Though they may not know her by name, NASA employees are familiar with the programs, initiatives and products created by Dr. Tracy Dillinger. She manages two key programs for the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance: Safety Culture and Human Factors. She also served as the chair of the agency Safety Culture Working Group and agency Human Factors Task Force, is responsible for the NASA Safety Culture Survey, Safety Culture courses, NASA Human Factor Analysis and Classification training, the NASA Annual Human Factors report, and NASA Organizational Safety Assessments.
In recognition of the creation, development and implementation of two successful agency programs, NASA recently selected Dillinger as the senior leader position of senior Safety Culture and Human Factors psychologist in the Missions and Programs Assessment Division of the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance in February.
“My official start date was actually Feb. 14,” said Dillinger. “So, when I got the notice from Human Resources, I sent them back a note that said, ‘Thank you, I feel the love from NASA.’”
Before joining NASA on a detail in 2008 and transitioning to a NASA civil servant role in 2011, she spent 21 years in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). There, Dillinger was the Chief of the Safety Assessment Division for the USAF’s Safety Center Headquarters from 2005 to 2008 and was the USAF Chief of Aviation Psychology from 1998 to 2008. As a USAF major, Dillinger was a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003 and the Space Shuttle Independent Assessment Team in 1999.
Since transitioning to NASA, Dillinger has kept her focus on the Safety Culture and Human Factors programs. She is pleased the agency recognizes the need for a leader in these program areas at the executive level.
“I think it’s very important for the future that there be human behavioral scientists at the executive level who pair with engineers, technologists, and other hard scientists so that we include the human envelope into the equation,” said Dillinger. “There are certain limits of what humans are capable of and certain ways we can predict human behavior. We need to ensure conditions encourage peak performance and sustain strong performance, especially in our missions and every day in our workplace.”
In her new role, Dillinger hopes to create a legacy in which the agency will continue to make Safety Culture a priority, even after she’s left. Her ultimate goal is to create and maintain a culture where employees feel comfortable, trust their leadership and are working at their best.
“Multiple organizations shape Safety Culture, and not every place is the same,” said Dillinger. “Some organizational fundamentals are consistent — like discipline, creativity and a safe environment where you can speak up — but how we create this culture across centers is not cookie cutter.”
Dillinger plans to continue producing and providing Safety Culture and Human Factors information and tools to employees at all levels of the agency. Her long-term goals include developing these resources and bringing together a cadre of people who understand and carry out Safety Culture at the center and program levels. As Dillinger continues to move forward with her plans, she remains cognizant that there may be obstacles outside of her control along the way.
“In terms of economy, social justice, the global pandemic, politics and the impact of all of those. I think these will trickle down into our workforce and present challenges with budget, workforce attention and distraction, and performance.” said Dillinger.
Dillinger has confidence in the agency workforce and knows employees are dedicated and enthusiastic people who enjoy what they do, love the mission and will work hard to succeed.
This year, she received news validating this thought. A representative from the group that manages the processing of Safety Culture Survey data for not only NASA, but also for many other federal agencies, called Dillinger about the survey results, which was unusual.
“They called because they wanted to let me know that other clients’ Safety Culture surveys are ticking downward on scores,” said Dillinger. “Everyone except NASA. NASA is the outlier and is ticking upward. We are the one client making improvements while others are struggling, and they wanted to let me know the Safety Culture program is making a difference.”
Dillinger attributes the positive survey results to the Safety Culture Points of Contact, center directors, department heads, supervisors and employees working hard to do justice for their centers and leaders stepping up to support, listen and respond.
“I think we’re in a unique time and what we all do matters,” said Dillinger. We need to pay attention to what we are doing and learn from the past. We need to be willing to take some risks for a better future.”
Visit the Safety Culture and Human Factors pages to learn more about Dillinger’s program areas.