Friday, March 1, 2013

Using assertiveness to avoid distress...

I was privy to a discussion about roles and responsibilities of ship's captains. The Titanic and her captain, Captain Smith, were presented as an example of "doing the right thing." I think he did the wrong thing, but he had help... I discuss Captain Smith and his ship Titanic during presentations on the pressures we face in HEMS. If you remember, "Ismay occasionally accompanied his ships on their maiden voyages, and the Titanic was one of them.[4] During the voyage, Ismay talked with chief engineer Joseph Bell and / or captain Edward Smith about a possible test of speed if time permitted...". I think what happened was Ismay pressured Captain Smith to run full speed all the way (including at night) in order to set a record, or at least make a splash (pun intended) in the media. This could be interpreted as pressure from management to get a result that may not be consistent with safety.... in our case, the constant focus on flight volume might lead a pilot to accept a flight when he shouldn't. Captain Smith had a reputation as being "quietly flamboyant" and "a millionaire's captain" and may have suffered from machoism, ie. needing to live up to his image of himself. Consider all the experienced crew on board who must have known that running at speed in the darkness in those waters was folly. In Captain Smith's day, no subordinates questioned the decisions made by the captain. This was a hold-over custom from the Royal Navy where the captain was GOD. That same custom held over into the beginnings of aviation, right up until Tenerife... Then we figured something had to change. Now days we expect crew members to voice concerns, using a specific format: 1. Use the name, voice the concern, state the risks involved, offer a suggested course of action, look for affirmation... Hopefully, today, a crewmember in a "Titanic" situation would say, "Captain Smith, I am very concerned about our speed and the dark conditions. We can't see an iceberg if one is right in front of us... Hitting an iceberg could seriously damage the ship and perhaps injure our passengers or crew...I think we should slow down to a speed that would allow us to manouver clear of an iceberg in our path... Captain, what do you think sir?'...

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