Revolving Door of Leadership

At Hanford, top-level managers have a short shelf-life.  They are usually in their positions for a couple of years and then a new manager is sent in.  Sometimes it works out when the new manager comes from within, knows Hanford well, has the relationships and connections with the larger stakeholder network.  But a lot of the time managers are sent in from another site and everyone has to wait as they master the complex world of Hanford which takes most people a few years to really get a handle on.  Then they get the boot and another manager comes in.  For most of us who work on Hanford full time, the revolving door of leadership is a huge frustration.  We spend a lot of time building trust and understanding and start seeing progress with the existing management, both feds and contractors, and then poof, out they go, and in comes another to start the whole process over again.  This is the kind of scenario that would benefit from some systemic change.  But what change would work in this situation?

There is some benefit to switching out managers and infusing an organization with new leadership and direction.  It is great when it works, but it is REALLY bad when it doesn’t work.  It can delay work, send projects spiraling back and erase years of progress on important issues like safety culture and worker health and safety.  So what can be done about it?   A few factors that seem to increase the chances of success in my opinion are to select someone who:

  • has put in their time at Hanford and knows the system well
  • is known and respected within the contractor, regulator, DOE, and stakeholder worlds
  • takes the time to listen to all players in the Hanford universe, especially voices that raise concerns and the broader community of regional stakeholders
  • asks tough questions and has a critical perspective
  • meets directly with people when significant issues arise instead of relying on the chain of command to relay the whole story through Hanford’s many layers of management
  • thinks and acts in a transparent manner

We are in a management switch right now.  Scott Samuelson, manager for DOE’s Office of River Protection is on his way out, and Kevin Smith is on his way in.  Unfortunately, Kevin Smith is not a hire from within the Hanford world, and as far as I know is not well known.  It is not clear that he has cleanup experience, having worked in the military side of DOE for many years, and in the actual military before that.  Time will tell what kind of leader he will be.  Hopefully he will take the time to learn about safety culture at Hanford from multiple perspectives, and do what it takes to make Hanford a place where cleanup decisions reflect input from a wide range of voices and perspectives.

By: Liz Mattson

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