What Is an Aviation Safety Manager in an SMS Program?

The aviation safety manager (SM) is the man or woman in charge of developing, directing, and modeling the safety management system of their organization. The safety manager is the central hub of all safety management activities in the organization.

Appointing a safety manager is a critical step in establishing aviation SMS organizational architecture and planning for implementation. The appointed SM may be:

  • A full time manager of safety, which usually happens in larger organization’s whose safety needs require a full time SM; however
  • In most (smaller) organizations the SM is an individual who has other safety duties.

Both in small and large service organizations, the appointed SM will likely be the point-of-contact for regulatory agencies, such as the FAA or EASA.

It’s extremely important to note that the safety manager is not responsible for the aviation SMS program – an SM is charged with managing and directing safety operations.

What is an aviation safety manager?

What Is a Safety Manager Responsible for?

An extremely common misnomer about safety manager responsibility is that they are the person responsible for the success/failure of the SMS program. This is not true. An organization's accountable executive is ultimately responsible for the safety performance of the SMS.

What an aviation safety manager is responsible for is managing the SMS and facilitating the safety program’s operations, which include the above mentioned:

What this looks like in a real-world scenario is the following 3 components:

  • Managing reported safety issues;
  • Staying concurrent with safety compliance; and
  • Supervising policies and procedures.

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What Tasks Does an Aviation Safety Manager Perform?

The safety manager is in charge of facilitating many operational elements of an aviation SMS program, including:

  • Ensuring efficiency of safety communication;
  • Monitoring that safety receives equal priority to other organizational operations, such as quality management;
  • Providing safety reports;
  • Risk analysis;
  • Keeping documentation, such as policies, procedures, and checklists, up to date;
  • Spearheading change management operations; and
  • Implementing the SMS.

There are other important duties as well, but the above points cover many primary duties. It’s also important to note that while some sites, such as Skybrary, maintain that safety managers are responsible for making sure safety receives equal priority, it’s more accurate to say they in charge of monitoring. The accountable safety executive needs to set the precedent that safety operations are equally valuable.

What Does It Take to Become an Aviation Safety Manager?

Aviation safety managers almost always have a strong background in the aviation industry. Such a background could be:

  • Served in the Airforce or other armed forces branch;
  • Worked for an airline, airport, or other service provider;
  • Is a pilot;
  • Was an aviation maintenance worker; or
  • Worked with an aviation regulatory agency.

As pointed, the position of safety manager varies quite a bit from company to company. Some companies may have stringent requirements and require specific certifications for an appointed safety manager. In small organizations, an safety manager may be appointed on the quality of their:

  • Aviation knowledge;
  • Professional knowledge of the working environment
  • Problem solving abilities;
  • Project managing skills;
  • Affability, charisma and other leadership abilities;
  • Communication abilities, both oral and written;
  • Safety behavior; and
  • Experiences in the aviation industry.

Safety professionals interested in becoming a manager of safety should review the requirements of different organizations and see how they can meet minimum requirements to get started right away.

What Makes a Good Safety Manager?

Working as a safety manager is unlike many other profession in that the required tasks required for success vary quite a bit. With someone in sales, personal charisma is a big part of the job; with someone in project management, task delegation will big a part of the job. Safety managers don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on one skill. A good aviation safety manager will usually have a strong ability to:

  • Have a proactive “get things done right away” attitude;
  • Project manage and delegate efficiently;
  • Analytical skills;
  • Comprehensive knowledge of safety concepts in action;
  • Comprehensive knowledge of oversight requirements;
  • Create quality interpersonal relationships;
  • Objectivity fairness; and
  • A “can-do-it” attitude to overcome roadblocks.

First and foremost, good safety mangers are universally invested the safety of their program and of the aviation industry as a whole. All of the above skills cannot compensate for an un-invested safety manager.

Struggles of Aviation Safety Managers

Safety managers face several challenges in their everyday work. What these challenges can amount to over time is safety manager burnout. In general, aviation safety managers are achievers, with strong technical and project management skills. However, the following areas can often drain their energy or impede upon success:

  • Bureaucracy;
  • Maintaining good interpersonal relationships;
  • Resistance to change;
  • Complacency; and
  • Unsupportive upper management.

In addition to all other areas of success, good safety managers almost always are persistent in overcoming roadblocks with their “can-do-it” mentality.

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