Herb’s Big Personality Created a Positive Environment for Safety; does your Airline have a Well Established Safety Culture?

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ARTICLE: Southwest’s Herb Kelleher: Still crazy after all these years


This irreverent interview with the founder of Southwest Airlines reveals his strong personality and his unique leadership style. Herb is someone whom we have appreciated for years and whose quirks have been mentioned here.

While it may be easy to focus on the unusual characteristics of this former CEO of one of the industry’s most successful airlines, a reader would be well served to also examine his impact on the company’s safety culture. Herb’s #1, #2 and #3 priorities are on his people, on enhancing their ability to do their jobs and on backing their decisions. While the article did not delve into the flight, maintenance and general operating aspects of LUV, it is easy to see how the Kelleher empowerment philosophy would allow the pilots, mechanics, flight attendant, quality control/assessment, record-keeping, training, safety etc. personnel to do the right thing.

Not all airlines have established uniform parameters within their company and there are organizations in which the safety culture is unevenly implanted. That is the exceptional aspect of Herb Kelleher’s management style (and is now practiced by Gary Kelly); it is clear that what he espouses is understood and followed in every nook and cranny of the airline.

Introspective examination of a company’s culture is hard to do. Internal assets may be regarded as biased or may not be predisposed to make the hard call. External help not only can provide a more objective assessment, but would bring experience gained from other companies that would help your organization through the complex issues involved in establishing and/or realigning the safety culture. Here is a link to a resource which may be of assistance with enhancing your team’s efforts to achieve the highest levels of safety.

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