Organizational Psychology and Safety Culture in Air Traffic Control: Concerning Organizational Climate, Situational Leadership and Psychosocial Work Environment
Abstract: The air traffic control industry in Europe is under mounting pressure due to increasing air traffic and inefficient routines caused by a fragmented air space. In order to handle the demands the European Commission has launched a program entitled the Single European Sky initiative which seeks to promote a more efficient way of handling the air traffic over Europe. A reorganization of air traffic management will be introduced during this process and air traffic control centers in Europe will be merged. New tech-nology will further be implemented and the air space will be rationalized. In this context the Swedish air traffic control provider is an interesting case since an adaptation to increasing air traffic and the Single European Sky initiative has already begun through the introduction of new organizational structures and new technology. As psycho-organizational aspects can be identified as affecting safety out-comes in high risk organizations with highly reliable operations, the overall aim of the research presented in this thesis was to study different psycho-organizational aspects in Swedish air traffic control during times of change. The studies on which this thesis is based focused on: innovative organizational climate, examining the innovative preparedness and capacity to cope with changes in a highly regulated organizational environment; situational leader-ship, examining leadership characteristics in a high risk organization with a well developed safety culture; psychosocial work environment, examining critical psychosocial environmental factors in a high risk organization with de-manding work operations; and safety culture, examining perceptions of safety culture as well as the relationships between safety culture aspects and or-ganizational climate dimensions. All in all, five studies were conducted of which four were empirical. The empirical studies were all conducted at two air traffic control centers and an administrative air traffic services (ANS) unit which was part of the LFV Group Swedish Airports and Air Navigation Services. The three study loca-tions employed 635 air traffic controllers and other staff members. The or-ganizational climate was measured with the Creative Climate Questionnaire (CCQ) (Ekvall, 1990), the situational leadership with the Leader Effectiveness and Adaptability Description (LEAD) (Hersey & Blanchard, 1988; Holmkvist, 2000), the psychosocial work environment with the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire (COPSOQ) (Kristensen, Hannerz, Høgh & Borg, 2005), and the safety culture with the safety culture assessment questionnaire devel-oped by Ek (2006). Study I concluded that the existing empirical research concerning relation-ships between organizational climate, leadership and safety culture or safety climate is limited. Previous research supports the assumption that safety culture is related to other psycho-organizational aspects, but the knowledge base is still too limited to be conclusive. The ambiguity in defining and op-erationalizing the concepts is an additional weakness in the field. It was further assumed that the innovative organizational climate would be under-developed in air traffic control due to the strict regulatory framework which is present in this environment. The results from Study II revealed, however, that the innovative organizational climate was quite positive in spite of the rule governed work. Differences in the assessment of the inno-vative organizational climate could be identified according to work charac-teristics and work tasks but not according to organizational position. Study III concluded that the situational leadership characteristics differed according to situation. The leadership behavior was more relationship-oriented in Success and Group situations compared with Hardship and Individual situations. The leadership adaptability ? the leader's ability to adjust leader-ship style according to the situation ? was superior in Success and Individual situations than in Hardship and Group situations. Operational conditions, lead-ership structures and working tasks were, on the other hand, not associated with leadership behavior. Three aspects of the psychosocial work environment were identified as dif-ficult in air traffic control in Study IV. In an otherwise positive assessment, Sensorial demands, Freedom and Feedback were challenging aspects. These as-pects seemed to be characteristic for operative air traffic control work since the operative personnel assessed them to be statistically significantly less positive than did the administrative personnel. Organizational position was also found to be influential in the assessment of psychosocial work envi-ronmental factors since the management group made more positive as-sessments on a number of dimensions. The effect of differences in opera-tional conditions was, however, limited. The safety culture was positively assessed in the Swedish air traffic control context according to Study V. The administrative ANS unit had generally somewhat lower scores than the two operative air traffic control centers. Overall, Communication, Justness and Flexibility received slightly lower scores than the rest of the safety culture aspects. The results further demonstrated that the two organizational climate dimensions, Support for ideas and Conflicts, were positively and most frequently related to the various safety culture as-pects at the two air traffic control centers. However, few relationships were found between the safety culture and organizational climate concepts at the administrative ANS unit. Because of the limited knowledge concerning the influence of organiza-tional aspects on safety and their possible relationships with safety culture and safety climate, more research in this area is desired, especially in the field of air traffic control. Due to differences in national conditions and culture as well as local variations, studies similar to those conducted in Sweden are also needed in other European countries in order to make the transition to the Single European Sky as smooth, safe and efficient as pos-sible.
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