Dissertation of the Year Awarded for 2018

Dissertation of the Year Awarded for 2018

The 2018 winners have been selected for the Dissertation of the Year award. CHNR Senior Research Fellow, Dr. Jared Padgett is proud to announce that Scott Drexler, DM was among those awarded. Dr. Drexler was among two others awarded this year, and contributed the dissertation, Mindful Awareness of Internal and External Influences on HRO Leaders: Heuristic Inquiry. Each year three Dissertation of the Year Awards are presented, one for each of the three focus areas of the UOPX doctoral programs: Healthcare, Education, and Business. Past recipients may be found here.

High Reliability Organizations (HROs) are those that conduct operations with minimal error, over an extended time, and consistently makes good decisions that result in both high quality and high reliability (Roberts, 1990). HRO theory has been explored in a variety of industries, beginning with the military, and includes wildland firefighting, public safety, hostage negotiation, commercial aviation, nuclear energy, among others. It has been steadily gaining ground in healthcare since the late 1990s, with even the Joint Commission including HRO in its literature and its surveys. Early research indicated that organizations had a lot in common with those in other industries, and these similarities enabled learning across industries.  Dr. Drexler's study will be useful for the CHNR community because of this inter-disciplinary feature. 

Dr. Drexler's committee consisted of Dr. Elizabeth Young, Chair, and Committee Members, Dr. Elizabeth Thompson and Dr. Jared Padgett.  The Dissertation of the Year will be presented at the Awards Ceremony on August 17th, 2018 at 9:00 AM PDT. The ceremony is part of the upcoming Knowledge Without Boundaries Summit, which will be held online August 14-17.

Mindful Awareness of Internal and External Influences on HRO Leaders: Heuristic Inquiry


High Reliability Organization (HRO) leaders require a discriminatory mindfulness to subtle danger signals and cues in complex, high-risk systems to sustain safe and reliable performance (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2007). In 2013, even with mindful principles in place, over 300 vital HRO personnel lost their lives in dangerous contexts (DOD, 2015; FBI, 2015; NFPA, 2015). Conceptually HRO leaders are conscious of subtle present-moment physical and psychological stimuli and cues while making decisions and applying behaviors in dangerous situations. The specific problem is that unsustained mindful awareness of internal and external cues may lead to severe injury or death of HRO leaders in dangerous contexts. The purpose of this heuristic inquiry was to explore mindful awareness of internal and external influences on the actions of leaders in HROs when faced with dangerous situations so physical and psychological harm can be averted. Thirteen participants in the South Eastern United States with experience leading in dangerous situations were selected from within law enforcement, firefighting, and military domains using purposeful sampling criteria. Data was collected through semi-structured participant interviews. Four themes emerged from an analysis of collected data including focus on present moment, consciousness of one’s environments, experiential learning, and reliability-enhancing training. The themes revealed individual mindfulness enhancement, experiential leadership assignments, and wide-ranging education and training opportunities may enhance cue recognition in dangerous contexts. The results of the study may be beneficial to improve leader mindfulness and increase HRO leader well-being and survivability in dangerous situations.



Roberts, K. H. (1990). Some characteristics of one type of high reliability organization. Organization Science, 1, 160–176. doi:10.1287/orsc.1.2.160

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