What is the difference between effective safety management v.s. the Safety Management System?
Many people and organisations confound the Safety Management System and effective Safety Management.
The SMS is the tool through which Safety can be managed.
One way to think about it is comparing it to a financial management system.
- First of all the Financial Management System gathers all the financial data in the organisation (bills, invoices, sales records, expenses, etc) and crunches that data to obtain financial information.
- Then the financial management of the operation is actually done when managers use the information from that system to make informed decisions. Until those decisions are actually implemented, nothing has been managed yet.
It is crucial to understand that having the tool (SMS), does not lead automatically to a good execution of the task (Safety Management).
Another way to think about it is of the SMS as the exercise bike in your basement.
The bike itself is not going to make you any fitter… you will have to jump on it and actually exercise.
This distinction is sadly many times missed in aviation organisations.
All the effort goes towards building up the tool (or a better bike if you will), but often not enough time is spent using it to actually be effective..
Rarely is the management team explained and trained in how to effectively use that tool to improve the organisational safety performance.
The result is a technically capable system where safety information sits unused. Having information does not improve the organisation much, unless it is used to drive decisions and safety enhancing actions.
Managing safety is a so-called “socio-technical” problem. Given the fact that the technical side of the problem is easy to solve (reports, databases, investigation, …) most organisations focus on that. However the “social” part of managing safety takes a different skill set, one that is rarely trained.
An effective safety manager needs to be able to effectively communicate to the management team, diplomatically persuade them and gain their trust.
This very much depends on how information and safety knowledge is presented and how well the management team understand their responsibilities (and accountabilities) in the management of safety
To be effective as a safety manager, (s)he needs to first identify safety issues (technical) and then present a persuasive case to the management team (social) so that they will ACT. In other words, the safety manager needs to create operational visibility to the management team.
Without concrete safety-enhancing actions, your organisation is not managing its safety performance, it is just filling a safety database with damning evidence should something go wrong.
As regulations are becoming performance-based, Civil Aviation Authorities are going to look more and more at how the organisation performs rather than how nice the SMS looks, you will have to demonstrate that your SMS is effective.
In other words, how effective is the management team in applying the information from the SMS and improving the organisation?