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Non-technical skills

About this topic


The railway system is characterised by a wide variety of professions requiring a high level of expertise. Each of us has experienced this when starting our careers: it is necessary to acquire a significant amount of knowledge (regulatory, technical, process, etc.) before being able to carry out our jobs. This knowledge constitutes a foundation, an absolutely necessary basis for acquiring and developing the skills needed to carry out the various tasks in our profession. When we look more closely at these skills, we see that some of them are obviously technical (braking a train, removing an axle, carrying out a brake test, etc.) but that other skills play an essential role in achieving the desired performance. These include the ability to communicate clearly and effectively and the ability to analyse the task in hand. These three permanently interconnected aspects are defined as the three components of competence: 

  • Knowledge, 
  • Technical skills,
  • Non Technical skills. 

Everything starts with the acquisition of knowledge. The performance of all tasks involves both technical skills (those relating to the task to be performed) and non-technical skills which vary according to the context of the work situation. 

Relevance to Rail 

The railway depends on its operators performing their work in order to run safely and efficiently. This requires technical knowledge and skill, but also non-technical skills such as developing and maintaining awareness of risks and working together effectively with others. Strong non-technical skills help to produce consistent performance and reduce the opportunities for error. 

Approaches and Models

Different industries and organizations use different models of NTS. Some of the most common are: 

  • The categories described by Flin et al. In the book ‘Safety at the Sharp End’, including Situation awareness, Decision making, Communication, Team working, Leadership, Managing stress, and Managing fatigue. 
  • The RSSB categories of NTS for train drivers: Situation awareness, Decision making and action, Communication, Cooperation and working with others, Conscientiousness, Workload management, Self-management.
  • JAA (research Commitee on Human Factors) – NOTECHS : a first scientific publication on non-technical skills, called “Notechs”, is the result of the work of the European research consortium “JAA Research Committee on Human Factors” set up in 1996 and aims to identify and evaluate the non-technical skills involved in commercial aviation. The framework addresses 4 categories of observables (Cooperation, Leadership and Managerial Skills, Situational Awareness and Decision Making).
CooperationTeam building & maintaining
Considering others
Supporting others
Conflict solving
Leadership & managerial skillsUse of authority and assertiveness
Providing and maintaining standards
Planning and co-ordination
Workload management
Situation AwarenessAwareness of aircraft systems
Awareness of external environment
Awareness of Time
Decision MakingProblem recognition and diagnosis
Option generation
Risk assessment and option selection
Outcome review
  • Many of the models break the categories down into sub-items, which can be trained and assessed. A major focus of NTS is the identification of behavioural markers which can indicate the presence or absence of a particular skill.  



What are non technical skills?

What are non technical skills?

One of the approaches to help minimise errors is the idea of non-technical skills. Technical skills are the skills you learn to be able to do your job – like being able to control the speed of a train or knowing where to look when dispatching a train....

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