Where the Rubber Meets the Road: When Safety Leadership Meets Crew Resource Management
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Leadership has many forms and applications, yet it is almost impossible to replicate an exact scenario. For example, when preparing to upgrade an experienced pilot, who has already completed Navy flight school and flown years with the Coast Guard on the Falcon Jet, you know that as soon as you cut them loose with their own crew they will run into a scenario that cannot be replicated. Every mission is different, with changing variables that could never be completely simulated. Every crew has different personalities, experience levels, and beliefs, so they do not always get along as individuals. With all these shifting variables in mind, how do you prepare a new aircraft commander who might get the call that next day to fly through a hurricane, rescue a sinking shrimp boat in bad weather, or run a medivac out of a small island in the middle of nowhere, in less than ideal conditions?
The answer is simple, you give them a tool set. Rather than trying to prepare them for an unlimited number of scenarios, instead provide a foundation that they can build off regardless of their ability or experience levels. Even if they have never led a team through a life or death scenario, you can still equip them for success.
What you need, especially when you are bringing young bright people into your organization with lots of book knowledge and not so much life experience, is a toolbox they can refer to and draw from. With these tools, it is important to give them great examples. I also believe there is A LOT of benefit for cross-pollinating among industries. For example, the medical community has seen the benefits of implementing safety leadership methods developed for aircraft crews (namely, Crew Resource Management) into the operating room environment. A great idea, but if you use a doctor to present to doctors, most likely the other doctors will be shielded with ego and the attitude of “well I had a similar situation and I did it this way. My way is the best way.” By presenting an idea outside of their area of experience, they will be less dismissive and more likely to consider it as a valid perspective.
With leadership there is often more than one right way to approaching a situation. Each approach will be built off the different individual’s personalities, abilities, and experience. We already realize you cannot simulate any scenario exactly, so give your people a taste from an outside industry. Let them hear examples from an industry they have no affiliation with, this way they will be more open to listening to examples and drawing from the theory or lesson learned in the example. This will allow the doctor, project foreman, superintendent, etc., to apply these concepts to their area of expertise. After all, the last thing a room full of accountants want to listen to is another accountant get up and speak.
So why are the ideas of crew resource management (CRM) so universally applicable? CRM was developed by NASA in the late 1970’s, and is in my opinion the earliest, most successful proven form of safety leadership. The developers realized they needed to touch on several areas, to create good leaders. Their focus was on improving the performance of their crew leaders in crisis scenarios. A flight crew is a small, well-oiled unit, where maintaining chain of command is essential. But for many of us, we are leaders of a different type of crew. If you are the CEO of a fortune 100 company, a crew of a few thousand. If you are a superintendent on a jobsite, a crew of several sub-contractors and general laborers. If you are a doctor and the lead surgeon in an operating room, a crew of nurses, technicians and medical staff. But what is the difference? In practice, hardly anything. The core ideas scale to every industry where proper leadership is necessary to maintain safety. The concept has been proven in aviation, where its effects have shaped one of the most dangerous ways to travel into a method almost 200 times safer than driving.
The key is, aviation was able to bring to life a concept, CRM, and apply it to people from all backgrounds, all different types of experience, and implement it as the shared vision in a cockpit. As we all know, people often get promoted beyond their capabilities. Aviation is especially susceptible to this phenomenon, as it is a rank and file system, heavily unionized, and based on your date of hire. Obviously, those promoted will not always be the best at their craft.
CRM shares a common vision of safe practices, leveraging the voice of even the most junior person on the crew to hold the team captain accountable for the decisions they make. This in turn has leveraged itself to a system of checks and balances, taking out the God complex of “I am the captain, so this is what we are doing.” That mentality invites accidents, whether it be in an operating room, construction site, manufacturing plant, or a few miles above the earth.
To get you a jump-start on applying these safety leadership methods, I will offer you an 8 part series defining the SAD CLAMP acronym, drawing from the best of my Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and civilian training. As always, these lessons are infused with my relatable stories from in and outside the cockpit, to get you up to speed on SAD CLAMPs practicality and effectiveness. All with an easy to extract life lesson that you can apply to your own area of expertise.
S = Situational Awareness
A = Adaptability/Flexibility
D = Decision-Making
C = Communication
L = Leadership
A = Assertiveness
M = Mission Analysis
P = Positive Mental Attitude
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