Exactly a month after the devastating terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, Suchitra Narayanan, reflects on why it is so important for risk managers to have care, conviction and courage.

Easter Sunday. I sat glued to my phone and the television, horrified at news of the terror attacks in Sri Lanka. I ruminated upon the thought that we live in such a volatile world today. Everything seems to constantly be changing, be it politics, technology or social media. 

The news reports stated that the Sri Lankan government had been warned of the attacks a couple of weeks before they took place and again hours before. The warnings were purportedly specific which made me wonder - how often do companies ignore warning signs and essentially, risk management? 

Let’s be honest, no one likes to hear about the bad stuff, so this makes the intrinsic messaging of risk a hard one to swallow. It’s easy to blame management for not being committed to the discipline of robust risk management but is this because the message is not strong enough? Relating this back to the terror attacks, I asked myself if the warnings were not acted upon perhaps because the message was not conveyed in the right way.

Messaging- such a simple concept, but probably one of the hardest things in reality to deliver, as a risk manager. I draw upon my own experiences where I have sometimes struggled to convince CEOs of the importance of issues that I felt needed to be conveyed. The benefit of hindsight of course is that I know now what I could have done differently. Something which I affectionately refer to as the 3C’s. Care. Conviction. Courage. 

For a message to matter, risk managers naturally need to care enough about the content. The most worthwhile risk-based conversations I have had with management have been those where I genuinely cared about the company that I worked for and I was able to put myself in the shoes of the CEO. People can sense care, people react positively to it and so it makes tough messages much easier to communicate and discuss

When I first started working in risk management, I would approach each meeting, each engagement, with much trepidation. I wasn’t always sure what I was and wasn’t meant to say and what management wanted to hear. I learnt the hard way- when questioned, I would often fumble, out of nervousness and be met with sometimes perplexed, sometimes agitated looks. I quickly grasped the fact that conviction is so very important. Know the content, and anticipate questions you might be asked (but it is ok to not know all the answers as long as you’re honest) and stand firm in that conviction. It is a trait that gains trust and respect. 

Risk managers, its no secret that we are often the most disliked messengers in the organisation. Financial risks, strategic risks, liquidity risks- we need to bear the burden of delivering the sometimes not so pleasant messages. This requires courage. Lots of it. I am still developing courage as I go along and the one thing that inspires me to be courageous is the glimpse of change. For it is courage that is going to take risk management to greater heights and for risk managers to be heard. 

My mind wanders back to Sri Lanka. I can’t help but think, if only the warnings, the messages had been taken more seriously. I don’t have the ability to change the world but I can change the way I, as a risk manager deliver my messages so that people listen, take note and most importantly, act before its too late.