I’m fresh back from a ten day journey through London, Krakow, Budapest and Bucharest. What I saw and heard in my business conversations convinces me more that I’m on the right track thinking about the systemic influence of leadership behavior. Nuclear organizations the world over are putting great effort into nuclear safety, yet the most important ingredient is the least addressed: that the way the formal leaders in the organization manage authority either encourages or discourages the people who work for them in countless ways, including whether or not they will bother to raise concerns. No program, no matter how clever and well funded, can assure the right behaviors in a system where the workforce feels beaten down. And this feeling is easier to trigger than most leaders realize. I meet highly motivated people every day, working for highly motivated bosses, who just don’t want their boss to know that they have concerns. It is a natural tendency to want the boss to think that one has things under control – a tendency counterproductive in many many ways.
To truly create “nuclear safety culture” requires leadership at the top that recognizes that a core function of leadership is ensuring that each subsequent layer is speaking their truth about what is happening, both socially and technically, to the people above, sideways, and below. Only intentional commitment to a free flow of information can assure the best safety environment. That productivity and morale both rest on the same pillars should make such commitment a standard, rather than a rarity. Only in such a climate will other programmatic approaches truly bear fruit.