Sunday, March 7, 2010

"What Looks Like a People Problem Often is a Situation Problem"

The title quote is taken from a new book on the market titled, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard [p.3]. It forms one of the basic tenets of the authors approach to change dynamics and says, change is not just about people and their willingness or ability to change. Often, the situation (environment, context, climate, etc.) exerts powerful forces on people making it much more difficult (or easier) to change. Perhaps I am inclined favorably to their thesis in that I have argued that much of the challenge associated with sustaining strong safety culture may be rooted in the competing priorities and pressures on nuclear professionals. Safety in the abstract is easy. And it is easy to state safety is the highest priority. But nuclear safety is not an unambiguous state; it may appear in any of a thousand shades of gray that require considerable insight and judgment to assess.

By the way, what is the situation of nuclear professionals that may influence their ability to achieve safety culture norms? Budgets, staffing, and plant material condition are obvious aspects of the situation that must be considered. Efficient and effective processes - for example the CAP program or safety concerns program - also provide support (or undermine) the ability of individuals to actualize their safety priorities.

Add to that the consequences of many safety decisions in terms of dollars and/or plant operations, or a pending license action, and safety takes on fuzzy like characteristics.

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