Risk Management Professionals: The Experts Weigh In


What makes a good risk management professional? What skills do RM professionals need? And more importantly: how can they keep up with what is required of them in an environment that has never been as disrupted, dynamic and unpredictable as it is today? Mohd Azman Sulaiman, an experienced Independent Director and Business Coach, and Integral Diagnostics Ltd’s Group Risk & Compliance Manager, Daniel Atkin discussed the must-have core competencies, skillsets, attributes and attitudes that RM professionals need, to take on today’s workplace challenges.

These are difficult times; the trials confronting businesses and professionals are not going to ease anytime soon. Digital disruption looms large, and risk managers have to race to get a handle on it so that they can engage more with clients. Their first consideration is how to adapt, increase their agility and flexibility, and prepare to move beyond their comfort zones.

“What they need is professional agility, and the creativity and ability to inspire others,” said Azman. “They need to think beyond borders and the current dimension, and move towards more collaboration – broaden their horizons and consider more risk.”

Understanding and evaluating people as they engage in professional roles is a given where risk managers are concerned, as well as a thorough understanding of how things are integrated. Azman urged them to be comfortable with challenging the status quo. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he said. “Change, be agile. Prioritise quickly, and focus; don’t be distracted. Always look at what is within your control. The outside world exists, but it is not within your control.” Developing mental agility is a must for risk managers as it underpins all other kinds of agility that are necessary for quick pivots and rapid change.

Concurring on the fact that agility is certainly the approach to take, Atkin stressed that cultivating agility begets resiliency. “It allows us to bounce back and go forward,” he said. But to understand what makes a good risk manager, it is necessary to ask what a risk manager does. “A risk manager is a wearer of many hats,” he said. “He/she is a jack of all trades, and is willing to throw themselves into the business wholeheartedly, and be embedded in the decision-making of the business. Risk managing is about helping the organisation increase its likelihood of where it wants to be.”

To achieve this, a thorough understanding of the business is necessary. Risk managers need to be proactive, and move beyond box-ticking. They should establish an attitude of “this needs to be done” to be effective, Atkin added, urging risk professionals to remove “pain” to demonstrate the value of the risk function. “Consider what other stakeholders need or need to achieve,” he said. This will include the Board, senior management, the organisation’s collaborators and the front line. “Help others to consider what can go wrong, help them to mitigate, and show them where things can go right, and what opportunities may arise.”

Risk management is also about building trust and relationships, and integrity; it’s about cultivating adaptability and agility – but how does a professional strike a balance between pushing for agility and the organisation’s culture, which may not support quick reversals and rapid backtracking? The answer may lie in good, clear communication. Organisations are inevitably slow to take up change, but risk professionals have to step up and start the process. What they need to do is show that managing risks can add value to decision-making, and ultimately to the firm’s bottom line.

“Get involved in the decision-making process,” advised Azman. “Be the resource person who is ready for the unexpected; the person who can respond. Risk professionals need to be curious. They may not understand the whole business but they must be open to change.” In the age of Covid-19, especially, agility has become imperative to survival but it has to be supported by adequate preparation and building up of resilience and responsiveness. But there are other things in the mix which need consideration as well.

“Develop a mindset to discern what works,” Atkin suggested.

This necessitates a mindset switch, from focusing on compliance, to attaining objectives. It is also a potent means of demonstrating that risk management is a tool for decision-making which can be embedded in the organisation. “It can be used as an input into decision-making, when measures need to be implemented,” he added. When moving in this direction, the risk professional needs to be constantly observant of the tones, moods and body language of the people around him/her. Having heightened perceptions of these will enable the risk professional be more relevant and effective to the organisation.

A failsafe way of broadening horizons is through asking questions. “Ask questions of the various heads of business,” Atkins urged. “Ask them what challenges they face, and how you can help. Then deliver and demonstrate that you can create value.” Acknowledging that it will not be easy and cannot be done overnight, he nevertheless advocated spending time on the business to understand it, and talking to people to understand what they do, what their challenges are, and how they expect things to work, and if they have seen successful methods before. But he warned that compliance was fundamental; companies need to be constantly conscious of it.

Because risk professionals require a myriad of attributes, a risk management team should consist of members drawn from the business itself. It makes a difference when they can bring insights from different parts of the business to their roles in the team. Financial understanding, while helpful, is not absolutely necessary. Together, the different perspectives of people from different parts of the organisation and diverse backgrounds provide authentic feedback and improve understanding of the company, allowing risk professionals to prompt thinking, assist in decision-making and create value.

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