Leadership – Aviation Safety’s Secret Sauce

By Matt Dubois — PJS Chief of Staff & Director of Safety 

There is much written every day about the importance of leadership. Nowhere is it more important than in aviation when the stakes are so high. In business aviation, this starts at the top with the accountable executive (AE). The Federal Aviation Administration defines the AE as having the ultimate responsibility for the organization’s safety management system (SMS). 

High-performance organizations will identify systematic errors, implement preventative corrective action and exhibit intolerance of undesirable behaviors such as recklessness or willful disregard for established procedures. Many often refer to this as a “just culture.”  A Just Culture is one in which all employees are encouraged to provide and feel comfortable providing safety-related information. No one is more critical to creating a just safety culture and effective safety management process than a talented AE.

They are responsible for planning, organizing, directing and controlling the personnel, organizational structure, financial and other resources necessary for safe flight operations. As the ultimate authority in the organization, the AE is responsible for the proper functioning of the SMS. This entails, among other things, keeping an open line of communication with the designated management personnel, providing sufficient financial and human resources, and being actively involved in the leadership components of the SMS.

There are beneficial skills to help one succeed as the organization’s AE:  

  1. Setting the example of a good safety mindset and actions
  2. Developing accountable leaders across the organization
  3. Encouraging good relations between management and employees
  4. Inspiring the types of behavior that bolster teamwork and supporting each other
  5. Setting clear expectations about acceptable/unacceptable actions
  6. Being a good human being – emotional intelligence goes a long way for an AE

Adequate resourcing is necessary but by no means a sufficient precondition for achieving excellence in aviation safety. Leadership is the secret sauce. Leaders lead by example. They inspire respect, trust and commitment to organizational vision and mission, while also inspiring and motivating their teammates to give their best. A leader commits to the safety of the operation, attention to detail and going well above regulatory requirements to achieve the highest industry safety standards and best practices 100% of the time. 

At PJS, we consider leadership a critical component of our quantitative analysis. Our 18+ years of experience helps us identify the best available air carriers and crews based on all the relevant information. We perform the due diligence, so you do not have to.