• Mark Myers

SMS Policy Review: Is Your Safety Culture Adaptable, Flexible, and Resilient?


As the early months of 2021 unfold, this is a gentle reminder that it is time to dust off the SMS manual and perform your company’s annual policy SMS review. While our current workdays continue to go sideways with pandemic-based tasks, this might be a perfect opportunity to get some quality Zoom time with your Accountable Executive (AE). In these “unprecedented times” (excuse me for opening a sentence with one of the banned COVID-19 phrases SOURCE), this year’s SMS review could easily generate more reflection, insights, and edits than any time since you painstakingly began drafting your initial AE policy letter.

Reason’s Top 5


While reviewing your AEs Safety Policy, I would hope your company has expanded on James Reason’s five safety culture elements - informed, reporting, learning, just, and flexible. Your AE policy review notes should reflect how your company behaved over the past year:

  1. Did your organization continue to collect reports, analyze relevant data, and actively disseminate quality and safety information?

  2. Did your leadership cultivate an atmosphere where people had confidence and assurance to report safety concerns without fear of blame? Did all employees act as safety advocates, regardless of their position, seniority, or status?

  3. What were your organization’s top-five key lessons learned, and how did leadership promote these changes from the very top of the organization to the front-line employees?

  4. Have you cleared the Just Culture training hurdle so that management is effectively using coaching and counseling algorithms as part of each safety debriefing and inquiry?

  5. And finally, the star of this year’s review - Was your organization, adaptable, flexible, and resilient in effectively meeting changing demands?

But wait a minute…number five has different culture attributes of adaptability, flexibility and resilience that were not included in most SMS policy letter boiler plates! What do we mean by them and should they be included?


What is Adaptability, Flexibility and Resilience, and Why Include Them in SMS Policy?


Being adaptable means you are able and willing to adjust to new conditions. Being flexible means you can respond and adjust easily. Being resilient, means you can withstand or recover quickly from unexpected or difficult conditions, while adapting to (and often enjoying) change on a regular basis. The nuances in these three elements point to how much time you need to spend with your personnel department, your training and development coordinator, and employee leadership development initiatives.


Putting this in a safety culture management sense, being adaptable, flexible, and resilient requires an organization’s willingness to foster and maintain its corporate knowledge while promoting new collaborative learning methods, procedures, or techniques. Your leadership skills will be challenged in helping employees take on new tasks with energy – while keeping an open mind and positive approach to change. Your team facilitation skills will probably need a checkup, as your company assembles high-powered work teams to respond to or produce new strategic developments. Plan how your SMS policy helps promote and protect employees foster team initiatives, self-reliance / empowerment, planning on-the-go, and improvising where necessary. Can your AE hold the concepts of accelerated development, improvisation, and compliance in the same headspace?


We must be cognizant, and probably more tolerant, of new risks involved. Things may not always work out as hoped, so teams need to be able to bounce back from setbacks and openly share and record learning experiences to do things differently next time. Your application of psychological safety promotion and coaching becomes equally important to any level of physical safety. Today’s safety manager has a full set of PPE in one hand and a copy of “The Fearless Organization” by Amy Edmondson in the other.


Change is constant, it is how ANY organization thrives and survives by finding the right mix of people who can adapt to changing circumstances and environments, while being resourceful, enterprising, and embracing new ideas. In many companies, this places the organizational dynamics of high-powered knowledge teams needing the right assurance and strategic vision from strategic visionaries who need assurance and safety in admitting they do not have the knowledge. A robust SMS is the clutch that keeps these two organizational flywheels from ripping the company apart.

1. Lake Superior State University. (2021). “Banished Words of the year.” Retrieved from https://www.lssu.edu/traditions/banishedwords/year

2. Delizonna, Laura. “High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It.” (Harvard Business Review, 2017)