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Safety Leadership in the Flight Department

How can the Flight Department define the relatively loose concept of 'Safety Leadership' and make it effective for them? Mario Pierobon explores some methods...

Mario Pierobon   |   20th September 2017
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Mario Pierobon Mario Pierobon

Mario Pierobon holds a Master’s Degree in Air Transportation Management from City University...
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Who is Responsible for Driving Your Safety Standards Forward?

‘Safety Leadership’ is one of NBAA’s so-called foundations for safety. But how can the Flight Department define this loose concept and make it effective for them? Mario Pierobon explores…

 

Safe performance of missions, provision of appropriate resources and receptiveness toward concerns raised from the line environment are traditionally considered to revolve around Flight Department Management setting the example.

While the hierarchical view of leadership is important (management does ultimately lead the safety practice and safety performance within a Flight Department), considering Safety Leadership only from a hierarchical perspective can also be limiting.

Line operatives often do not know much of what happens at middle or higher levels of management. Furthermore, corporate flight departments are normally not very hierarchically structured and all members of staff work side-by-side to ensure safe mission accomplishment. Thus, safety becomes everyone’s responsibility.

‘Flat’ leader-follower relationships are more distinctive of small organizations like Flight Departments. Looking at Safety Leadership from a ‘flat’ perspective offers more food for thought for Business Aviation professionals, because a ‘flat’ view of Safety Leadership allows the organization to define this concept with a focus on three main factors: Communication, Candour and Sharing (of common goals). Let’s take a little time to consider each of these…

 

Communication

Communication is essential to Safety Leadership. From a hierarchical perspective communication is about the distribution of safety information throughout the organization. From a ‘flat’ perspective it is about making colleagues aware of issues that have been (or that are being) experienced.

You can tell there is effective Safety Leadership when colleagues (regardless of rank) talk about issues without fear of crossing boundaries of professional hierarchy.

People still need to submit safety reports through the formal channels established by the company, but they also recognize the need to share their experiences freely with colleagues to improve learning and understanding between the team.

If only a safety report were submitted, the safety database will be populated with those data. At some point in time the information together with other relevant safety information will be channelled down to the other operatives – but it would not be channelled in a timely fashion. Sharing experiences openly with colleagues (while ensuring discretion and confidentiality) will cultivate immediate improvement in safety knowledge that benefits the organization.

Such open communication on safety matters within the Flight Department can be difficult to attain if the safety culture is not fully mature. But it should nevertheless be aimed for.

 

Candour

Ultimately, candour is about individuals performing morally within the workplace. Safety Leaders are moral people. What does that look like in practice?

Safety Leaders never report safety issues concerning a colleague with malicious intent, and do not hold back reporting safety issues concerning colleagues who they get along well with.

True Safety Leaders treat safety issues with detachment, the safe operation of the Flight Department being the sole motivation behind their reporting.

Being moral also means being honest about your own performance, admitting your errors and deviations. Moral professionals do not take unnecessary risks, they do not jeopardise their personal safety, or that of colleagues and customers.

There can be virtually unavoidable operational pressures during everyday life at the Flight Department, but moral professionals will not compromise on safety; they will be able to say ‘no’ to pressures from customers when they know the pressures simply should not be exercised.

 

Sharing

The last aspect of Safety Leadership is the sharing of common goals. This means that your goals and those of the organization must align.

Are you happy with your pay, your workload and what the organization provides for ensuring a high standard of safety performance? If the answer is ‘no’ then there is an imbalance that needs sharing and discussing. Perhaps your expectations are too high, or maybe there is genuine room for improvement. Sharing concerns will help address this.

 

In Summary

The Safety Leader is the professional who notices the gap between where the Flight Department stands and where it could (perhaps should) be, and takes an active role as an agent for change.

The Safety Leader is the one who raises issues, but does so diplomatically thereby ensuring buy-in. S/he does not seek confrontation with managers or colleagues, but sets a positive example of professionalism by genuinely caring about the wellbeing of colleagues and customers.

The Safety Leader does not have to be the Flight Department Manager (though s/he should lead by example). Every member of the Flight Department is responsible for leading progress in safety within their areas of responsibility.

 


Read more about: Flight Department Safety | Business Aviation Safety | Flight Department Structure

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