How coaching can support a healthy nuclear safety culture

The mindset, skills and tools of coaching have direct correlation to the traits and attributes identified by WANO as being characteristic of positive safety culture.

I have previously I blogged about organisational culture , outlining the four things you need to know if you’re looking for cultural change. One of the four things was that organisational history is part of culture – what’s happened in the past influences ‘the way we do things’ today.


I was reminded that events in an industry’s history impact on the culture of the organisations in it as I read Serghi Plokhy’s sobering book ‘Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy’. The Chernobyl event in 1986 changed the world; it also transformed the nuclear industry. Nuclear operators realised that they needed to work together and learn from each other to avoid further catastrophe. The result was WANO, the World Association of Nuclear Operators, formed in 1989.

WANO traits

WANO’s mission is:
‘To maximise the safety and reliability of nuclear power plants worldwide by working together to assess, benchmark and improve performance through mutual support, exchange of information and emulation of best practices.’ *

As part this, WANO published the Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture. which describes the traits – defined as ‘pattern[s] of thinking, feeling and behaving’** – found to be present in a positive safety culture. The traits are grouped into three categories:

  1. Individual commitment to safety
  2. Management commitment to safety
  3. Management systems

Framework for discussion

What WANO doesn’t do is prescribe the best way of developing the traits. Instead they’re presented as a ‘framework for open discussion’** and a way to keep nuclear safety culture evolving. Beehive Coaching and Leadership Development Ltd has been providing learning and development to the nuclear sector for over a decade and we’re an organisation with coaching at its heart – the clue’s in the name. To contribute to the ongoing discussion I’d like to show how the discipline of coaching, and its associated mindset, skills and tools, can help to develop the traits and therefore support a healthy nuclear safety culture.

‘Change the conversation, change the culture’.

The WANO document states that shortfalls of the traits have been shown to play a big part in plant events. The decisions and actions that led to such incidents as Three-mile Island and Chernobyl, for example, were a direct result of plant culture, traced to the beliefs, values and shared assumptions of the organisation**. In my past blog I show that culture has complexity, breadth and depth as well as history, which makes changing it a long term project. But there is an organisational development principle which is a good place to start culture change. That is – change the conversation, change the culture. When we change communication in an organisation we go along way to changing culture too.

Using coaching to develop and support a healthy nuclear safety culture

Coaching is a conversation, but a conversation that has a specific:

  • structure and purpose
  • mindset
  • skill set
  • series of tools and models.

non-directive coaching

There are different styles of coaching but the style I’m talking about is ‘ask’ not ‘tell’. It’s about using questions rather than giving instructions, and crucially, open questions. The non-directive focus of coaching conversations – using open questions in a structure which guides the individual or team through reflection to decision making and action – is what gives coaching its potential to transform. It increases situational awareness, improves problem solving and decision making and increases accountability. It puts the human into human performance in a way that no other approach can.

Highly regulated industries and dependent safety culture

A non-directive approach can be a big challenge to hierarchical organisations with a traditional management style, however, particularly in highly regulated industries. In these there’s always a danger that the necessity of compliance to regulation can result in a dependent safety culture, characterised by a ‘tell’ management style where compliance is not only the safety focus but the safety aspiration.

But compliance is surely the minimum to be aiming for, whereas building commitment to the intent and principles behind the regulation is the key aim of supervision and management. And building commitment requires a different set of skills and a different style of management to ensuring compliance – one that coaching training can provide.

how coaching relates to WANO’s three categories of traits

Over the next three days I’ll be taking each of the categories of WANO traits in turn, to show how coaching can make a significant contribution to each. To join in this conversation, and to share the impact coaching has had on your organisation, or the impact you’d like it to have, subscribe to the blog.

(Due to the current pandemic Beehive and NSAN are running the C4HNSC workshop as 3 x 2.5hr sessions live-streamed via Zoom. The session run over three weeks with workplace tasks in between. The first sessions start at 10am on July 14th 2020 and continue at the same time on July 21st and 28th. They are endorsed by NS4P. For more information or to book your place please go to )


** WANO Principles PL 2013-1 ‘Traits of a Healthy Nuclear Safety Culture@