we4DRR members in focus: Maria Patek

Maria Patek and moderator Doris Damyanovic
Foto: we4DRR

On November 22nd, 2023, the first part of our winter webinar series we4DRR members in focus was held online. Maria Patek gave insights about her career, biggest achievements and personal views on work and life.

After studying forestry at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Maria started her career in the 1980s at the Austrian Service for Torrent and Avalanche Control, which she then also led from 2002 to 2016 with over 1000 employees. She then became Director General for Water Management and then for Forestry and Sustainability in the Ministry of Agriculture. Maria was also Federal Minister from 2019 to 2020, which for her was the highlight of her career and the most exhilarating time in her professional life.


  • As a child I wanted to become: a fashion designer
  • My perfect (work) day starts with: breakfast with my husband and family
  • I restore my energy by: sleeping
  • My secret of success is: hard work and humour

On changing culture, networking and climbing the career ladder

When Maria started her career in the 1980s in a very male-dominated field, the corporate culture of sexual harassment, inappropriate jokes and undermining comments was very different from today. She learnt jiu-jitsu to feel safe, showed doubting colleagues that she could work on steep terrain, developed her rhetorical skills and used these obstacles and doubts as a catalyst. When she got her first management job, it was close to home, so she and her husband could combine childcare with efficient working. She cultivated her management skills by reading a lot and keeping her family close as a trusted network, especially her husband, a psychiatrist.

At work, Maria valued the mostly female teams she worked with, they were efficient and results oriented, she tried to keep a positive atmosphere and laughter, even during challenging and stressful times. Maria learnt a lot from her mentors and paid it forward by becoming a mentor herself. She advises everyone to make themselves visible by going to events, talking to people, being an active member of different networks, joining associations closely related to their work and broadening their horizons by sharing in all these networks.

Maria believes that the basis for a good life is DRR. It is becoming more and more important in the context of climate change, as we see that the risks are increasing, not only in the Alpine regions, but all over the world. We should therefore look to other countries for inspiration, learn from each other, get to know new tools, etc., and work on them scientifically. Although Maria never expected to work in the field of DRR, she is now convinced that any effort in this field makes a positive contribution to our lives.

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