On 31 May, I will step away from ONR after five and a half years. It has been my honour to lead the ONR team to become more cohesive, inclusive and stakeholder focused. Here, I share some reflections that I hope resonate with you.
The ONR I joined in 2016 was a highly effective regulator, but a divisive and poorly co-ordinated organisation. Three years after separating from the Health and Safety Executive, it had yet to create a clear plan to build all of the capabilities and culture needed for a newly-independent organisation.
I’m pleased to say that the ONR of today is rather different. Through scrupulous attention to organisational development, alongside refinements to how we regulate, we now have a thriving team that is fit to meet future challenges.
I see that as having been borne of a focus on three underpinning changes in our shared culture: 1) that we are each and are all responsible for ONR being a learning and teaching organisation; 2) that we each and all demonstrate that while leaders are accountable for role modelling culture, as individuals, we play a hugely important part in nurturing it; and 3) that we each and all demonstrate that only by working with an open mind and inclusive approach, can we unleash the immense power of the sum of our functional and specialist parts.
Today’s ONR encourages diversity, celebrates difference, and works hard to give more equal weight to empathy and emotional intelligence as to reasoning and logic.
By putting our people at the heart of our agenda, we have transformed how it feels for our people, and made it easier for them to develop and grow. I am particularly proud of the work we have done to create a world-class Academy. This shifted our development offer from a back-office spare-time endeavour to a front-of-house global exemplar.
We’ve been delighted to receive several sector awards for our people, from our pioneering Nuclear Degree Apprenticeship Programme winning a UK Nuclear Skills Award as a showcase of effective collaboration in training and development, to a global gong from the Institute of Chemical Engineers, in recognition of our investment in skills and culture – while hundreds of our staff have achieved Fellowship status in their chosen profession.
In so doing, we have markedly improved our capability and confidence not just for the short term, but for the medium and long term too. I am rightly proud of this and know it will feel very hard to leave ONR’s talented and motivated people.
Another key change has been the focus on strategic head-and-heart leadership, alongside the necessary operational management we favoured. Both are essential. By developing a resilient, respectful and forward-looking Board and Senior Leadership Team (SLT), we have created a clear Strategy to 2025 – to deliver our mission, vision and strategic priorities, underpinned by our organisational values.
We have not always agreed on everything – and when well understood, that has been a strength – but we have always worked with the best interests of ONR’s mission in mind.
As a generalist without prior nuclear experience, I hope that I leave a legacy of what I see as the most important tools in ONR’s toolkit – a bright moral compass, a nurturing focus on people, and an expansive, unending curiosity about how we can do even better. I could not be more grateful to our Board and SLT members for their support, challenge and good humour.
Externally, we have become more open, accessible and human in our approach. We rely on formal authority as a last resort, preferring to build constructive relationships. We try to understand and engage in opposing views, rather than deflect them. And we seek feedback more often on a day-to-day basis, backed up by independent surveys – and knowing we’re not infallible, we particularly value the insight they bring.
I have personally enjoyed and benefitted from hundreds of hours invested in this feedback, whether on site visits from Dounreay to Devonport and everywhere in between, from the officials and Ministers of the many government departments with whom we engage, and from wider stakeholders such as those who take time to share their view at sector conferences and ONR fora and panels. I simply could not have done my job effectively without their trust, generosity and shared knowledge. Thanks to every one of those hundreds of people who have helped me by sharing their energy, perspectives and encouragement.
And I cannot finish without acknowledging Women in Nuclear, the Nuclear Institute and Powerful Women. It has been my privilege to be given the opportunity to act as a role model for inclusion in the nuclear and energy sector. Although optimistic, I remain troubled by the lack of diversity at Board and senior levels. People cannot be a change they cannot see.
And so I leave with one ask of you: please, take action – now – to address the lack of diversity in this sector. If the same imagination applied to engineering problems was applied to culture, I am sure that positive change would come more quickly. Consider the wildcards, the people who ‘don’t fit’ and those who see things differently. They could be your greatest asset.
It has been my heart-felt honour to have helped ONR grow and flourish while continuing protect the public. It will be a wrench to leave.
But the time is absolutely right to hand over to Mark Foy, who I know intends to bring the same diligence and competence to being Chief Executive as he does to his role as Chief Nuclear Inspector. And under the watchful eye of our Chair, Mark McAllister, I know ONR will be in safe hands.
Thank you, all, for your support, counsel and challenge. I wish you all the very best for the future.
ONR Chief Executive