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Nuclear Operators' Forum Encourages Managers to Empower All Employees to be Leaders


A panel of senior managers from nuclear organizations around the world discussed competent leadership and the balance between people and engineering at the 11th Nuclear Operators' Forum. (Photo: IAEA)

Engaged leadership and open, trustful collaboration between managers and staff are crucial for operational excellence. And nuclear power plants are no exception. Sharing stories of leadership that led towards technical and human excellence and also reflecting on lessons learned and the value of empowering employees across the organizational hierarchy, a panel of senior nuclear managers highlighted the importance of employee empowerment at an online event during the 65th IAEA General Conference.

“The world needs nuclear power. We need it to combat climate change, to help keep our air clean and to support socioeconomic development. And nuclear power needs great people,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy during the opening of the annual Nuclear Operators’ Forum. “It needs great people to continue ensuring that the world’s existing and new nuclear power plants are operated safely and efficiently.”

During the forum, senior managers from nuclear organizations around the world shared their experience and discussed the importance of effective leadership. “You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room,” said Stephanie Smith, President and CEO of CANDU Owners Group in Canada. “People feel valued when their opinions are asked and taken into consideration. In addition, such an approach drives creativity and innovation.” Sylusedvie Richard, Deputy Senior Vice President for Nuclear Generation at Electricité de France, agreed: “I have a firm conviction that, for each individual and each team, confidence and autonomy will lead to performance and pleasure at work.”

Although there is a variety of leadership styles, managers are more effective as leaders when they exhibit certain behaviours and attributes. This includes the ability to encourage and motivate those around them to be leaders too. Experience shows that every employee has to lead her/his own work and is more efficient when exercising leadership in their area of responsibility. This is even more important for managers. Amy Ferko, Vice President of Global Operational Services at Exelon in the United States, talked about the importance of constant learning and reflection on one’s leadership style. “Your behaviours are your standards, and they are always under review and examination by your workforce and those you lead,” she said.

Effective communication with employees is another element of successful leadership. “This was particularly evident during the pandemic, where informing and engaging people throughout the crisis was crucial for keeping the plant running,” said Satu Katajala, Vice President and General Manager of Fortum Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant in Finland. “The result was zero Covid‑19 cases in the first year of the pandemic at our plant,” she added. According to the IAEA Covid‑19 Nuclear Power Plant Operating Experience Network, none of the 32 countries with operating nuclear power plants reported any impact on safe and reliable nuclear power plant operation due to the pandemic.

“Maximum efficiency of all elements of sustainable performance can be reached only when managers manifest their leadership both in technical and organizational aspects. Leadership is a key factor in achieving the company’s success,” said Alexsandr Shutikov, First Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Nuclear Power Plants Operation at Rosenergoatom in Russia.

The safety and efficiency of a nuclear facility is a product of the combined, coordinated efforts of all workers. Regardless of how advanced a technology is, it is people that operate it and ensure it is used in the safest and most efficient manner, the panellists agreed.

“The ability to foster collaboration, adaptability, and distributed accountability strengthens resilience in organizations. These attributes support future sustainability and protect against external pressures, the unexpected and other uncertainties,” said Lisa Lande, a Nuclear Human Resources Development Specialist in the IAEA Division of Nuclear Power.

A recording of the event is available here.

About the Nuclear Operators’ Forum

The Nuclear Operators’ Forum was initiated in 2011 as part of the implementation of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety. It aims to strengthen the safety and effectiveness of nuclear electricity generation by enhancing cooperation among nuclear owner/operating organizations. It offers a platform for senior leaders from the operating organizations and support institutions to identify and share experiences, approaches and strategies to influence safety and performance excellence of nuclear facilities in the long term.

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