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Nuclear Professionals Share How to Promote Strong Safety Cultures: IAEA School on Leadership for Safety


Junior and mid-career professionals learn about safety leadership skills through group exercises at an IAEA training course. (Photo: J. Gil Martin/IAEA)

Leadership for nuclear safety and the development of a strong safety culture within organizations requires creating space for open and meaningful discussions between nuclear professionals of different backgrounds, participants of the IAEA School of Nuclear and Radiological Leadership for Safety held in Ankara, Turkey from 22 April to 3 May 2019, have said.

Safety leadership is particularly important in nuclear and radiological work environments, in both routine and emergency situations, due to their inherent complexities. The IAEA school on leadership for safety helps early- to mid-career nuclear and radiation professionals develop the skills they need to lead for safety throughout their careers.

Twenty-nine professionals from regulatory bodies, nuclear operators and technical organizations in 14 countries participated in the course held in Turkey. They analyzed case studies, conducted exercises, took part in discussions and listened to invited experts’ presentations on nuclear and radiation safety, including emergency preparedness. The course was held in the framework of an IAEA technical cooperation project on enhancing capacity-building activities in European nuclear and radiation safety organizations for the safe operation of facilities.

School participants said the course provided an environment for discussions that build safety leadership and offered inspiration and strategies for doing the same at their institutions. 

Introducing new ways to communicate within teams

School participant Milijana Steljic, Unit Head for International Cooperation and Project Management at the Serbian Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Security Directorate, highlighted the importance of personal behaviour and the use of certain tools to build strong teams to promote safety.

Milijana Steljic

“This course encouraged me to think in a new way, particularly of my role as a leader and how I balance my professional output with the ability to inspire my team members through my own actions,” said Steljic. “Combining presentations and lectures with case studies, group work, games and technical visits, the school exposed our leadership behaviour and introduced us to so-called leaders’ tools for us to use daily.”

“I want to introduce team-building exercises and regular discussions of case studies in my team and use the new leaders’ tools to evaluate my team’s performance,” she continued. “Ideally, I would like to introduce this idea to the entire organization, as I would like us all to have more open communication in order to build a strong safety culture in our organization.”

Promoting a commitment to leadership among all team members

Another participant, Aysel Hasanova, Senior Advisor at the Department of Technical Legislation and Standards of the State Agency on Nuclear and Radiological Activity Regulation in Azerbaijan, emphasized the role of appropriate programmes in inspiring nuclear safety professionals and noted that all team members – not only managers – can be leaders for safety.

Aysel Hasanova

“Leaders’ behaviours strongly impact safety. Leadership for safety means a continuous desire to develop and be a role model for all of one’s team members, regardless of whether one is a manager or not,” said Hasanova. “I work on the promotion of a strong safety culture and the transfer of knowledge from experienced professionals, engaging younger and women professionals and am committed to introducing new tools for human resource development across the country. This is why I participated in this course.”

“I now understand the systematic and comprehensive approach to safety, which includes technical, organizational and human factors. I learned how important it is to communicate about safety, taking into account risk perception, values, understanding and personal experience,” she continued. “We learned how to not only better understand and develop our own characteristics to be more involved, but also how to involve others and develop attitudes for safety.”

“Previously, I thought you had to be born a leader, but I now believe everyone can uncover and develop their own leadership skills,” she said. “Nothing is built in one day, but we need to get started with clear goals and great commitment to achieve them.”

The first school was held in France in 2017. In 2018, the IAEA conducted a two-day demonstration school in Russia in July, a three-day demonstration school in Argentina in December, as well as leadership schools in India and in Mexico in November.

Participants visited a radiology unit to learn about leadership in the field.  (Photo: J. Gil Martin/IAEA)

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