A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

08 March 2010


I am recently back from the 21st annual Women in Aviation, International Conference, where I heard wonderful keynote speeches from a number of notables in the aviation field. Among these was Randy Babbitt, the new FAA Administrator. Mr. Babbitt talked at length about the issue of safety, as you might expect. What was interesting to me was his choice to address safety in terms of professionalism.

Pilots, like people in all industries, are expected to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of themselves, their equipment and others in their care. In your workplace, even if the greatest daily danger you face is a paper cut, you have safety procedures with which you are expected to be familiar and compliant. But how many people do you know who approach safety with real professionalism?

How many times have you seen someone complain about or ignore a fire drill, give their hands a cursory rinse rather than a thorough scrub, or use a tool without the proper guards or protective gear in place? Most of us have taken a safety shortcut at least once in our lives, and some of us, myself included, literally have the scars to prove it. And usually, at least for me, I can look back on that event and see the error chain: no one was looking, or I was in a hurry, or I got sloppy because I was bored or tired. Those errors show a lack of professionalism -- not a problem with training or procedure, but a problem with attitude.

Any safety-conscious industry offers plentiful safety training for employees. Most have been through classes, review, and drills recently, and are surrounded by job aids in the form of placards, posters and checklists. Yet in the absence of a professional attitude, none of this makes the slightest difference.

How would you want a customer or colleague to describe your work? Would you like it to be labeled "sloppy", "lax", or "incomplete"? Or would you like it to be labeled "impeccable"? I, for one, would like to have an impeccable safety record. Will I achieve that by rushing, skipping steps, or failing to take it seriously? Probably not. I'd also like my clients to describe me as providing impeccable service. Will I achieve that by rushing, skipping steps or failing to take it seriously? Of course not. And in the case of service, just as in the case of safety, more "how-to" training won't help. Professionalism -- attention to detail, focus on the client and on my mission and values, and the right attitude toward the work are the keys to impeccable performance.

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