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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:
- 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:
- More resources for the SMS program;
- Greater responsibility and status for safety manager in company; and
- More power for safety manager to make safety decisions.
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 http://aviationsafetyblog.asms-pro.com/blog/5-types-of-aviation-safety-managers
What is the Iceberg of Ignorance
The Iceberg of Ignorance was first developed in 1989 by a consultant named Sidney Yoshida. The Iceberg of Ignorance is a model that addressed concerns about safety awareness in large organizations. This model contends that of all problems:
- Only 4% of problems are known to upper managers;
- Only 9% of problems are known to middle managers;
- 74% of problems are known to supervisors; and
- 100% of problems are known to staff and front-line employees.
The idea is that management is only aware of the “tip of the iceberg.” This model has some rather obvious problems, namely that:
- Top managers will be aware of problems that staff has no idea about.
However, this model does identify the important fact that:
- Top managers are bound to be aware of high level problems; but
- Not the many, many small problems that plague staff and eventually can lead to big problems.
Iceberg of Ignorance Reconstructed
In aviation SMS, this model is probably more useful when slightly reconstructed as being an awareness of quality vs quantity:
- Top managers (decision makers) are aware of the few, high level problems, but are not aware of the many minor issues;
- As we move down the latter, awareness of quality issues goes down, and awareness of quantify goes up; and
- Staff are not necessarily aware of the high level, trending problems, but are pointedly aware of the many minor problems that cause them problems every day.
This idea seems rather obvious: top managers are much more concerns with the “serious” problems, and front-line employees are concerned with the minor issues that cause frustration every day.
But the other reality is that most organizations simply don’t have a meaningful way to for the “minor issues” to go all the away up the communication ladder for top mangaers to be aware of them.
These are important truths that leads to many preventable accidents and incidents every year.
Why Iceberg of Ignorance Matters in Risk Management
The reason the Iceberg of Ignorance (reconstructed) matters is because of one important point:
- All serious problems are the result of many smaller problems that went unnoticed or un-managed.
One study found that for:
- Every serious incident;
- There were 59 smaller, “minor” incidents; and
- 600 minor conditions.
As decision makers, if top manages can be more aware of the “minor” issues and conditions, they have the power to stop these issues/conditions before they lead to a serious incident. This is why the Iceberg of Ignorance matters to top managers and employees.
To overcome this issue:
- Top managers need to make a concerted effort to be aware of minor issues and conditions.
Overcoming this issue happens primarily through changing your hazard reporting system requirements.
Overcome Iceberg of Ignorance Through Hazard Reporting
Overcome ignorance in your SMS requires:
- Having decision makers be aware of minor problems;
- Having staff and front-line employees see importance of minor problems; and
- Ensuring that front-line employees report these minor problems.
In real world terms, it looks like this: all issues should be reported, even trivial concerns. Trivial concerns lead to bigger problems. Reporting all concerns requires a bit more work on the part of safety managers having to manage these issues, but it ensures safety managers are making decisions based on an awareness of all of the data, rather than just the ostensible problems.
SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports
What is Responsibility?
Responsibility n. the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone. (Oxford Dictionary)
Most of us learned about responsibility as children. Our parents gave us responsibilities like walking the dog or loading the dishwasher. As adults, we’re responsible for paying our bills, finishing our tasks at work, and doing the laundry.
Within your aviation SMS, everyone has some measure of responsibility. At the very least, every employee has a responsibility to report unsafe conditions and to work safely as possible.
Responsibility is a broad term encompassing anything you’re expected to do.
What is Accountability?
Accountable adj. (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible. (Oxford Dictionary)
Accountability takes responsibility to another level. When you are accountable, you not only have a duty to deal with something, but must answer for the outcome.
Being responsible does not make someone accountable. In most cases, we hold people accountable for the things they are responsible for, but not always.
Everyone in your SMS has a responsibility to report hazardous and unsafe conditions. They’re not all accountable neither for the success of the reporting system nor the success of the SMS itself .
Your safety manager can answer for the system if it isn’t working. The safety manager accountable to upper management, while the “accountable executive” or CEO is accountable to regulatory authorities.
What is Authority?
Authority n. the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. (Oxford Dictionary)
Authority is different from either responsibility or accountability. Having authority does not make someone responsible or accountable.
Yet, authority in the absence of responsibility or accountability is pointless. Such authority accomplishes nothing. Without responsibility, it has no direction. Without accountability, it is tyrannical.
Those held accountable should have authority. Accountability without authority is a scapegoat, rather than someone empowered to solve problems.
Putting it in Context
In day to day speech, responsibility, accountability, and authority are interchangeable words. This isn’t wrong, but it is helpful to understand the subtle differences.
Responsibility is broad. Everyone has it in varying degrees. Your safety culture should instill a sense of responsibility in every employee.
Accountability is narrower. Those with accountability can answer when something is or isn’t working as intended.
Authority allows an individual to make changes. Accountability and authority should go hand in hand. Neither is effective otherwise.
An Aviation SMS Example
You’ve instituted a reporting program. Within your reporting program, employees have varying levels of responsibility, accountability, and authority.
The accountable executive is accountable for the program’s success or failure. They have the authority necessary to backup this accountability.
Accountable executives delegate the reporting program to the safety manager. This passes some of their responsibility and authority down the line.
The safety manager becomes accountable to the executive. The executive is still accountable to the outside world. The outside world in this case including shareholders, customers, and regulatory agencies.
Safety managers use delegated authority to implement and manage the SMS. They make the decisions and assign responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities will need accountability while others will not.
Why the Difference Matters
These differences don’t seem major, and most of the time they aren’t. So why be pedantic about them?
If you’re a manager, it’s important to make these distinctions. Knowing the differences will help you make better decisions.
When you know who is responsible and who is accountable, you know who can answer for a decision. Knowing who is accountable, you make sure they have the authority necessary.
Understanding these distinctions empowers you to become a more capable safety manager. How have these distinctions helped you? Do you have a different understanding? Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think!