantage


  • Running safety meetings :

    • Types of safety meetings.

    • What purpose does the safety meeting have ? 

    • Designing the meeting for its purpose!

    • The safety decision-making process

    • Who do you need to attend your meeting ?

    • How to prepare for an effective meeting!

    • How to run a safety meeting when you are not the highest ranking in the room

    • How to stop people falling asleep !

    • Dynamics of the safety meeting : 

      • avoiding unnecessary conflicts, 

      • Resolving conflict. 

      • Constructive confrontation,

      • How to get decisions.

    • How to build realistic action plans that convert safely decisions into concrete action

  • Safety assurance

    • Why? Importance of following up on management decisions and verifying execution.

    • Collaboration between Quality and Safety management as a cornerstone of Safety Assurance

    • Measuring goals, objectives and key safety performance indicators

    • Safety assurance as a source of valuable safety data

    • Coaching your organization to execute action plans and meet safety objectives

    • Conducting safety audits

    • Difference with Quality audits: what are you looking for?

    • How to plan a safety audit

    • Different approaches to safety audits





©2015   Curriculum for Modern Safety Professional education