Dr Natalie Pelham GAICD

Chief Executive of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR)

  • Change agent
  • Driving reform
  • Safety champion
Based in: NSW
Modes: Road Rail Maritime Busses
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"National reform in transport is amazing; the work intellectually grabs you and delivers important benefits to the economy and the community. Independent investigation is a unique way to ‘shine a light’ on safety issues, to learn the safety lessons and share them to secure improvements across the transport network."

Current Position

  • Chief Executive of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR)

Previous Positions

  • Chief Investigator and Chief Executive Officer, Office of Transport Safety Investigations
  • Management Consultant, Pelham Advisory
  • Executive Director, Transport Policy, Transport for NSW
  • Executive Director, Innovation, Research & Reform, Transport for NSW
  • Consultant, Boston Consulting Group (secondment)
  • Project Director, Organisation Design & Implementation, WestConnex Delivery Authority
  • Executive Director, National Policy & Priority Initiatives, Transport for NSW
  • Director, Transport Policy & Reform, Transport for NSW
  • Executive Director, Policy, Strategy & Advice, Independent Transport Safety & Reliability Regulator
  • Executive Director, Corporate Strategy, Independent Transport Safety & Reliability Regulator
  • Project Manager, Ministerial Transport Safety Taskforce
  • Project Manager, Single Notification, WorkCover NSW
  • Manager, Health & Community Services Team, WorkCover NSW
  • Manager, Consumer & Business Services Team, WorkCover NSW
  • BackWatch Coordinator, WorkCover NSW
  • Director, Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) Board
  • Director, Transport Heritage NSW (THNSW) Board
  • Director, Rail Industry Safety & Standards (RISSB) Board
  • Project Board Member for establishment of the National Rail Safety Regulator and National Rail Safety Law
  • Project Board Member for establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and National HV Law
  • Member, National Automated Vehicle Legislation Framework Steering Committee
  • Member, High Productivity Vehicle Access Committee
  • Member, Heavy Vehicle Road Reform Committee

Career snapshot 

Dr Natalie Pelham is a senior leader with over 20 years’ experience in the public sector leading significant policy, strategy, and reform at the state and national levels. She was appointed Chief Executive of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) in October 2023, and was previously the Chief Investigator and Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Transport Safety Investigations, where she was appointed in January 2021. 

Natalie has extensive experience in the public sector, especially in the design and delivery of policy frameworks and regulatory systems, initiation and conduct of reviews and implementation of reforms.  

Her career includes leading challenging projects involving solving multiple and conflicting issues while engaging with diverse stakeholders. Natalie is an organisational change agent with the ability to harness resources, implement effective governance arrangements and establish new business operating models. These include the development of the National Regulatory Model for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) in consultation with jurisdictions, the NSW Regional Maritime Infrastructure Plan (a 30-year strategy to prioritise investment in regional and coastal infrastructure), and the design and implementation of organisation and governance structures to support the effective delivery of the WestConnex Infrastructure Program. 

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In her own words 

I became involved in transport and safety following the tragic Waterfall rail accident of 2003. I was at WorkCover at the time leading a team of investigators, project officers and specialists when a Ministerial Taskforce was being established to look at reviewing the safety regulatory framework across transport. While I didn’t know that much about transport specifically, I had a deep, practical understanding of workplace health and safety. They wanted someone in the Taskforce to advise on what good regulation looked like in safety and if a regulator was to be set up, what would it need to be able to do in terms of its competency and capacity. I joined the Taskforce and found transport quite fascinating.  It was an important piece of work. I love working in government because you can do amazing things. As part of the Taskforce, we had the opportunity to build something new, and set it up properly with support across government. I feel extremely proud of being part of that process and what we managed to put in place. 

When the new Independent Transport Safety & Reliability Regulator was established, I joined it and from then onwards in my career I have been extensively involved in looking at legislative frameworks and their reform at both state and national levels. 

The increased understanding of risk, and focus on how to manage it, has been the biggest change I have seen since I started in transport. Today there is a much better understanding of safety management systems, rather than relying on individuals following procedures and making the right choice in a particular circumstance, when there could be physical and mental limitations. It started in the 1980s when safety moved from a prescriptive framework to a more risk-based approach, but has gone ahead in recent times in leaps and bounds with the many new technologies coming in.  

In terms of diversity in transport there is real progress in attracting female representation across different levels and a realisation that quotas are needed and mechanisms to help challenge biases, or people will keep hiring people just like themselves.  

Leading with the why 

When driving reform, you must start with a crystal-clear idea of where you want to get to and the why - why is the change important, what will be different, who will benefit, what will make a reform ‘sellable’.  In both government and private sector environments you need good political backing and to understand who your various contributors are. The foundation work involves ensuring these stakeholders truly understand what you are trying to achieve and are willing to contribute.  

Beyond that you need a great plan of attack, including if and when you need to bring the public along. It’s all about excellent project management and explaining the value of the change.  

Stepping forward 

Every time I have taken a risk in my career it has paid off.  

When I started at WorkCover NSW we had a new CEO and she sent out a note saying, ‘if you have any ideas let me know.’ I was early in my career, had some ideas and sent off an email. What I hadn’t appreciated was that it was just me and one other who had bothered to respond to the CEO’s email.  As a result, I ended up being involved in some fascinating projects because the CEO knew I was interested. It made me realise that the best thing I could do was volunteer for different projects and keep learning. Lateral moves are the way to go! It’s all about seizing and making opportunities. 

When an Expression of Interest was issued for people to work on setting up the WestConnex Delivery Authority, I put together a proposal around the project and what I thought I could contribute, even though they were looking for engineers and project managers. I thought ‘you never know’ and put myself out there. I got a call from the acting CEO who said, ‘we have never had a person send us a full proposal before’ and I secured a 12-month secondment. I hadn’t worked on a big infrastructure project before and I got the opportunity to help set up the Authority’s governance including negotiating new arrangements for the project’s gateway review process. It was great, interesting work. 

My vision for the next five years is… 

…a greater balance of women across the sector. There has been a focus on women in senior management, but we need to continually build the pipeline. Having more women in a workforce is a catalyst for more diversity and change across the industry. 

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