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Terminology related to management system success



This page describes some of the terms that use to discuss the principles of Management System Success. Please change them to fit your needs.




There are numerous definitions of "management". I do not wish to get very scientific about this. For me, "management" means: to obtain results through and with others. But you need to add something to this. These results have to be obtained within certain restrictions: without unnecessary losses and with the least possible efforts. "Unnecessary" and "Least possible" depends on circumstances, culture, personal believes, etc. You also need to add that to get results you need to follow a well defined process and I like to think that this process is the 17-step process that I describe on this website and more detailed in my book. Or, at least, the process will be something similar to the 17-step process.  


Louis A. Allen gave some body to "management" by listing the following main functions:

  • Planning 
  • Organizing 
  • Leading 
  • Controlling 

One important remark. The first function listed above is "planning". However, it must be clear that prior to planning, there must be a PLAN with objectives that indicates "WHY", WHAT, WHEN, by WHOM and HOW. My basic "Platform Model" for improvement indicates that the PLAN must come from Management Leadership. I am not sure why Allen has "planning" as the first function but it could probably be because he describes the management functions which are directly related to the "manager" (see description below). A "manager" is not necessarily a leader but more likely an "administrator" making sure that plans are being executed. "Leadership" and "Leading" also are not synonymous. Leadership normally comes from the top of the organization and is directed at creating new roads into the future while leading takes place throughout the organization making sure that people are doing what is included in the plan. Leadership, making a plan and management systems are directly related; one cannot do without the other. To make the plan or management system, follow the 17-step process including the suggested structure of the system elements taking care of the WHY, WHAT, WHEN, by WHOM activities should be carried out. That way, planning will be included in the plan.


Within the context of my website, the "controlling" function is of particular importance and included:

  • Plans With Built In Performance Standards 
  • Measuring Performance Standards 
  • Evaluating Actual Performance 
  • How & When To Take Corrective Action 

I think it was Frank Bird, Jr. who added "Identification of Management Activities" to finally come up with the acronym ISMEC:

  • Identification of activities, (the content of the "standing plan" or "management system")
  • Setting standards for those activities
  • Measuring performance
  • Evaluation or assess performance against standards set
  • Correcting in case of deviations, commending if none

When looking "performance" consider input and output. This also comes back in the structure that I recommend for management system elements. So add two things to the above:

  • when setting performance standards, also set objectives 
  • when evaluating, also look at results vs.... objectives set

As desired, please search the Internet for other descriptions of management and its functions; I am sure you will find plenty.


Please note that "management" and "managers" are not synonymous. The function of management, as described above, can and will normally be carried out by many in an organization, including operational personnel. Top-down AND Bottom-up is the key here.




One of the main functions of management is to control loss

To know problems in advance

To control accidents, incidents and other unwanted events and their consequences

To close the gap between "practice" and "theory"

Between "how it is done" and "how it should be done"

They drain away your profits




A Manager is the person responsible for planning and directing the work of others, monitoring their work, and taking corrective action when necessary.

A manager per se is not an entrepreneur, not a leader, not a risk taker. A manager is first of all an administrator. It is the manager's job to "keep the show on the road". Entrepreneurs are, first and foremost, ideas people, people that take (commercial) risks and leading others towards success. If a manager is a risk taker, he or she may be the source of an accident waiting to happen.

Depending on his or her role in an organization, these two different and sometimes conflicting roles may have to be combined in one person. There is a risk there: if the person at the top of the organization is primarily an entrepreneur dealing with the external world, he or she may forget to pay sufficient attention to the "world within", to the "administration", to the "control" of what takes place in the organization and how.


The principle below applies to most managers and supervisors; many of them are selected based on their technical qualifications an experience. Their functioning as a manager may be helped quite a bit when management systems are set up with their cooperation and consent to provide the margins in which they are expected to function. The management system will indicate what they should being doing, when and how.



The Principle of Technical Priority

When called upon to perform both management work and technical work during the same time period, managers tend to give priority to technical work.



Unwanted event


Any event that could or does produce loss. In principle any type of loss, you can have your pick:

  • harm to people
  • property damage
  • unplanned production interruption
  • loss of customers
  • harm to the environment
  • product loss
  • quality loss
  • liability claims
  • loss of information
  • loss of key people
  • delivery problems
  • theft
  • mysterious disappearance
  • etcetera

Now, you may say: "these are all different losses". Think about it - are they really? Not if you would consider where these losses are coming from: the basic or "root" causes. You will find that many of these different losses share the same origins: training, design, hiring of people, purchasing of equipment or services, inspection of installations or work environment, identification of risk or potential problems, lack of proper learning from what went wrong, rules or work permits, communication, etcetera.



If you cannot control your losses, you cannot control your results


Often management systems are directed at a single type of unwanted events while with little more effort those management systems can also be directed to limit loss from other events an thus become more valuable to the organization. Quality systems are to control product quality issues and customer complaints; environmental systems are there to control environmental emissions and incidents, safety systems are there to control injuries and other accidents and so on.


One example: I have been involved in the setting up of a contractor safety certification scheme in The Netherlands (SCC - Safety certification of Contractors). Although the scheme exists since 1994 and now includes close to 14.000 certificates, its focus is still primarily on injury related accidents causing days away from work. With a shift in focus, a SCC system set up in a company could also address other type of losses resulting from the same jobs carried out and the same basic causes.


Some people may call the loss producing event an "unplanned event". Certainly most people or organizations do not plan to have mishaps, errors, accidents etc. But are they really "unplanned" if there are gaps in the management system allowing those events to take place? Or if they do not learn form what happened before of even do not have a proper system to do that? They may not plan for those events but certainly do not do the necessary to control them either.


Throughout this website, I really do not make much or any difference between an unwanted event and an accident, an incident, damage or loss. The reasoning behind this is that the outcome of the unwanted event often determines whether we talk about a near-miss or close call, an injury type accident, an environmental problem or a property loss. The outcome often depends on the circumstances that exist when the event occurs. In principle the unwanted event should be the focus and most of those events share the same or similar basic causes that root in the management system. So keep this in mind: when I mention "unwanted event", I also mean accident, incident etc. and, of course, an accident or an incident is also an "unwanted event".




Within the context of this website an incident is the same as the unwanted event. If you see an incident as an event without visible loss - a close call - that is fine. Use a risk classification method to find if the incident needs attention.




Within the context of this website an accident is the same as the unwanted event. If to you an accident is limited to an injury with lost time, that is fine too. Again, a risk classification method may help you to determine how much attention the accident should receive. Also use accident imaging.


PLEASE NOTE - Since the subject, models, tools, principles of my website are really generic, I wanted to use the term "unwanted events" rather than "accident" or "incident". However, I realized that using "unwanted events" may not bring many visitors to my website. To give you some examples using Google as the search engine.


 search term

number hits 

 "accident" 460.000.000
 "incident" 244.000.000
 "Unwanted event" 74.400
 "accident investigation" 2.500.000
 "incident investigation" 728.000
 "unwanted event investigation" 2


The 2 hits for "unwanted event investigation" were from my website. So instead of I using "unwanted event", I rather use "accident" or "incident" or a combination of the three and I hope that you will understand that when I mention those terms, I really mean "unwanted event(s)".




A source of risk.




Without getting scientific about this, I consider a risk as a potential loss. Measured in terms of frequency (of the event to trigger the process from hazard to loss) and (potential) consequence.




The possible or actual result of an accident, incident or other type of unwanted event. Anything that you would consider a loss. Could relate to quality, safety, property, production, product, etc. and involve human suffering, monetary loss, loss of customers or market, company image, environment loss, theft, etcetera. 


Peter Drucker

The first duty of business is to survive and the guiding principle of business economics is not the maximization of profit - it is the avoidance of loss


Risk Management


The management of risk. In essence this is problem solving - before the problem materializes.


Safety Management


The management of "safety" - much related to your definition of "accident". Traditionally safety was limited to personal injury, particularly to lost time injuries. In many companies, even in high hazard industry, safety is still measured in terms of lost time accident frequencies. To me safety is no different from loss control or risk management.


What is safety?


Good question, you tell me and then we may have a discussion about that. But I give you one description of what safety is: the “control of accidents” and that will have us to answer the questions: “what is control” and “what is an accident”. Well, not to make it too complex: “control of accidents ” is keeping the number of accidents at a certain level. It includes both the occurrence of the accident – or rather the event that leads to the accident – and the limitation of the consequences, the loss be it human loss, property loss or any other loss. So put that together and we may agree that safety is keeping losses at a certain – acceptable – level. Any type of loss!


Safety, in my opinion, is undervalued form a business point of view and there are some reasons for that:

  • History – safety has an extensive legislative background. It is mandatory by law and this may be a reason why it was rejected originally as it was interfering with “getting things done”. To some extent that still may be the case. Before blaming anybody, realize that most of us will try to fix things one way or another before we go to the store and get the proper tools.
  • The safety profession – to some extent this ties in with the first point as it was the “safety “officer” who was telling people that it could not be do that way and that he would stop the whole thing unless … So safety did interfere with getting the job done and this may have led to a situation safety function versus the line function.
  • Other professions such as quality, environment, health possibly each with their own “expert” and each claiming her or his territory separating safety form quality, form environment, from health.
  • Conflict with the line function. “Safety” became the area of the “safety person” who may have been very happy to claim this as his or her territory. Quality became the territory of the quality person, environment became ….. etcetera.
  • Parallel to this separation of areas, we saw the development of a safety management system, a quality management system, one for environment etc. , all with their own sponsors and identity and enforcing the separation of these territories.

Safety is undervalued; if you look at the tools used in the other areas – quality, environment – you may concluded that many of the methods used in those areas actually originated in the safety area. Safety is undervalued and maybe quality people feel the same way and maybe environmental people feel likewise. That may not be a desired situation, certainly not for the people who have to do the work as they may end up with different sets of procedures to do the job, one procedure for safety, one set of guidelines for quality and so on.


I think that history put safety in a certain corner, after that health became an issue, quality came on stage later and after that the environment. If we would have been smart enough we would have considered all these aspects being related to the same source: the work that is being done. It is often the outcome of something going different from intended – the unwanted event - that determines whether we see it as a safety issue, a quality aspect, an environmental incident and so on. If we would have been smart enough we have been talking about unwanted events. There is still hop, we see more and more the combination of these seemingly different business aspects into functions and into management systems. Functions such as HSE managers, QESH managers and the talk about “integrated management systems”.


Loss Control Management


Managing the control of loss. Depending on your definition of what a "loss" is, the scope could be broad or very limited. I prefer the broad scope allowing extensive overlap with safety management and risk management.


Management System


A combination of Management Activity Areas or "Elements" directed at obtaining a broad or more general objective or set of objectives. 



An organization could have more than one management systems, each with their own objectives. There could be management systems for quality, environment, safety and health, product safety, cost control, or any combination of those and others. Although those address different objectives, they normally will have overlapping management activity areas.


Within the context of this book, I assume that a management system is directed at the elimination, reduction or control of unwanted events that are in the way of reaching the objective of the management system. By doing so, the end result will be a better organizational performance with fewer (unnecessary) losses, in short: a better organization.


I would consider a management system to be a MANAGEMENT SYSTEM if it meets at least the following criteria:

  • there is a more or less clear objective to which combined management activities are directed
  • the system has been developed through a process to allow participation at all levels in the organization
  • there is enough content - a sufficient number of management activity areas or "elements" to reach the objective
  • the elements are embedded in a structure to stimulate specific element activities and results

A management system is actually more than just a plan. It includes ways to carry it out. It indicates what is important to reach goals/objectives. It provides the two-way communication channels providing allowing top-down and bottom-up communication and feedback providing further input towards success. If you are looking for employee empowerment, you need a well developed management system.

Management Activity Area

A group of management activities belonging together to reach a specific objective. A management activity area would be "learning from what went wrong" or you may just call it "accident investigation" if you would want to limit the activity to just the control of accidents. Other management activity areas would include: purchasing, design, training, task risk control, change management and inspections. 




I use this term "element" also instead of "management activity area".


Standing Plan


A set of management activity areas or management activities to reach an identified goal or objective. A standing plan normally has a broad objective, will be there for the duration of the undertaking and apply to the entire organization or a major part thereof.


If the name “program” is better understood by the people in the organization, then use that name instead of “standing plan”.


Within the context of this website I consider a "standing plan" similar to a "management activity area" or "management system". I also may consider a standing plan to be part of the management system. That way, a management system may have several or many standing plans and in that case a standing plan is similar to a management activity area or element. Your choice, I do not like to be hindered too much by definitions but if you are working in a comp[any or with a client you may need to determine what is what. If not for anything else: it helps communication if you agree on terminology.


Single-use Plan


Similar to the standing plan but for a specific project, undertaking or objective with a limited time period.


Management activities


Activities that are normally initiated by management. Management activities, part of a management activity area, indicate what shall be done, by whom and when. For example: while a management activity area would be "to learn from what went wrong", management activities contained therein would be: reporting unwanted events, registration of those, cause analysis, remedial action development and action follow-up.


17-step process


The process that I developed during my consulting work to assist companies to improve their performance. While I was working as a safety consultant, I developed the process for the purpose of setting up an effective safety management system. The process that I described in this website and which is more detailed in my book is generic and can be used to set up a management system for whatever purpose: safety, asset or mechanical integrity, quality, environment, food safety, social responsibility etc.




The content of a management system, the management activity areas that together are assumed to reach the desired objective(s). The content would vary depending on the objective(s) but each management system is likely to have a great deal of similar activity areas. Management activity areas can be selected from external reference sources including legislation, industry standards, certification norms, etc.




The structure which should be present in each of the elements or management activity areas of a management system. The structure is such that it drives the implementation of management activities as well as the periodic evaluation of their execution and results. The reason why I say that the structure should be in each of the elements is that each element is considered important to reach the overall objective of the management system. Therefore each elements should contribute and should have its own specific objectives which should not be similar to the overall objective of the management system.


The structure has the advantage that each element of the management system has its own objective, activities and improvement loop. This way, the practical effect of the management system is multiplied by the number of elements. So if you would have 15 elements or management activity areas in your management system you will be able to improve the organization in each of these 15 areas. So instead of one objective only - that of the whole management system - you have an extra 15 objectives and as many improvement areas.






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