Column: Workers' Comp

How Poor Leadership in Washington D.C. Hurts Workers’ Comp

By: | May 1, 2018 • 2 min read
Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

President Abraham Lincoln penned a letter to General George Meade detailing disappointment with the general’s Civil War performance. But Lincoln never delivered it, not wanting to alienate Meade at a critical time.

It was typical of Lincoln, taking time to evaluate his own emotions, thinking through the consequences and sometimes doing nothing rather than acting hastily.


Consider that in contrast to President Donald Trump’s style of broadcasting seemingly impulsive, emotion-laden Twitter tirades. Washington D.C. leadership, or lack of it, impacts workers’ compensation. I’ll get back to that.

But first, Lincoln’s reflective style of understanding his own emotional reaction to events before acting on critical matters is a behavioral characteristic shared by five historical figures described in “Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.”

Written by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, the book offers management nuggets for anyone in leadership roles, including risk managers and workers’ comp professionals. The book delivers those nuggets through five biographies of people who faced personal challenges and their own human limitations. Yet they persevered against extremely difficult circumstances to attain their goals and help guide others out of danger.

[Poor governance] distracts from time that could be spent leading on important issues such as those impacting workers’ comp, including opioids, the potential creation of infrastructure jobs, and health care.

The book includes the story of Ernest Shackleton, hailed in previous business-management books for leading his shipwrecked and isolated crew off Antarctic ice flows. The other biographies feature abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by the Gestapo and murdered for opposing the Third Reich; and scientist and author Rachel Carson, who raced against cancer to finish her manuscript on the dangers of mass pesticide use.

They shared an ability to focus without allowing lesser problems to distract them from their larger missions. They led with their humanity, often with an understanding of their personal weaknesses. That allowed them to deploy empathy when motivating and supporting others.

Empathy as a leadership trait would mesh well with the injured-worker advocacy movement gaining popularity among some of today’s savviest risk managers.


It’s also a style that could help show the world workers’ comp can genuinely care for injured workers even in the face of a system that doesn’t always promote that.

The protagonists in Koehn’s book were persistent yet resilient under extremely difficult circumstances. They found alternate ways to move forward. Like Lincoln, they possessed the ability to slow down, take stock of their emotions and not immediately react, especially when the stakes grew increasingly critical.

Today, many of us yearn for steady, well-thought-out political leadership from Washington D.C. Instead we get distracted governance, along with mega-doses of gloating, porn-star accusations, Putin praising, sensational staff shakeups and the like.

It distracts from time that could be spent leading on important issues such as those impacting workers’ comp, including opioids, the potential creation of infrastructure jobs, and health care. Koehn’s book may make one yearn even more for courageous and steady leadership. On the other hand, it offers highly interesting examples of how to do it well. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.


But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.


Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]