10 Building Blocks to Risk Leader Success

By: | April 25, 2019

Chris Mandel is SVP, strategic solutions for Sedgwick and Director of the Sedgwick Institute. He is a long-term risk management leader and a former president of RIMS. He can be reached at [email protected]

In 2014, I wrote a lengthy tome (an IRMI whitepaper — available at IRMI.com) entitled “The 10 Building Blocks of Risk Leader Success.”

It has been the most popular topic on which I’m asked to speak, every year since.

This year, I spoke on that very topic at RIMS 2019 in Boston. Here are those building blocks in brief:

1) Breaking In

There is no one right way to enter or ascend to great heights in risk management; successful risk leaders have come from all educational and experiential backgrounds.

2) Educational Strategy

Notwithstanding what I just noted about risk leader backgrounds, most successful risk leaders have a commitment continuing education that ideally includes a specific strategy for getting to their career goal.

3) The “Right” Experience

Further to being “qualified,” I acknowledge my own experience that kept me from penetrating certain industries (e.g. health care and manufacturing) due to views of some hiring authorities that “if you haven’t spent time in our industry, you couldn’t possible succeed with us.”

Update: Over the last 10 years, this mindset has shifted where these positions have largely disappeared in favor of more interest in leveraging experiences of those coming from other industries and backgrounds; the “new eyes and perspectives” view.

4) Industry Involvement

While many might say contributing outside your core job is not required to succeed, I believe the relationships and advantages that come from such efforts are essential to getting the best results for your benefactor employer.

5) Credibility and Influencing

For those that truly aspire to the highest heights, their ability to influence decisionmakers at all levels is critical. That ability to influence is underpinned by the credibility you build by demonstrating your expertise, trust and reliability among other traits.

6) Bench Development

Lest you think its all about you, you couldn’t be more wrong. Developing a team that enables succession and appropriately trained and guided resources to guide the business, is as much about perceptions of your leadership as it is about their aspirations and capabilities for the firm.

7) The Two Sides of Risk

While most risk leaders still spend all or most of their time on preserving value (dealing with the downside of risk) the most influential and most highly regard of them spend more and more time on creating value (e.g. dealing with the upside of risk) by helping decisionmakers take the risk necessary to reach strategic, long-term goals.

8) Vision and Strategy

Many risk managers still tend to be strong tacticians with a short-term, transactional focus. However, an increasing number have recognized the need to develop their strategic skills that facilitate their contribution to the vision and mission of their organizations.

9) Collaboration and Stakeholders

Lest you thought getting the job done was possible with you and your well-designed team; think again. I’ve yet to meet a successful risk leader who didn’t rely on key stakeholders to get the full job done, which by design includes serving and enabling their interests in risk and risk management, to be addressed.

10) Giving Back

You won’t be surprised that there’s plenty of organizations out there whose risk issues are not getting addressed (e.g. churches, nonprofits etc.) for all kinds of reasons. Once you’ve developed the expertise that makes you a successful risk leader, I recommend you find ways to make some of that available to those that need it but can’t afford it.

You might also consider how attracting the next generation of risk leaders into the discipline is an important question you have responsibility for answering.

So those are the big 10 things.

Having given variations on this list to audiences for the last four years, a few things have been added to the mix born of observations from these experiences.

First, these principals are mostly applicable to all successful leaders, but with a “risk twist.”

Second, having helped universities develop a variety of master level and executive development curricula in risk management, there are a myriad of skills and attributes that should be considered in defining what the most qualified risk leaders look like.

Finally, RIMS, among other groups, have developed thoughtful and well-defined skill and competency criteria that should also be considered when organizations determine who they need to lead their risk management function and so that these leaders ultimately become the strategic advisors who all senior leaders and boards hope they can employ. &

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