Management Matters: Safety as Advanced Management

In the aviation world, risks we accept define our corporate culture and affect our day-to-day expectations


Safety is a familiar topic. (Some people would say safety has been covered to the point of ad nauseam!) We hear about it everyday in a hundred different ways. In aviation, we live within its most obvious attributes, rules, and their effects. Books are written on about every possible aspect of safety in nearly every profession or walk of life. In fact as a culture, we share our experiences with each other in various ways as we improve our quality of life thus driving down the probability of daily or future harm. Safety describes a condition resulting from individual and collective strategies to reduce our exposure to risk. Safety is integral to life.

In our modern age, we are not confronted with hazardous scenarios as a daily occurrence because we are a culture based on rulemaking and process. We all drive on the right side of the road, for example. Our lives provide a baseline of safety made up of learned behaviors as a result of experiences passed from others. As a result, we don’t, as a rule, have to dodge bandits on the way to work.

(Most days) Laws and their enforcement prevent what would otherwise be a risky existence. For example, we know it is bad to text and drive — experience has shown it to be so and we are reacting to reduce the occurrence of “texting” behind the wheel. Laws addressing this along with enforcement drive creation of a “non-texting” norm that improves our daily habits behind the wheel. Flourishing societies or cultures include processes that protect most of us from risky or hazardous behavior.

In the aviation world, risks we accept define our corporate culture and affect our day-to-day expectations. As leaders, management defines what risks are acceptable to the organization. The example we set defines the culture. This applies irrespective of a company’s policies. People respond to a visual experience. They mimic what they see to repeat positive experiences or avoid the negative. These are forces that affect risk. It’s a natural learning function that is part of our cognitive learning processes and is a powerful personal tool for socialization.

Accidents/incidents/occurrences

Accidents are rare events in comparison to the number of departures undertaken each day. They exist in a realm of low frequency with large consequences. They often result from a combination of common deviations or system failures in uncommon order at a time when barriers and defenses can be defeated. It’s all a matter of probability. The accident is the outcome of many “near misses.”

For every accident there have been at least 10 incidents and as many as 100 near misses. It’s for this reason that safety and quality organizations are often aggressively focused on small violations or incidents. The chain of events that leads to calamity is often the result of “norms” or deviations from policy and procedure accelerated by environmental factors that misdirect actions and influence judgment. These precursor events are “Get out of jail free cards.” Improving and correcting latent hazards and internal deficiencies drive accident probabilities to very low occurring events.

Marketing drives safety

Risks are set by the desire to sell a service or product. An airplane sitting on the ramp carries little risk to the operators until a trip is assigned and the crew places the craft in motion. How we manage that trip defines the probability of success.

An organization’s risk appetite coupled with conditions and circumstances contained in the service environment define its risk margins. In any organization, the drive for profitability tests fundamental processes and reveals their strengths and weaknesses. This is a good thing. It creates organizational growth and maturity by assuring those processes that work are maintained in favor of those that don’t.

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