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5 Types of Aviation Safety Managers

Managerial Style is Critical for Safety Managers


How aviation safety managers conduct oversight is extremely important for their aviation SMS program.

The particular management style of a safety manager can make or break an aviation SMS program.

What kind of style do you use or do you recognize in your safety manager?

Having an answer to this question allows you to:

  • Play on your strengths;
  • Become a more effective safety manager;
  • Adopt a different style of management that fits in better with your organization; and
  • Understand how you interact with employees.

There is no “best” management style. Every organization has different needs, and different management styles work better in different companies. That being said, there are certain management styles that will be looked on more favorably for developing a quality safety culture.

Here are 5 types of aviation safety managers in risk management programs.

1 – The Expert Safety Manager

The expert safety manager style is the most feasible of all positive management styles. This style will:

  • Make clear straightforward safety decisions;
  • Have understandable and good reasons for safety decisions; and
  • Will be able to train employees on most important oversight agency compliance requirements.

These safety managers gain authority and respect by having a broad understanding of requirements, best practices, and safety philosophy. With the growing body of oversight requirements, this style is a natural one for safety managers to shoot for.

Pros: easiest and most natural way to gain respect and support for the SMS program. Cons: requires have very strong knowledge of all aspects of safety, and ongoing learning.

2 – The Respected Manager

The amiable safety manager is the kind of safety manager whose aviation SMS program probably won’t receive an audit finding for employees’ not knowing the safety manager’s name. Amiable safety managers gain respect, trust, and support for the SMS program by having positive personal qualities, such as:

  • Interacts and interfaces with all employees equally;
  • Genuinely listens to the safety concerns of employees;
  • Gives lots of feedback to reporters of safety issues; and
  • Attempts to involve all employees in change management.

Employees with this type of safety manager may follow the SMS program purely out of respect and personal loyalty to the safety manager. Such a safety manager tends to have the following traits:

  • Charismatic;
  • Integrity;
  • Against corporate culture; and
  • Able to connect with many different types of people.

This type of safety manager is probably the best type of manager for building a positive safety culture and sustainable risk management program. However, achieving a status of “universally well-liked” is extremely difficult, especially as programs get larger.

Pros: high influential, strong following for safety program. Cons: Very hard to do.

3 – The Top Down Manager

The top down safety manager relies heavily on his/her formal position in the company (i.e., the companies’ org chart). This type of safety manager may have:

  • Another formal position in the company, such as an upper management role; or
  • Been given a wide berth of authority by the accountable executive.

At the very least, this type of management style will wield a lot of formal authority. For organizations that need a strong, archetypical manager figure to keep the safety program in line, having a high-level manager endorse the program can be a very powerful incentive.

The idea is that with this type of manager, employees can expect rewards/disciplinary action from the safety manager that extends beyond the boundaries of safety (i.e., salary bonuses, promotions, probation). This kind of safety manager can use these incentives to promote the safety program.

Pros: safety program has a lot of authority and resources to be well organized and efficient. Cons: tendency to make safety program feel like a “management thing.”

4 – The Disciplinary Manager

This type of safety manager is generally frowned upon in the aviation safety community, as it is generally associated with not being in line with non-punitive reporting.

This type of management style is exactly what it sounds:

  • Relies on disciplinary action to keep safety behavior in check; and
  • Very clear rules regarding non-conformance.

This is not sustainable for a long-term management modus operandi. However, some safety programs that are spinning out of control may need some short term tough love from management. In the face of rebellious employees or strong resistance to change, this type of management style can be effective.

Once again however, it can also kill efficient SMS implementation, and in general management should be wary of being identified as a disciplinarian.

Pros: can help in situations of open rebellion or resistance against change management. Cons: can backfire and hurt safety culture, and not a sustainable management style.

5 – The Corporate Safety Manager

The connected safety management style is a safety management style whereby a manager gains support for the safety program by getting strong support and camaraderie among upper management. This camaraderie can lead to:

Getting upper management’s open support is a big deal for any safety program. For an SMS program to be implemented in a sustainable way, it needs to be supported by upper management. Case in point, we have seen many “fully implemented” safety programs completely collapse when the responsible safety manager leaves the company; in every situation, that safety manager did not have upper management support.

The downside with this management style is the tendency towards corporate cronyism. Moreover, this style of safety management will probably need to “prove” that they are qualified for their job, such as also trying to be a safety expert.

Pros: demonstrates that upper management has full support of safety program. Cons: will kill safety program if employees don’t feel that this manager is qualified for position.

Wondering what kind of safety manager you are? You might surprise yourself. Take the free quiz below and find out below.


SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports