Technical Competence and Nuclear Safety Culture

In my previous articles on nuclear safety culture ( ;, I gave a few examples of artifacts, espoused beliefs and values and basic underlying assumptions relevant for nuclear safety culture, using the model of organizational culture defined by Professor Edgar Schein.

Let’s have a closer look at the basic underlying assumptions: these are the tacit, unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and values that “determine behavior, perception, thought, and feeling”. For the purpose of understanding organizational culture, of interest are the assumptions shared by its members, of course. But in order to know what assumptions are shared, we first need to know what assumptions are out there. How exactly are the basic assumptions developed and what influences them?

Our basic assumptions are formed as we develop personally and professionally. They reflect our education, our training and qualification, our knowledge, our work experience and our interaction with different professional groups. Therefore, our basic assumptions are directly linked to and influenced by our competence (knowledge, skills and attitudes).

The technical competence of reactor designers, operators, safety analysts, managers and inspectors is at the core of basic assumptions shared at the level of nuclear organizations and of the nuclear industry as a whole.

Poor safety culture has been identified as a root cause of many accidents. But if we look deeper into this matter, knowing what we know today, with all the operating experience available in the nuclear industry, we may find that one of the root causes of poor safety culture was insufficient technical competence at decision-making levels.

The technical competences of managers and workers at various organizational levels are, in Schein’s model, represented at the level of artifacts and yet they influence directly the basic assumptions. I think a more appropriate representation of the dynamics between artifacts, espoused values and basic assumptions would be the one presented in the image associated with this article. (I know it looks a bit like the configuration management model, but this similarity would actually be quite appropriate only from the perspective of the “designer” of an organization).

The main elements of organizational culture, based on Edgar Schein’s model, modified to illustrate the interactions between them

I would welcome your thoughts on this.

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