How to build & maintain a successful risk champion network: four key tips

4 min read
Mar 31, 2022

Ownership of a company’s principal risks may be delegated to a select few within the organisation – usually senior leaders or department heads – but employees at all levels need to take responsibility for managing the risks closest to them. An effective risk champion network can catapult these efforts.

Download now [How-to Guide]: How to build an effective risk champion network

While it isn’t necessary for everyone to be a risk owner, everybody within an organisation should be responsible for managing the risks in their day-to-day responsibilities.

Risk management relies on having the right people (in the right place) to gather and analyse the information needed to make better business decisions.

In light of this, a network of risk champions throughout the organisation is hugely important. They incentivise colleagues across the business to act as risk managers and develop an effective organisational risk register.

However, while the above may sound like the ideal situation – people across the business managing risks and feeding the necessary information upward to group level – what are the practical steps to making this kind of hypothetical network a reality?

Outlined below are four key tips for establishing a network of risk champions, as shared by members who have actually been through this process and successfully implemented a network of champions – members have been benchmarking their approaches and sharing lessons learned with each other during our series of member meetings on risk champions, among other topics (see the full range here).

(Keen to see which global companies are part of our network? Click here to find out more.)

1. Understand what are – and are not – the roles and responsibilities of a risk champion

It is important to highlight the difference between a “risk owner” and a “risk champion” – while the owner will generally be responsible for identifying and assessing the risks that may arise in their part of the business, a risk champion often plays a different role.

As one member of Risk Leadership Network explains, risk champions – with the support (or “sponsorship”) of risk owners – facilitate discussions about risk and ensure that any relevant threats or opportunities are being registered and filtered up throughout the organisation.

While the exact structure of the risk champion network will depend on the characteristics and requirements of a particular organisation, it is good practice to have some hierarchy in place, so risk champions can feed any issues up to the risk owner, who can then raise these at the group level.

2. Identify character traits of a good risk champion

Although risk champions are usually supervised by the head of a particular department, several risk leaders have suggested that, where possible, risk champions should be relatively senior and have a lot of experience within their area of the business, so they can easily understand how that particular department functions.

Equally though, it is important to look for people who have an interest in, or show enthusiasm for, risk management. If they want to develop their understanding in this field (perhaps to build their CV, or make a career transition), becoming a risk champion represents an excellent opportunity – and don’t forget, more and more organisations are including risk management in promotion criteria or performance reviews as a way to improve organisational risk culture.

3. Deliver effective risk training to bring champions up to speed

Risk champions may not necessarily come from a “risk background”, so it is important to have a suite of learning options available to help expand their knowledge and carry out the role to the best of their abilities.

One member, who leads a formal risk training programme for not only champions, but also managers and supervisors, has detailed their twofold approach, which encompasses both the theory of risk management – what is it, how does it work, and why is it important? – and practical skills, like risk identification.

(If you’re interested in reading more about this twofold approach, plus our other Intelligence content and templates on risk champions, improving risk culture and more, find out more about membership here.)

Furthermore, training can only continue to be effective if you listen to your champions and find out what they need: this means asking for feedback following training sessions and making improvements where suggested. This is all part of being a better leader and ultimately, boosting organisational resilience.

4. Choose the right incentives and recognise their efforts

Most risk champions, if not all, will be balancing this responsibility along with several other job requirements, so you have to work hard to keep them engaged.

One way of doing this is to create incentives that encourage risk champions to complete the deliverables assigned to them within a certain timeframe; for example, offering high achievers the opportunity to meet with senior leaders and present on the topic of risk.

While the above may sound like a daunting prospect, this is also a great chance for people lower down in the organisation to get themselves noticed by the board, potentially bolstering their chances of career progression. According to one member who implemented this reward, risk champions preferred such an opportunity to financial incentives.

Our members are leveraging the Intelligence content available to them, which is peer-contributed and focused on practical solutions to their risk management problems. Do you have similar risk priorities to your peers? Why not check out our most popular content and find out here.

Are you an in-house risk manager who could benefit from collaborating with a global network of risk leaders? Find out more about Risk Leadership Network membership here.

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