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

Mark Myers

By Mark Myers
Senior Safety Manager, Baldwin Safety & Compliance

Posted on April 1, 2021
airplane at hangar

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 work days 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 2021 banished words), this year’s SMS review could easily generate more reflection, insights and edits than at any time since you painstakingly began drafting your initial AE policy letter.

Reason’s Top 5
While reviewing your AE’s 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 boilerplates! What do we mean by them and should they be included?

What Are 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 your 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, and how it fosters 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.

A Robust SMS: Vital to Your Evolving Organization
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 and 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 somewhat in opposition to 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.

Baldwin Safety & Compliance Baldwin Safety & Compliance
Customized Safety/Quality Management programs and related business solutions developed by experienced and credentialed safety professionals include training, manual management and SMS implementation/software. Based on ICAO and other international standards and regulations, Baldwin’s programs support Business Aviation, Charter, MRO, Ground Operations and Handling, FBO, Airport, Medical Transport, UAS and Regional Airlines by providing scalable/flexible software, an outstanding customer experience, and our Commitment to Excellence.

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