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Identifying Non-Technical Skills


In order to train or assess non-technical skills, the specific skills for a given occupation and work setting must be determined. the question then, is, ‘Where do we start?’ in aviation, the basic skill set, usually called CRM skills, is fairly well established, although this may be customised for particular aircraft or types of operation. There have been research programmes (Wiener et al., 1993), the larger airlines have conducted their own analyses (Flin and Martin, 2001) and the regulators and other bodies have produced recommended skill lists and training syllabi (for example, the CAA (2006) have produced guidance for CRM training, see Chapter 10). For other occupations, there may not be non-technical skills lists and a number of methods are described here that can be used to identify the relevant non-technical skills, such as interviews, questionnaires, observations and reviews of accident/incident reports. These diagnostic tools can be used individually but results can be enhanced by using more than one data collection technique (e.g. triangulation) (Cohen et al. 2007), for example, combining a questionnaire with interviews and observations. Given existing expertise, advice is taken from the aviation sector about how to go about determining a non-technical skills set (Seamster and Keampf, 2001). There are also other sources of relevant advice and techniques from the occupational literature on devising competence frameworks (Lucia and Lepsinger, 1999; Whiddett, 2003) and conducting job and task analyses (Wilson and Corlett, 2005).

This chapter specifically addresses the main diagnostic tools used to gather the data to identify the skills that underpin efficient and safe performance. No standard method of task analysis exists that is appropriate for all situations and domains, so the method to be used depends upon the needs of the analysis (Zachary et al., 1998). In situations where tasks have a high cognitive component, a set of techniques that have been designed to specifically target the cognitive aspects of tasks (i.e. cognitive task analysis (CTA)) have become popular (Crandall et al., 2006; Schraagen et al., 2000; Strater, 2005). Cognitive aspects of tasks draw on the worker’s knowledge base, enabling experts to make inferences to fill in pieces of the situation or link it to their knowledge base to select appropriate actions, or other types of processing (e.g. interpretation, goal development, judgement or prediction). This is not to say that other, more traditional methods of task analysis, such as hierarchical task analysis (Annett, 2004), or task decomposition (Kirwan and Ainsworth, 1992), and CTA are mutually exclusive. Indeed, much can be gained when these two methods are used in parallel, such that both the observable and cognitive aspects of a task can be analysed.

As more non-technical skill taxonomies are developed, it is apparent that many of the basic skill categories are generic, especially across higher-risk occupations (for example, decision-making, situation awareness, communication, team co-ordination, stress/fatigue management) (see Chapter 11). These broad skill categories were outlined in the previous chapters. However, when a given occupation is examined, the elements and specific behaviours for each category look very different and clearly vary from one technical setting to another. This is why it is generally inadvisable to use a non-technical skills taxonomy or behavioural marker system devised for one domain (e.g. aviation) in a different work setting (e.g. health care) without clearly examining the similarities and differences within the domain, the task and the proposed use of the taxonomy, behavioural marker system or non-technical skills training programme.

In essence, a two-stage process is employed to develop a taxonomy of skills:

  • 1. identify the skills and related behaviours deemed to influence safe and efficient performance, and
  • 2. refine the resulting list and to organise it into a concise, hierarchical structure or taxonomy (see Chapter 11).

the level of detail and scope of the analysis will depend on the purpose for which the taxonomy or training programme is being developed. A set of behaviours identified for a research tool could be more complex and comprehensive than one being developed for practitioners to use as the basis for training (as described in Chapter 10) or assessment (Chapter 11). the focus here, as in previous chapters, is again on individual skills rather than on team skills, although the individuals will normally be working in a team setting.

Obviously the first place to look for information is in the published research literature for the job in question. there are now thousands of studies examining behaviour in a range of different workplaces, and a wealth of information exists not only about typical behaviours but noting which of these contribute to safe or unsafe performance (e.g. Barling and Frone, 2004; Glendon et al., 2006). Nowadays searching the published literature is a relatively easy task due to the advent of electronic databases and powerful search engines (e.g. Google:, Google Scholar:, Web of Science: organisations may also have documentary analyses that cover non-technical skills for a particular occupation including job assessments, task analyses, competence frameworks, training programmes, assessment and appraisal systems. If sufficient information cannot be found in these sources, then the data collection methods described below can be used.

a number of different techniques used to identify non-technical skills are listed in table 9.1 and discussed in the following sections. Most of these have been used for safety-critical occupations in aviation, energy sector, rail, marine, military and acute medicine. these techniques can be grouped into three different approaches: analysis of events from accident/incident reports, questioning and observation.

Table 9.1 Techniques to identify non-technical skills



Event-based analyses:

examining accident or near-miss reports

to identify patterns of behaviours

  • • accident/near-miss analysis
  • • confidential reporting systems analysis (including reports of safety concerns, as well as actual events)

Questioning techniques:

soliciting information directly from role-

holder/s from the job under investigation

  • • interview (structured, unstructured, semi-structured)
  • • focus groups
  • • questionnaires and surveys

Observational techniques: watching individuals or teams carrying out one or more tasks

  • • direct
  • • participant
  • • remote (e.g. from video recording)
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