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CAA: SMS Help, Acceptance of SMS as an Effective Business Tool, Dialogue II

Acceptance of SMS as an Effective Business Tool and
Management Buy-In and Commitment to SMS Development
Dialogue II
Since our first installment of these dialogues on SMS, the FAA has published a numbered Advisory Circular on SMS; until now, we have been working with a draft AC.  The numbered AC is 150/5200-37 and carries a publication date of February 28, 2007.  We did a line-by-line review of the two documents to see what we could learn about the FAA thinking on SMS. 
We concluded the following from our review of the documents and our knowledge about other actions FAA is pursuing on SMS. 
As noted in the new AC, the FAA is working with the Transportation Research Board / Airport Cooperative Research Program on two interrelated SMS guidance documents.  Our sense is that FAA wants to see the results of the primary guidance document before moving forward with full implementation of SMS (rulemaking). 
As we said in Dialogue I, we like the “Twenty Steps to an Effective SMS” so, even with them removed from the current AC we think they provide some good dialogue topics and will continue to use them.
As we set about creating this second dialogue we decided to combine the first two topics, primarily because we could not find a convenient place to split the discussion.  So, in Dialogue II we will discuss Acceptance of SMS as an Effective Business Tool and Management Buy-In and Commitment to SMS Development. 
A Safety Management System (SMS) is a business like approach to safety.  According to Transport Canada, “it is a systematic, explicit and comprehensive process for managing safety risks.  As with all management systems, a safety management system provides for goal setting, planning, and measuring performance.  A safety management system is woven into the fabric of an organization.  It becomes part of the culture, the way people do their jobs.” 
Acceptance of SMS as an Effective Business Tool.
For most people that have never been involved with or studied the historical documents related to Safety Management Systems, it can and most likely will be a confusing venture.  SMS is relatively new to the aviation industry and therefore, there is a limited supply of supporting documentation or information that shows its effectiveness.  Airports and organizations are going to have to make a “leap of faith” in regards to SMS and look at other industries to understand the benefits of SMS.  Initially, airport operators are going to have to accept SMS as an effective business tool without knowing all the details. 
We have been researching and trying to understand SMS for more than four years as part of our work for the CAA of Taiwan.  Our research of the literature indicates that there is “some” information from the aviation industry, but the majority of information comes from the nuclear and petrochemical industries - not surprising given some of the catastrophes associated with those industries.  As it turns out some of the companies that have had the worst disasters have taken those experiences and become the leading proponents for the implementation of SMS as a business tool.  One of real leaders in the petrochemical industry is Shell Oil. 
Recently we have seen a new advocate for the use of SMS – of all places, in the health care industry.  We will list some articles of interest at the end of this dialogue for your reference. 
An airport can purchase insurance to help cover the costs of an aircraft accident or incident.  However, an airport may struggle for years to overcome the less tangible costs and effects, such as a damaged reputation in the aviation community, loss of employee time, and facilities.  Safety management systems can go a long way to avoiding these losses and is an effective business tool to help identify and mitigate the safety issues at airports. 
International (meaning airports outside the US) airports started implementing SMS just a few years ago so it will be another few years before we will be able to evaluate how effective of a business tool SMS has been for them.  In the meantime, airports will have to accept on good faith that the benefits other industries have found can also accrue to airports and that SMS is an effective and worthwhile business tool. 
So why should airports do SMS?  Besides the fact that it may become a requirement, some of the obvious safety benefits of a Safety Management System are:
While airports or organizations eventually survive the economic consequences of a major accident, they can be seriously injured for years as a consequence of one accident – avoiding just one of these devastating events makes a strong economic case for pursuing a Safety Management System.
Management Buy-In and Commitment to SMS Development. 
SMS is a safety system that relies on involvement and commitment from the very top of the organization - it is critical that the highest levels / positions within the airports be identified as key persons in the SMS plan.  One of the features that makes a safety management system unique is the characteristic that holds managers and individuals responsible for safety performance.  At the airport level the Airport Director is the highest ranking official and therefore becomes the Accountable Executive (a term removed from the latest AC).  The Airport Director assumes full responsibility and accountability for managing the SMS of the airport (We will discuss this more in later dialogues). 
SMS is a top down, not bottom up process.  In order for SMS to work and be effective there must be a genuine commitment from senior management.  Senior management must accept SMS as an effective business tool and buy-in to SMS by committing the airport, its resources and its time to SMS. 
What does it really mean for senior management to be committed to Safety Management Systems?  Senior Management commitment can be shown in a number of different ways:
Every employee contributes to the safety health of the airport but the airport senior managers play the most important role by developing the airport’s safety culture.  Dedication and involvement to safety and safety practices should be clearly visible to all airport staff below the senior management team. 
Accountability is a key factor in the effectiveness and success of a safety management system.  SMS holds both senior managers and airport staff accountable for their actions, decisions, and the airports policies.  Each employee is obligated to report or document their actions and decisions and be accountable for their decision and actions.  SMS is not a blame oriented environment – quite the contrary -- airport staff being held accountable for safety matters will improve morale and productivity.   
So, what will the airport gain from all the hard work and effort put in to building a successful SMS? 
ICAO Doc 9859 states that above all, management sets the organizational climate for safety.  Without management’s wholehearted commitment to safety, safety management will be largely ineffective.

Please see the following articles/documents for further information about SMS.
We will add a few sites to each dialogue as we go and will also prepare a list of links with information about SMS.  As you find sites please share them with the list.
Jessica Domitrovich
Tim Phillips

Acceptance of SMS as an Effective Business Tool Final.pdf

Current CAA news channel:

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