Non-Technical Skills (“Crew Resource Management”)

What is Crew Resource Management (CRM)?

CRM has been defined as “the cognitive, social and personal resource skills that complement technical skills and contribute to safe and efficient task performance” (International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, IOGP, 2014).

The crash of United Airlines Flight 173 in Portland, Oregon, 1978 highlighted failures in Non-Technical Skills. Analysis of the cockpit voice recordings by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the plane had run out of fuel while the flight crew were troubleshooting a landing gear malfunction. A contributory factor was the captain’s failure to accept input from other flight crew members, as well as the lack of assertiveness from those crew members.

On June 7 1979, NTSB issued its landmark recommendation to require “Cockpit” Resource Management training for airline crews. This was to cover interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision-making in the cockpit; and was intended to best manage all the resources available to pilots including other crew-members, procedures, the machine interface, and themselves (i.e. recognising where they were most vulnerable and what their strengths were). Following this, United Airlines set up a CRM training course in 1981.

Cockpit Resource Management quickly grew to encompass wider crew resources, including cabin crew, and was renamed “Crew” Resource Management. CRM is now considered essential training for most aviation professionals who make an operational contribution, including air traffic controllers and engineers. CRM training is used by virtually all the international airlines and is recommended by the major civil aviation regulators. In some regions human factors training is mandated by aviation regulators (e.g. the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States and the UK Civil Aviation Authority).

Due to the success of CRM in aviation it has been adopted in a number of other high-reliability industries including aviation maintenance, healthcare, air traffic control, the fire service, offshore oil/gas and the maritime industry.

Variations of Crew Resource Management (CRM)

CRM has been applied in several domains, several examples include:

  • Pilots’ non-technical skills (NOTECHS) in aviation;
  • Bridge Resource Management (BRM) in the marine industry;
  • Non-Technical Skills for Surgeons (NOTSS);
  • Anaesthetists’ Non-Technical Skills (ANTS);
  • Trauma Non-Technical Skills (T-NOTECHS);
  • Well Operations Crew Resource Management (WOCRM) in offshore well control.

I prefer to use the term Non-Technical Skills (NTS) instead of Crew Resource Management (CRM), as I find that ‘non-technical skills’ is more readily understood by a wider audience in a range of industries. It’s a much more self-explanatory term. However, the acronym CRM is widely used in many industries.

What are the key Non-Technical Skills?

Non-Technical Skills and CRM training courses generally address the following issues:

  • Situation Awareness;
  • Decision Making;
  • Communication;
  • Leadership/Supervision;
  • Teamwork;
  • Awareness of Performance Shaping Factors such as stress and fatigue.

Organisations may already provide training on some of these issues (particularly leadership and supervision). What is distinctive about NTS and CRM programmes is that they cover all these non-technical skills in one course, as well as providing an assessment framework. If you are creating or commissioning a course, the relevant NTS should be selected for your specific industry.

The following definitions and summary bullets have been adapted from the IOGP Report 501 (2014):

Situation Awareness: Developing and maintaining a dynamic awareness of the situation and the risks present in an activity, based on gathering information from multiple sources from the task environment, understanding what the information means and using it to think ahead about what may happen next.

  • Gathering information;
  • Understanding information and risk status (using mental models and memory);
  • Anticipating future state/developments;
  • Planning future tasks.

Decision Making: Skills for diagnosing the situation and reaching a judgement in order to choose an appropriate course of action.

  • Identifying and assessing options;
  • Selecting an appropriate option and communicating it;
  • Taking action – implementing and reviewing decisions.

Communication: Skills for the exchange (transmission and reception) of information, ideas and feelings, by verbal (spoken, written) or non-verbal methods. Often involves the use of checklists.

  • Briefing and giving feedback;
  • Listening;
  • Asking questions;
  • Being assertive.

Leadership/Supervision: Skills for directing, monitoring, managing and supporting a team in order to accomplish tasks for set targets.

  • Planning and directing;
  • Maintaining standards;
  • Supporting team members.

Teamwork: Skills for working in a group, in any role, to ensure joint task completion; these include co-ordination, co-operation and conflict resolution. Sometimes combined with the ‘Communication’ topic in CRM frameworks.

  • Understanding own role with the team;
  • Coordinating tasks with other team members/other shifts;
  • Considering and helping others;
  • Negotiating and resolving conflicts.

Performance Shaping Factors: Factors such as fatigue and stress that can affect job performance and individual well-being. Key skills are recognising that you’re affected and understanding how this can impact on behaviours and decisions. 

  • Identifying Performance Shaping Factors, such as stress and fatigue;
  • Managing the effects of such factors.

The link between Non-Technical Skills and ‘safety’

Non-Technical Skills (NTS) are a double-edged sword. Good NTS such as clear communications and effective teamwork can reduce the likelihood of human error and ‘capture’ errors that do occur. On the other hand, poor NTS, such as a lack of team coordination, or a failure to question a colleague, can increase the chance of errors. When errors occur, there is an increased chance of adverse events that may harm workers, passengers, patients, the public, production or the environment.

How to develop Non-Technical Skills in your organisation

In order to implement NTS training tailored to your industry or organisation, the following approach may be helpful:

  1. Identify the relevant NTS elements (e.g. ‘situation awareness’);
  2. Consider what skills are required (e.g. ‘anticipates future states’, ‘maintains awareness of the big picture’);
  3. By understanding the key tasks that a group of people complete, identify example behavioural markers that can be used to help assess the presence of these skills (e.g. ‘Looks at x-ray and points out relevant area to team’ or ‘Verbalises what equipment may be required later in the surgical operation’).  In industries where NTS is relatively mature, such as aviation and healthcare, behavioural markers have been developed for specific staff groups (such as surgeons, anaesthetists, scrub-nurses) – so you may also need to develop a set of behavioural markers for different roles;
  4. Provide training on the above, with case studies and relevant examples;
  5. Develop an approach to assess performance when observing behaviours in the workplace or in a simulator;
  6. Formulate an approach for dealing with poor assessments.

Non-Technical Skills in the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon disaster

The explosions on the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico in March 2010 resulted in 11 fatalities and the world’s worst offshore oil spill. The various investigations highlighted a range of Non-Technical Skills underlying the incident, such as:

  • poor decision-making (e.g. the team were looking for confirmation that the offshore well was sealed, rather than investigating whether it was sealed or not, and the rationale underlying decision-making was not made explicit);
  • a lack of situational awareness (e.g. various data indicating an impending blowout were not acted upon); and
  • poor communication and leadership between crew members.

“Once these processes are taken into account, the faulty decisions made by the Macondo group become entirely understandable, terrifyingly so” (Hopkins, 2012)

This case study is a good example of how failures in NTS were combined with wider human factors issues to cause a major disaster. Decision-making and situation awareness failures were compounded by a high workload on the drill crew, instrumentation that failed to provide clear and timely indications on the loss of well control, and interfaces between various organisations were less than adequate.

Are NTS sufficient on their own to manage human performance?

The adoption of a NTS approach should not be at the expense of addressing wider organisational issues, such as ensuring that the design of equipment and workplaces supports the user (i.e sets them up for success). Also, you should not rely upon good NTS to replace effective management systems (e.g. manage fatigue at source, rather than continually expecting front-line staff to manage the impact of inadequate shift arrangements).

More information on Non-Technical Skills (CRM)

Crew Resource Management for Well Operations teams, IOGP Report 501, (2014). This document is the result of a project undertaken by the University of Aberdeen on behalf of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). The aim was to develop a recommended syllabus for CRM training, customized to the needs of well operations teams. The report consists of an introductory module, plus coverage of the main non-technical skill categories: situation awareness, decision-making, communication, teamwork and leadership. It also looks at performance shaping factors such as stress and fatigue, and provides recommendations for the design and delivery of WOCRM training.

Guideline for implementing Well Operations Crew Resource Management training, IOGP Report 502, International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP, 2014). This report prepares course providers to deliver training programmes that introduce and sustain Well Operations Crew Resource Management (WOCRM). It sets learning objectives for given CRM competencies (non-technical skills) and includes guidance on training delivery, assessment and qualifications; in addition to the knowledge of instructors and facilitators.

Guidance on Crew Resource Management (CRM) and non-technical skills training programmes, Energy Institute (2014). This guidance document has been developed to introduce CRM to the energy sector. It introduces what CRM training covers, sets out the case why CRM training should be implemented and provides a process to help an organisation develop and implement a CRM training programme. Examples of CRM courses are given, and sources of background information and further reading are provided. This publication should be seen as part of the above suite of resources developed in conjunction with the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP).

Crew Resource Management for offshore operations: Factoring the human into safety: Translating research into practice, Volume 3 (of 3). HSE Research Report 061 (2003). The aim of this workpackage was to design and evaluate Crew Resource Management (CRM) training, intended to improve safety, productivity and to reduce down time on offshore installations. A CRM course was developed and eight courses were delivered to a cross section of individuals working on five platforms from one operating company (n=104).

The Non-Technical Skills for Surgeons (NOTSS) System Handbook, University of Aberdeen, Version 1.2 May 2006. This handbook provides a practical guide to the NOTSS system. It details the complete NOTSS system, including skills taxonomy, behavioural markers, the rating scale, and rating form. It also includes general guidance on the use of behavioural markers. Although produced for the healthcare sector, this is an extremely helpful document for all industries.