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Meet Diane Hatton: Project Planning, Tracking, and Team Building—the Secrets to Success

By Karen McNulty Walsh

Diane Hatton

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. Diane Hatton helped navigate the winding path to success for the NSLS-II project, and will bring her experience to future endeavors at Brookhaven Lab.

One of Diane Hatton’s fondest memories at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory is the day the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) achieved “first light”—the first successful delivery of x-ray beams at the brand-new research facility in October 2014. She’d been working for 10 years as the Project Support Division Director—overseeing all support functions from the administrative staff to budgets, human resources, quality assurance, and more—as the technical team worked to bring the new DOE Office of Science User Facility online.

She recalls how she and Steve Dierker, then Associate Laboratory Director for Photon Sciences, were standing in his office after all the hubbub of the celebration, talking about how great an achievement this was. “We wanted to still celebrate with the staff, so we decided to go to each of the NSLS-II Lab Office Buildings and congratulate every person we saw. So, we walked around the whole facility and shook everybody’s hand. Everyone was sharing in the excitement.”

But successes like that don’t come overnight. They take a lot of meticulous planning. And that’s where Hatton—with a B.S. in business administration from Long Island University and an M.B.A. in management from Hofstra University—excels.

Knowing what to do on a project takes a lot of learning. The good part is that I have done it before.

— Diane Hatton, special assistant to the Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, wow, that was a successful 10 years!’ It’s all little steps. There are a million little things that have to happen to make a project work. In addition to supporting the work of the project, you’re also developing the people in your group to be successful. In the long run, that is the most rewarding,” she said.

Now Hatton is bringing what she learned on the NSLS-II project to new endeavors at Brookhaven National Lab. As a special assistant to Berndt Mueller, Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics, she’s putting in place systems to ensure that the accelerator projects within the directorate have the support they need to stay on track and be successful.

Hatton’s background in management and administration makes her perfectly suited to sit at the center of these massive rings of science.

She started as a secretary with an associate’s degree she’d earned right out of high school, working in the Lab’s procurement department in 1983—“before computers were a household appliance,” she noted, displaying a copy of the Brookhaven Bulletin from the time of her arrival with a headline implying they might soon be! After moving to a budgeting position in the Lab’s original light source, NSLS, she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, with help from the Lab’s tuition assistance program. After another move to the chemistry department, she was given her first management opportunity—to work as the department administrator overseeing human resources, business support, and facility support—by then chair Carol Creutz.

“It’s hard to get somebody to believe in you and give you that shot,” she said. “But Carol did.”

Hatton also credits Dierker as being a uniquely progressive supervisor.

Diane Hatton

Click on the image to download a high-resolution version. With a background in management and administration and strong support from supervisors, Diane Hatton now has the opportunity to help others find their strengths.

“At NSLS-II, I was in charge of support. Steve could easily have put me off to the side— responsible for support functions only, but he didn’t. He included me as an integral part of the management team and included me in everything—every management meeting and all key decisions. That enables you to do a better job—when you’re a part of it. Seeing that was an eye opener for me, and important in helping me to become a leader at the Laboratory.”

“I’m not a scientist,” she added, “but I listen. I sit through many scientific meetings and I absorb whatever piece of it I can. I’m always thinking about it from my perspective, which is, what can we [as project managers] do better to make sure you [the technical staff] can be successful.”

Her experience across the Lab, including working for a time in the Director’s Office, has had an impact, too. “Working as the director of the Office of Planning, Performance, and Quality Management helped me understand the outward-facing role that Laboratory management plays in developing our long-term strategy, including with partners at DOE and elsewhere, and how important those interactions are to the success of our projects.”

“We have more than 450 people in the Collider-Accelerator Department (C-AD), and they are being counted on to operate the RHIC facility, work on other projects, and prepare for next-generation facilities,” said Hatton. “We’ve been working on building a system to make sure that we have the right people at the right place at the right time to ensure success. That system gives us data details that we didn’t have before and it is part of a larger suite of tools that will help us to track performance on all of these projects.

“Planning ahead and being rigorous is a big part of it,” she said. She works tirelessly to keep meetings focused with a clear agenda, minutes, and follow-through. “My administrative background, I use it all the time! We’re getting stuff done, we’re organized,” she said.

“Knowing what to do on a project takes a lot of learning,” she noted. “The good part is that I have done it before. The first time you take on a project, you have to look things up, you have to ask people, call people, and you don’t know many people to call and ask because you haven’t done a project of this scale before. But now we have a network because we’ve lived through it.”

As the celebratory hand-shaking walk at NSLS-II illustrates, building the team and appreciating their efforts is a huge part of achieving success.

“There’s a lot of satisfaction in giving people opportunities to stretch and find the best in themselves,” Hatton said.

She is passionate about serving as a mentor—to staff who report to her directly, of course, but also through the Lab’s formal internal mentoring program, and the Laboratory Operations Leadership Academy run by Battelle, the company that manages Brookhaven Lab in partnership with Stony Brook University as part of Brookhaven Science Associates.

“I keep mentoring even after the official programs are over,” she said. “I have a lot of informal relationships where we get together for lunch, or people call me up and say, ‘can I just stop by,’ and I really enjoy that. I also feel that I owe the Laboratory some giveback for the 30-odd years I’ve been here, and for all the Lab has done for me.”

As a woman in a male-dominated field, she said, “Most times I don’t even notice, but there are times when I look around and realize that I am the only woman at the table.  I have to say, though, the talk around the table changes when the participants are more diverse!” 

She takes advantage of every opportunity to help other women succeed, nominating them for positions on review teams or advisory committees, for example. “That’s the whole idea of putting women in leadership positions, so they pull others up,” she said.

Looking back on the achievement of NSLS-II and ahead to the future, Hatton said, opportunities abound.

“Once you spend a decade working on a project, now we’re the ‘experts.’ We get asked to help other projects be successful, serving on review committees, advisory boards, and making contributions to the project community at DOE and outside DOE as well.”

“I started at Brookhaven with an associate’s degree in secretarial science, working for two assistant buyers in procurement,” she reiterated, “My story is an example of the opportunities that this Laboratory provides.”

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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2019-14433  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom