• Mark Myers

A Safety Manager's Mantra: Share Selflessly and Steal Shamelessly


I have been fortunate to have started my safety management career working for one of the nation’s commercial airlines. If one can think of the decade before the FAA complied with ICAOs SMS mandate, this was a time when airlines were experimenting with competitive hub and spoke models and were still adjusting to deregulation. It was also a pivotal time when airline safety leaders were discovering that their current fully-FAA-compliant safety programs did not have the capability to “flatten the accident rate curve” that was associated with industry growth projections.

To meet this challenge, in late 1991 airline senior management began making investments in developing Quality Management System (QMS) concepts. This included airlines mapping key business processes that not only improved customer service, but began to integrate ISO standards, external regulations, and best practices as a part of their strategic planning. Quickly, airline department funding began to flow away from ‘reactive’ safety programs, into creating ‘proactive’ quality auditing team initiatives.


As safety managers, we became ISO:9000 certified auditors and CQAs, who were trained to perform internal business process “quality review and safety audits.” Early in this process, both the FAA and airlines realized that mere compliance was not going to advance the levels safety needed. While the FAA began designing a new airline transport oversight system (ATOS) for their safety inspectors, my airline crafted some of the first voluntary disclosure MOUs that permitted FAA safety inspectors to join our quality and safety review audit teams. The MOU gave our safety audit teams access to the FAAs internal ATOS tool. In return, the airline provided FAA safety inspectors operating insights and quality process errors that were never shared during previous regulatory compliance inspections. This joint audit team processes begot today’s voluntary disclosure program language (VDRP), Internal Evaluation Program (IEP) Advisory Circulars, and helped advance today’s FAA Flight Standards data collection tools (DCTs).

Ok, thanks for the history lesson, but what is the takeaway?

QMS benchmarking and safety collaboration became the underlying driver in helping the airline industry flatten their accident curve. As each airline did not have the resources alone to move it by themselves, they formed numerous industry safety benchmark committees to measure their products, services, and safety management processes against one another. Numerous best practices were developed, refined, and developed such as ASAP, VDRP, LEAN, 6-sigma, FOQA, IOSA, and ASIAS. While the airlines competed ferociously for market share in public, their safety departments collaboratively ‘leapfrogged’ ahead of each other in accelerating their safety management development.


There was always a safety manager’s benchmarking mantra of “Share Selflessly and Steal Shamelessly". I want to believe that this was the force that helped us interweave safety and quality management theory, tools, and processes into the current SMS design. And yes, we will all share this with as many industries across the world – especially with those who wish to benchmark!


In next week's blog, we will explore four reasons why a Safety Manager should Share Selflessly and Steal Shamelessly to drive breakthroughs in safety management and operating excellence.

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