The backbone of a truly effective safety management system (SMS) requires all department personnel – pilots, maintenance technicians, dispatchers, flight attendants, even senior management – to regularly report operational flaws as they encounter them. That feedback is used to create solutions that prevent those flaws from becoming serious hazards, while achieving high levels of safety and professionalism. Finding a safety manager to oversee an SMS, however, requires the identification of a few simple yet unique skills.
Jeff Wofford, CAM, recently retired director of aviation at CommScope Aviation, believes a good safety manager must understand the business of business aviation. “The biggest hurdle is finding someone who wants the job, because the safety manager role is very underappreciated,” said Wofford, who formerly served as NBAA Safety Committee chair. “The manager’s job is to keep [an SMS] well-oiled and functioning as an effective tool. That person needs to be organized, creative and have a thick skin because they need to hold people accountable.”
“Nowadays, the safety manager is not expected to necessarily be a subject matter expert in any particular area.”
Jason Starke CAM, Director of Safety, Baldwin Safety and Compliance
“Nowadays, the safety manager is not expected to necessarily be a subject matter expert in any particular area,” said Jason Starke, CAM, director of safety at Baldwin Safety and Compliance. Safety managers – whether they’re pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, or others – should have “a knowledge of safety risk, hazard risk mitigation and the hazards in the environment,” Starke said.
It’s popular to require safety managers to assume an additional duty, like a line pilot or a mechanic. But Starke is seeing “a shift towards full-time [safety managers], which I think is a good thing.” Their tasks “include implementing safety management training for everybody in the organization.”
Good safety managers act like company cheerleaders, Starke said, to get people engaged and establish a reliable reporting system. The challenge involves “convincing people to report everything, even when it’s as simple as a fat-fingered entry into the FMS or a wrong radio call,” he said. The solution to reluctance comes with buy-in from top management.
It’s important to have a passion for safety and a thirst for safety knowledge, said a safety manager for a large jet operator in the South. Focused risk management and mitigation comes from a strong safety culture and a non-punitive reporting system “that makes sure we’re staying true to what we say we should be doing.”