Aircraft Maintenance Technology

NOV-DEC 2018

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10 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE TECHNOLOGY SAFETY MATTERS 3. Select a credible steward! The importance of selecting the right leader who is well positioned to exercise credible stewardship of a VRS cannot be overstated, especially in case of a VRS that includes confidential reporting. Credible stewardship is contingent upon a leader’s ability to protect the confidentiality of reporting parties and authority to wield sufficient organizational influence to translate reported information into tangible lessons learned. Hence the ideal steward for a VRS is a proven and widely respected leader who is trusted by but not substantially dependent on — think of independence as a function of strength of personality, professional maturity, resume equity, professional network, and personal background — the CEO or any other member of the senior management team. In the end, a reporting person needs to have the confidence that whoever has ownership for a company-internal VRS is both willing and able to maintain confidentiality even in the face of potential pressure to reveal the identity of the reporting person and to say No! to the CEO or any other senior leader. Similarly, credibility of the VRS throughout the organization at large is contingent upon received reporting being utilized in the interest of maximizing safety and not being misused for internal turf-battles or worse. The last person an aviation business should put in charge of a company-internal VRS is a crony or lackey of the CEO or of any other member of the senior management team. 4. Be persistent and proselytize! Aviation businesses that newly launch a VRS often face two major challenges: First, there can be misunderstandings regarding the intended scope. A favorite example is an aviation service provider that proudly set up what was supposed to be a safety-focused anonymous reporting system. The inaugural submission, however, turned out to be a complaint about the pricing and quantity of meals in the staff dining hall. Second, there can be skepticism regarding the protection of anonymity or confidentiality and the degree to which an aviation business is committed to learning and enacting change based on VRS submissions. Resolving the former usually entails patience and, at times, a healthy sense of humor. Addressing the latter is likely to require considerable persistence and consistent messaging on the part of the senior management team. So give serious thought to the best ways of championing a company-internal VRS. Make VRS submissions a key part of the standard agenda of senior management team meetings and all-hands-on-deck events to signal importance and commitment. Use every other appropriate opportunity like meetings with smaller employee groups to showcase lessons learned derived from your VRS. And do not forget the aforementioned “single failure trap”! 5. Do not undermine managerial authority! A company-internal VRS can be a powerful addition to the managerial toolbox for any aviation business. However, overreliance on a VRS can have the pernicious effect of undermining the authority of a company’s management team. A VRS is most effective as a complement to regular lines of reporting but should not be used as a substitute therefor. Beware of the dangers of inadvertently creating a denunciation culture by allowing a VRS to crowd out regular lines of reporting. A VRS is supposed to be an additional informational resource but not a tool for policing lower level leaders. Assuming the absence of criminal, unethical, or deliberately negligent conduct, leaders whose areas of responsibility are affected by a VRS submission should not be penalized. Also, make clear that a company-internal VRS is not meant as a substitute for national reporting systems such as ASRS or CHIRP and that employees are at liberty to avail of these national reporting systems. A company-internal VRS can be an important building block of the safety management system of any aviation or other safety-critical business. In addition, in cultural environments characterized by strong bias against publicly speaking up or questioning authority figures such as a line superior, let alone members of the senior management team, a company-internal VRS can be a natural channel for securing employees’ insights that, due to cultural norms, might otherwise not be accessible. The five steps outlined above can be a good starting point for setting up, achieving credibility for, and maximizing the returns from an effective company-internal VRS.

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