January is quickly fading into the rearview mirror and this is the point where those who made New Year resolutions are facing their resolve to keep those resolutions. Setting the right personal goals or objectives is tough, and sticking to them is even harder in most cases. This is also true for organizational safety objectives. But it doesn’t have to be. Objectives that are unattainable, unrealistic, unmoving, or unbounded can easily derail progress to where one wants to be as a person or where an organization wants to be in terms of safety performance. Below are four tips for creating safety objectives that can improve safety performance and instill the pride of accomplishment in the organization:
Involve ALL stakeholders - This one is absolutely essential. Safety managers should not be the chief cook and bottle washer of safety objectives. In other words, safety objectives should not be the brainchild of safety managers. When an objective is needed to improve an outcome in a specific department or increase the safety capacity of that department, the department leader should be the chief proponent and author of the objective. The department leader (manager) is the one who knows what needs to be improved in terms of safety in that function and should champion any objectives to facilitate improvement. The safety manager can guide the department manager in the formulation of the objective, but the department manager needs to own it. The caveat here is that if it is an objective that deals specifically with a safety management aspect, then yes, the safety manager would be that champion.
Make the objectives S.M.A.R.T - Well-crafted objectives follow the S.M.A.R.T principle, in that they are specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding in terms of safety (my spin), and timebound.
The attribute of “specific” refers to the fact that we have to be very distinct on what we want to achieve. Saying “I want to improve safety” or “Reduce the number of accidents” is not specific at all. Being specific means stating “We want to reduce the number of TCAS RAs to less than 1 per 100 flight hours”. This is very specific and helps with designating what to measure.
Measurable means just that, it is something you can measure reliably and consistently. Saying that you will measure unstable approaches is fine, but you will need to define what an unstable approach is so that when an approach that meets this criteria is made, it will be tallied. Stating simply that you will measure “near misses” is very ambiguous and does not describe exactly what needs to be measured. Or, the classic example “we want to improve safety”; how does one measure that?
The attainable element is personally my favorite. I have worked with many organizations that set outcome objectives to zero. In other words, they will say “we want to reduce the number of missing tools after a shift to zero.” While this is a righteous objective, is it absolutely attainable? What do I mean by this? Outcome events, such as non-stabilized approaches, tools missing after a task, slips and falls, etc. are outcome events. Organizations have little, if any, control over outcome events. Therefore, stating that an organization wants to reduce an outcome event to zero might not be attainable - of course, unless operations are shut down. For more insight into this, I encourage you to read the paper by Dr. Steven Shorrock called “Never Zero”.
As far as rewarding in terms of safety, this is more my term. In the traditional S.M.A.R.T model, “R” is usually “relevant”. However, I like to think of creating objectives that are rewarding in terms of safety. Reducing the number of course deviations, implementing a safety management system, installing HUDs on all aircraft, sending all mechanics to aircraft specific training, etc. are all rewarding in terms of increasing safety in the organization. The objectives you set should be geared towards moving the needle on safety. While an objective of “increase reporting by X%” is not necessarily a bad objective, you have to ask yourself will this increased reporting really move the needle forward on safety?
Time bound objectives are imperative to achieving success. Leaving an objective open-ended breeds apathy. If an organization says “we want to reduce the number of hangar rash incidents by X%” and doesn’t provide a drop-dead date by when to do it, they may be tempted to kick that can down the road. Without a date, it becomes more a matter of convenience than urgency. Put a date on all your objectives that you want to achieve and show that date on the graph you publish for all employees. This will help hold the organization accountable to achieving that objective by the stated date. If the organization misses the date, then the whole workforce will see this.
Get Leadership Support - Under the SMS component Safety Policy and Objectives, it talks about leadership committing the resources necessary to the safety management system. Safety objectives are a big part of that. When it comes to moving the needle on safety performance, resources are going to be needed. Process-based objectives are those that describe what the organization can do to influence the outcome data. Items like “implement a fatigue risk management program” or “institute NATA Safety 1st Training” are process-based actions that can move the needle on safety. However, implementation of these initiatives will take resources and those resources need to be approved/released from leadership. Therefore, leadership needs to understand and have buy-in for each objective proposed. A good place to present these objectives and garner support is the Safety Committee meeting. Once the applicable department manager and safety manager formulate the objectives they should be presented in this forum to get buy-in and the necessary resources.
Monitoring progress is the last element that is imperative to setting and achieving great safety objectives. First of all, make sure you publicly share your progress with employees. This helps to hold the organization accountable. Second, make sure that at every Safety Committee meeting the progress towards the objectives is shared. If the progress is diverging from the stated target, this is a great forum to discuss what can be done to create convergence. Leadership involvement is the key to ensure the organization stays on track to attaining each safety objective.
There you have it, four tips for creating safety objectives that can move the needle on safety performance. By involving all stakeholders, setting S.M.A.R.T objectives, obtaining leadership support, and monitoring progress, your organization can be on the way to achieving optimal safety performance. As always, we at Baldwin Safety and Compliance are committed to helping you achieve optimal safety performance. If there are any questions or concerns regarding setting safety objectives, please contact us at Baldwin@portside.co.