Home : News : Commentaries : Display
NEWS | Dec. 1, 2006

Why attention to detail is so important

By Lt. Col. Trevor Nitz 437th Airlift Wing Safety chief

If you have been in or around the Air Force for a while it is likely that one of your commanders or supervisors has touted the value of having exceptional "attention to detail." But what is "attention to detail" and why is it something you should practice?

Attention to detail can be defined as "being thorough in accomplishing a task with concern for all areas involved, no matter how small." Individuals can exude this quality in a myriad of ways: in one's personal appearance, in what you say and most markedly in the performance of your duties.

I believe two of the most important bi-products of a culture of attention to detail are efficiency and safety. Both of these characteristics bring value to the organization by increasing productivity and protecting our most precious resource - our people.


Imagine processing paperwork like performance reports or repairing a mechanical component in your work center. If someone accomplishes a task less than wholeheartedly and presents an incomplete product to a co-worker or supervisor that individual then has the responsibility to either complete the original task or return the product to the original worker. In either case time is lost and effort is wasted. Had the first worker meticulously completed the task, the next individual in the process would be able to perform their task unimpeded by the burden of doing someone else's job. If your co-worker or subordinate presents you with quality and complete work it makes your job and the job of each subsequent worker in the process easier. This leads to increased efficiency.

It is this aspect of attention to detail that can enable us to endure and even excel during the impending personnel reductions. The concept itself embodies the Air Force Smart Operations 21 goal of maximizing value and minimizing waste in our operations. This efficiency can enable us to do the same amount or possibly a greater amount of work with less manpower.


Practicing attention to detail in the workplace makes us safer in several ways. First, methodically following published guidance (Air Force instructions, technical orders, etc.) - doing things "by the book" - makes us safer. This guidance is often developed from the expertise of others and sometimes from lessons learned following mishaps. The rules are designed to help avoid mishaps.

Attention to detail also enhances our situational awareness. By now, everyone should be familiar with the 101 Critical Days of Summer, the safety campaign designed to curb the trend of increasing accidents and fatalities during the summer months. I believe one of the reasons that this campaign has succeeded is that it has effectively raised awareness of these seasonal threats to a high enough level where it causes us to pay more attention to our actions. The attribute of situational awareness may come easily to some, but for most of us it is something that we must constantly strive to improve. Just like the simple action of looking both ways before crossing the street, observing, processing and understanding the world around us allows us to make more informed decisions and more effectively manage risk before taking action. Situational awareness is not unique to the individual. Your attention to detail can help increase the situational awareness of others around you, including your wingmen, leading to a safer organization.

With these two aspects of attention to detail in mind I'd like to challenge each and every one of you to perform whatever tasks you are assigned to the highest quality and with as much thoroughness as you can. Endeavor to always live up to the core value of excellence in all we do. Finally, strive to be more observant, to constantly improve your situational awareness by paying attention to the details around you both on- and off-duty. Think of it as a never-ending vigilance which helps you safely through the 365 critical days of every year.