Experts: a pivotal role in innovation and technological excellence
Safran Experts play a little-known but essential role in the development of our high-performance products. Ludovic, head of Technical Audits and Safran Expertise, explains what their role involves and how they contribute to the future of the business.
What does expertise imply at Safran?
Expertise is a coming together of several complementary skills. It starts with a deep level of know-how in a specific field. This proficiency in a given strategic and/or critical area for the Group is a prerequisite, of course, but there's more to it than that. To be recognized as an expert, you also need a range of ‘soft’ skills. These include being a good listener, being assertive, having the ability to convince and engage others into action, being keen to learn and share and transfer knowledge, and being open minded. Also known as behavioral skills, these attributes are manifest in competencies that go beyond the Expert's technical capabilities. And they are essential to fulfilling their role as an Expert.
What are Safran's areas of expertise?
We've established 12 areas of expertise. These obviously include the main engineering sciences (materials, mechanics, aerodynamics, electronics, electrical engineering), together with cross-cutting disciplines involved in aerospace systems engineering (industrial engineering, support and maintenance, instrumentation and sensors). In addition, to support the emergence of new jobs, other areas have been set up to bring together expertise, such as data management, analysis and applications. More recently, following the integration of new companies into the Group (cabin interiors and crew and passenger solutions), a dedicated area of expertise has been created to focus on design, comfort, perceived quality, human factors and physiological protection, etc.
How is the Expert stream organized?
Each area has its own expert community, which is led by a sponsor – in most cases a member of the management committee – and a coordinator. These communities meet regularly to share their experience, transfer knowledge, and harmonize practices and methods based on state-of-the-art technical excellence. We're also seeking to extend these communities to bring experts on board from all companies worldwide, notably in the Americas.
Why is expertise important to a company like Safran?
Experts are at the heart of the performance and quality of our products. Of course we need skilled engineers, robust processes, good managers, project managers and so on, but we also need experts. Because it's they who create value by drawing on their technical know-how and broad knowledge of the company and its business lines and products to explore potential cross-disciplinary interaction, integrate the latest technologies and go beyond “approved” areas at minimal risk. They help and support teams responsible for product development. They prepare for the future by capitalizing on existing experience and expertise, while also planning ahead for the skills Safran will need in the future to meet its technical challenges. In addition, they help raise Safran's international profile by taking part in conferences and workgroups.
Experts play a key part in innovation and the commercial success of products developed by Safran. This was the thinking behind the creation of the Group-wide Expert stream in 2005, complementing the initiatives already pursued by individual companies. We now have a total of 1,300 experts: 1,000 at company level and 300 at Group level, all contributing to the performance of Safran products and the development, transfer and distribution of knowledge across the Group.
How does someone become an Expert and what opportunities are available afterwards?
Expertise is a blend of hard (technical) and soft skills. People become Experts through rich and varied professional experience, often involving stints in different job fields to round out their capabilities. It takes around five years to emerge as an Expert in a given field. People join the Expert stream at company level, first as “Specialists” and then as “Experts”. In most cases, people are put forward by their managers or following a technical audit. Budding Experts are allowed to spend around 10-15 percent of their time on these duties. The next step up is to become a Group Expert – first “Senior” and then “Fellow” – implying Group-wide responsibilities. It's a pity that relatively few people are aware of the Expert stream because the career benefits are significant. Becoming as an official Expert is just as rewarding in terms of recognition and responsibilities as taking up a management position.
How can Safran enhance its expertise?
One of the biggest challenges facing Experts is striking the right balance between their dual role as custodian – since it's their task to determine the level of risk taken in new developments – and as the spearhead of innovation in their specific area of expertise. Experts are therefore involved in drawing up Safran's technology roadmaps and steering its R&D efforts. At the personal level, Experts must aim for agility and pragmatism, so they offer workable rather than academic responses to issues, taking a holistic view whenever possible. The more experience and understanding they bring to the table, the more valuable their opinion. Experts must explore the potential to cut across disciplines, as this is key to developing complex systems that deliver real value. Lastly, we must continue to promote Safran's expertise worldwide and seek to positively influence the authorities and bodies involved in defining standards and regulations by taking an active part in workgroups.
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