Safety Pro: Psychology at Root of Procedural Lapses

Normalization of and rewards for improper behavior are among the reasons for willful violations.

The keys to improving business aviation safety and flight department performance lie in understanding human psychology and group dynamics, safety instructor Robert Gould said at the “Why Do We Fail to Follow Procedures?” session at the National Business Aviation Association's recent  forum in White Plains, New York.  Gould cited several reasons why pilots and maintenance technicians commit violation errors—for example, the willful disregard of procedures, such as ignoring checklists—including excessive reliance on memory, interruptions, fatigue, poor training, and complacency.

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“When we violate a procedure and nothing bad happens, we perceive the action to be acceptable,” Gould, of Bravo Golf Aviation said, noting such behavior may be rewarded. “Time saving looks good to management; it saves money.”

Additionally, well-intentioned team members may be negatively influenced by non-compliant group behavior, Gould said, citing foundational university research on obedience to authority and group conformity. “Negative norms develop,” said Gould. “Normalization of deviation becomes accepted.”

Gould, who teaches at the University of Southern California’s Aviation Safety Program, urged attendees “not to accept that rules must sometimes be bent to get the job done, reject shortcuts, and recognize complacency. It’s all about good leadership and strong personal discipline,” Gould concluded. “There’s a difference between leadership and management.”