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Risk at work: How to assess and manage

No matter what level you are in an organisation, you’ll encounter risk at one point. It can be major or minor. It can be ongoing or isolated to one project or process.

The key is how to identify risk and deal with it.

Best-practice organisations have risk strategies in place and invest in training staff on these.

Despite this, however, risk isn’t the sole responsibility of management. It is everybody’s business. While you might not always be able to control risk, you can identify it and do your best to contain or mitigate it.

This article explores risks at work outside of those relating to working conditions that can cause harm, such as safety, physical or ergonomic. Instead, the article focuses on risks relating to the responsibilities you perform every day to earn your pay.

Understand risk

Before you can tackle risk, understand what it is. Essentially, risk is something that causes you or your organisation to be exposed in some way. Examples include:

  • missing deadlines
  • running over budget
  • not meeting client expectations
  • letting your team down
  • damaging your organisation’s reputation
  • not complying with security rules, legislation, policies and processes.

Reality check your responsibilities

To identify and manage risk, it’s best to first understand your responsibilities (your assigned activities and tasks). Armed with this knowledge, identify if anything can get in the way of what you need to achieve. One example is taking on additional duties and, in doing so, putting something you’re already working on at risk. This could mean missing a deadline or compromising on the quality of the end product.

Stay ahead of the game

Think about risks sooner rather than later. Raise issues with management or your team to manage risk well. Waiting until you’re in crisis control isn’t wise.

Consider this scenario: You rock into the office and are asked to help with an urgent deadline, even though you’re struggling to meet an important key performance indicator in another area. Instead of accepting the urgent deadline without question, flag that the 2 deadlines compete and discuss how to manage.

Think about risk solutions

How or who can solve or control the risk you’re facing? Many solutions are available to manage risks so think laterally and even discuss with others. You could, for example, recommend that temporary resources be brought in to ease the load. You might put in place measures to reduce the impact, such as triaging work and/or reshuffling priorities. Perhaps you can alter a process or practice to terminate the risk.

Be aware of your organisation responsibilities

If your organisation has a risk register, make sure you capture the risks you’re grappling with in that register (where appropriate). Sharing information about risk helps everyone be more accountable.

Make risk ‘business as usual’

Think about risk all the time. Sure not every risk results in a catastrophe, but small risks can pile up and have a mega impact. Continually monitoring and reviewing is the way to go. So check your workload at the start of each week and think about risk.

Scenario—how Bob managed risk

Bob is dealing with a super important report due in a week’s time. It’s progressing as well as can be expected given he hasn’t been provided with all of the data he needs to assess and include. He has examined the risk and is confident—given that the data is due by close of business—he can meet the deadline, without hurting the quality.

When Bob arrived at work this morning, however, he saw an email asking him to drop everything to help with a request from the Minister’s Office. Bob understood how critical the request was but was concerned that taking time away from the report could risk missing the deadline.

Bob was smart. He immediately developed a clear statement on the risk for his manager and provided these options:

  • have a colleague manage the Minister’s Office request
  • have a team member analyse the data when it arrives (to save Bob this major step)
  • organise for Bob to work overtime and handle both responsibilities.

In discussion with his manager, it was determined that a colleague who had a more manageable workload and no tight deadline in sight, take on the Minister’s Office request.

Risk managed. Problem solved.

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