SMS Organisational Structure

SMS Organisational Structure


The organisational entities, including the corresponding arrangements, hierarchy and interfaces established by the operator/service provider with the objective to implement and operate a safety management system and achieve an acceptable level of provided services.


To create the framework and allocate the necessary resources for an effective and proactive safety management that will enable the organisation to meet its safety objectives.


An SMS organisational structure should include in general:

  • An entity (entities) responsible for the development, implementation, operation and improvement of the SMS;
  • Safety management roles
  • Safety accountabilities and responsibilities of personnel involved in safety management and operational service provision;
  • Safety management personnel.


Fundamental to a successful safety management is the application of a systems approach based on established safety policysafety planning and a dedicated organisational structure. The effective organisational structure requires unambiguous definition and description of safety management roles, accountabilities and responsibilities of management and personnel involved in safety related tasks.

Several important considerations must be taken into account by operators/service providers when establishing the SMS structure:

  • To appoint a safety manager - an independent and credible member of the management team, who, irrespective of other duties, has the responsibility and authority to supervise and maintain safety management processes and procedures, but also to develop and support the implementation of such processes and procedures on initial SMS deployment. The Safety Manager function must be wholly independent of executive management and accountable directly to the same senior manager as all the executive managers are. If this cannot be achieved in a very small organisation, then credible evidence must be present that safety management responsibilities are independently carried out free of the responsibility to another manager for any other job function.
  • To establish a safety review committee so that inputs, from the various departments within the organization, on safety-related issues can be tabled and actions agreed by consensus. This will be especially relevant during the period of initial set up of an SMS, but equally important once it is in place.
  • To establish clear safety accountabilities and responsibilities of all personnel involved in safety related tasks. This includes unambiguous definition and allocation of accountabilities and responsibilities for all matters of operational safety.

Note: Responsibility and accountability are closely related concepts. Safety responsibility is delegated within the area of job responsibilities, provided such delegation is documented. Safety accountabilities define to whom the responsible person needs to demonstrate the satisfactory discharge of their safety responsibilities.

  • To establish a communication framework within the organisation which facilitates effective safety management, i.e. clear lines of top-down and bottom-up communication on safety between the safety manager, line managers, senior management and line personnel.
  • To allocate the appropriate resources to safety management, consistent with organisation’s safety policy, ensuring that appropriate funding is available for the necessary technical infrastructure, process maintenance, human resources and personnel training.
  • To ensure the appropriate training and competency assessment for all personnel assigned safety management tasks.

There is no single solution for the establishment of a coherent SMS structure. The size of the organisation, its mission, complexity of operations, operating environment and its organisational safety culture will all influence the structure and functioning of its safety management system.

Any changes to the organisational structure should be assessed to determine whether they might have any effect on safety responsibilities and accountabilities. Any necessary amendments to previous responsibilities and accountabilities should be properly documented.

Samples of an airline operator organisational structure consistent with the requirements and good practices in managing safety can be viewed here.

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