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The humans behind risk management: your worst nightmare is actually your best friend

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The introduction to any blog is fraught with risks, which is rather apt! Will you stay, or will you go? Context of what we’re going to be exploring matters, so I’ll set the scene: It’s that time of the month again, the project is chugging along, stakeholders are calm and the plan is full of ticked boxes, but here comes a dark shadow, ready to take over and push the project into darkness; ‘risk’ is reluctantly added to the agenda.

I recently laughed over a cup of coffee with an old Programme Director that used to view me with such trepidation when the time came for risk assessment. Seeing me as the project grim reaper, making my way toward the project team, scythe aimed at the project was the norm because that’s how they viewed risk management, a necessary evil!

A lot of project professionals view us in this way, they dread managing risks. We need to think differently. Truth is, the grim reaper and I are not evil, we’re hard workers doing the job that needs to be done. When we humanise our risk managers, rather than focus on the risk process they do as their day job, we can break barriers that causes the unease around risk management.

Get to know the risk managers in your organisation; a lot of them, like me, may have a background in projects and do actually view things from a project perspective when operating in that domain. Emotional intelligence and good relationships are a core part of being a competent project manager, and this extends to building connections with the risk managers who work with you. Risk enables project success, and there’s so much more to risk than pointing out flaws and pessimisms about what may go terribly wrong (some risks can be opportunities after all). When we connect with each other, we can work together more effectively to enable what everyone wants, project success and benefits realisation.

But this got me thinking, do Programme Directors, Managers, Senior Responsible Owners see risk the same way? Is there something a little deeper perhaps? Or is it purely about context?

If I were to have this conversation and ask what risk is in other areas such as the Institute of Risk Management, Institute for Operational Risk or the Global Association for Risk Professionals (to name a few…) the answers to be very different. I even expect you and our peers within the project profession to have different opinions. People view risks differently, and the reason for this can be varied.  

Why? Context. It’s all about the context. A good risk manager should be able to share various views and perspectives, and offer context to what you are trying to achieve. Context is an opinion, usually substantiated with mounds of data, sometimes with Learning from Experience, and other times with a little more than a gut feeling.

As a member of the APM Risk SIG, I and fellow committee members, want to expand our voice to you, project professionals across the world, about risk management in projects, programmes and portfolios. The key question for us all to take away is in the world of projects, how is risk viewed? And is it all about context? Let us know in the comments on the Community risk group what it means to you.


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  1. Horst Simon
    Horst Simon 27 October 2022, 03:19 PM

    Why Risk Culture Building should be the most important item on the Board Agenda Building an effective Risk Culture will support executives to deal effectively with uncertainty and associated risk and opportunity. Risk Management does not operate in isolation but rather is an enabler of the management process. Over the past decade, risk management became more about quantitative models and less about behavioral models. Unfortunately, as we discovered during the global financial crisis, even the best quantitative models cannot predict the result of misguided behavior and when external operational risks materialize, it can kill your business.

  2. Andrew Wright
    Andrew Wright 31 October 2022, 01:46 PM

    Looking ahead, not burying our heads in the sand, is the primary duty of any leader, yet seems problematic for may "leaders" involved with projects, as we covered at October 2022's APM multi-SIG conference on "Driving projects looking through the windscreen" that Chris and I worked together on. The whole concept of risk makes people fearful, so I've found it a remarkably soothing experience for leaders to be involved in a routine, open, honest risk review process throughout execution. Let's take away the fear of risk management!