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. &

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]