Safety Citizenship Behavior and Its Affect on Aviation at Every Level
Updated: Oct 23
Aviation is a unique business because our thoughts and actions can provide safe passage from one place to another or can result in tragedy. So what we do and how we do it makes a difference both on the individual and on the organizational levels.
In aviation organizations, an important quality to promote is Safety Citizenship Behavior. This is a term or concept that is popping up in academia and hasn’t really hit the front stage in aviation. But it should.
Let's first explore what it means, one word at a time, using classic definitions:
Safety means "condition of being protected, or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury". And in aviation, safety is a significant focus area.
Citizenship means "the status of being a citizen, membership in a community, and the quality of an individual's response to membership in a community." In the case of Safety Citizenship Behavior, aviation professionals need to look at the fact that they are indeed responsive to their membership in a community that aims to professionally provide safe air transportation – whether they are management, technicians, flight crew or in other contributing roles or disciplines. A focus on citizenship should drive participants to desire to band together, to learn safety lessons from each other, and to succeed as a team.
Behavior is "the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others, and often is demonstrated in response to a particular situation". Here we need to look at the fact that behavior an expression shown in a combination of words and actions. Behavior is not how a person relates with a machine or a thing, but how a person responds or reacts to other people.
So, if we loop this all together, Safety Citizenship Behavior, as it is expressed in aviation, is how a person expresses themselves with words or actions in response to being part of a community of aviation professionals, with the goal of carrying out their organizational role with professionalism and with the ultimate goal of safety.
Safety Citizenship Behavior - How a person expresses themselves with words or actions in response to being part of a community of aviation professionals, with the goal of carrying out their organizational role with professionalism and with the ultimate goal of safety.
When researchers have investigated Safety Citizenship Behavior, it is found that it is not just a person casually performing their work role, but it shows up when that person realizes the significance of safety and goes above and beyond to achieve continuous improvement in safety, as described by Hoffman in 2003. According to a 2009 study by Didla, Mearns and Flin , to achieve high safety levels, merely striving for compliance is not sufficient. Organizations need individuals who are also proactive in participating and initiating improvements in safety. These types of proactive behaviors are termed as Safety Citizenship Behaviors.
Each of us should ask ourselves if we are aiming for the baseline compliance with guidelines and procedures or if we think of ways we can improve how we do what we do individually and as a team. Our goal should not be to just maintain our current level of safety, but to identify issues and actively and continuously improve in our specific roles.
Safety Citizenship Behaviors are not just driven and initiated by individuals and teams, but in organizations, they often start with leadership. According to Muchiri, McMurray, Nkhoma, Pham in 2019 , "The more followers trust their leaders, the more likely they will be to engage in safety behaviors.
So, are you in leadership within your organization? Here is a nudge of encouragement for you to raise your awareness and realize your role and influence over those you work with. It is important to realize that folks in an organization look up to those in your position.
Are you practicing what you teach?
Are you doing what you say folks should do and leading by example?
Are you creating trust with the folks you work with? So that they will follow your lead, not begrudgingly, but with a desire to imitate you?
If you desire to hold a leadership role in the future, are you demonstrating aspects of Safety Citizenship Behavior to establish the trust and respect of your team so that they will be comfortable to follow your lead when you are named in the leadership role you desire?
Even If you are not in leadership, if you are an experienced aviation professional, newer team members will look up to you. Are you exhibiting the Safety Citizenship Behaviors that would make others want to follow in your footsteps?
According to a 2019 study by Curcuruto, Conchie, and Griffin , Safety Citizenship Behaviors create a work environment that supports individual and team safety, encourages a proactive management of workplace safety, and ultimately prevents accidents. That should be our focus as individuals, as work groups, and as employees of all aviation organizations. If it is not the focus of your organization, that should raise a red flag. Let's examine how each of us can aim for supportive work environments and proactive approaches to safety by adopting Safety Citizenship Behaviors.
 Shama Didla , Kathryn Mearns, Rhona Flin – 2009 Journal of Risk Research
 Michael K. Muchiri, Adela J. McMurray, Mathews Nkhoma, Hiep C. Pham – 2019 Journal of Developing Areas
 Curcuruto, Conchie, Griffin - 2019 Accident Analysis and Prevention