Key Tips for Developing an SMS in Scaling Enterprise and Small/Medium Business UAS Programs

First, thank you to everyone who joined me earlier this week for the “Adopting Safety Management System Practices for Your Enterprise UAS Program” webinar. If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can watch the entire presentation and Q&A session in the video above. As I explained in the webinar, a Safety Management System (SMS) should be thought of like a “Business Plan” for safety in your organization. As your operations and fleet grow your SMS will need to evolve as well. Organizations of all sizes can apply SMS principles and practices to increase safety. However, taking into account the size of your organization is vital to determine which parts of a traditional SMS can be most valuable for your organization’s UAS SMS.

Key Takeaways for Growing Enterprise UAS Programs

1. Develop a Simple to Follow and Execution-Oriented Safety Policy

Making your Safety Policy execution-oriented, especially for flight operations, should mean higher engagement with your Safety Policy and easier expectation management. A Safety Policy should be reviewed periodically and updated accordingly. Everyone is a stakeholder, but in enterprise UAS programs, your UAS program manager is the person who is ultimately responsible for the overall success and safety of the program. 

2. Establish Data-Driven Safety Risk Management Practices 

Your enterprise UAS program’s SRM (Safety Risk Management) strategy should be to minimize use of emotional/gut decisions through quantifying risks. By quantifying risks, you can decide on an acceptable level of risk for your operations and build that into your safety practices. Good SRM will make clear what acceptable levels of risk are and how to stay within those limits. Make it easy to identify operational hazards by implementing checklists for multiple purposes to ensure airspace and operational compliance of every flight. *Tip* Make certain actions like take-off impossible — without completing prerequisite steps such as a pre-flight checklist.

3. Implement an Improvable and Adaptable Safety Assurance Plan

A good SA (Safety Assurance) process will provide a roadmap for improving itself and responding to both anticipated and unanticipated challenges. It should allow all stakeholders near real-time knowledge of SA data and how their SMS is performing. A key element of the SA process is understanding how your organization’s telemetry, sensor, and live-stream data will be protected. A good Safety Assurance plan with a good safety culture encourages and includes reporting normal and abnormal incidents. Audits, performance reviews, or retros help drive this process.

4. Create a Safety Promotion Culture

Developing a culture of safety is a major driver of safety promotion in your enterprise UAS program. An organization can establish and promote a positive safety culture by encouraging communication and transparency within the UAS program. Sub-optimal participation means sub-optimal safety. Less data to work with means less analysis being done. Without adequate safety promotion, other elements of an SMS are more likely to fail.

Key Takeaways for Small/Medium Business UAS Programs

1. Adopt Improvable and Adaptable SMS Practices

Smaller organizations should make their SMS flexible for growth and changes. As smaller organizations are more nimble, they can change course quickly if a practice or principle is tried and does not work.

2. Make it Easy to Follow Your Organization’s SMS

The reality for small organizations is you have to “wear multiple hats” and can’t devote as much time to any one project or function. As with any organization, it’s important to strike the right balance between formal and informal processes as your UAS program grows.

3. Give Employees the Right Information When They Need It

Smaller programs (and organizations of all sizes) can suffer from information overload. To create an effective SMS for your small/medium business, procedures should prioritize surfacing the right information at the right time.

4. Establish Open Communication About Safety

If you’re testing out a new Safety Risk Management practice like a risk assessment checklist, it is important to make sure your pilot(s) and participants in UAS operations understand the purpose of this new practice. Once the operations are complete, a good practice is to debrief with the pilot/s for feedback on this new practice.

Resources to Learn More About SMS and Safety

Below you will find links to a few resources I recommend to aid you in the process of adopting an SMS in your organization’s enterprise UAS program and improve overall safety practices.

If you have any further questions about adopting Safety Management Systems into your UAS program, feel free to contact me at