Learning & Development

What Can Trainers Do to Work Successfully with SMEs?

“Getting them involved can be very difficult,” she says. Since training is likely not among the SMEs’ job responsibilities, it can be hard to schedule time with them and to get the information you need from them when you need it, Lee explains.

She recommends scheduling “kick off meetings” with SMEs to set clear expectations, including:

  • Will they be expected to develop part of a training module?
  • Will they contribute ideas only as background for a training activity?
  • Will they deliver the training?

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Then she suggests that you gain their agreement on the training objectives, metrics, and process, and that you address potential challenges up front.

During the kick off meeting, discuss the SME’s availability, and set specific times and dates for future meetings so that you are already on their calendar, and “there’s a greater chance” they will keep those appointments, she says. In addition, Lee suggests making sure SMEs understand why the training—and their role in it—are important. If they see the business justification, “you are motivating them to stay engaged” in the process.


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It is also important to “be aware of communication style differences” and to do your best to use the SME’s preference as the primary communication method, Lee says. For example, does the SME prefer to meet only face-to-face or to communicate primarily via phone or e-mail?

For SMEs who will deliver training, Lee recommends coaching them on their presentation style, their ability to engage learners, and how to debrief at the end of a session—both to increase their effectiveness as well as the likelihood that they will help you in the future. “The more successful they are, the more likely they are to want to work with you again.”