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Beginner's guide to being a risk manager

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New risk managers may feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, but a panel of industry professionals said Wednesday that newcomers need to know that they're not alone.

That was one of the messages that came out during a session at the 2016 Florida RIMSEducational Conference in Naples, Florida, entitled “Congratulations, You're the New Risk Manager — Now What?” The panel of three experienced risk managers shared some of their personal experiences in an effort to make life a little easier for people new to risk management.

“You need to be a yes person as a risk manager and not a no person,” said Michael McNabb, risk and safety manager for Hillsborough County, Florida. “If you're the person who says, 'no, it's too risky, we can't do that' people will either bypass you, or ignore you or fire you.”

Mr. McNabb explained that “other people in their organization have ideas that they want to do, and you don't want to be their wet blanket. You also don't want to do crazy things and cause a loss. You want to be a 'yes, but' person. Yes, but we need to have insurance. Yes, but we need to have security. Yes, yes, yes, here's what we need to do so we don't have losses, we don't have an incident that's going to be in the newspapers.”

Mr. McNabb urged new risk managers to understand the difference between risk appetite and risk tolerance. Risk appetite, he said, is the gas pedal, while risk tolerance is the brake.

“It's not your job to push on the gas pedal,” he said. That's your CEO, that's your marketing people, maybe the owner of your company. It's their job to decide how much risk to take on. It's your job to try and kind of moderate that.”

Despite the job title, Mr. McNabb said risk managers really cannot manage risk.

“You can't control lightning and storms and fires that happen in the middle of the night,” he said, “and employees who get injured through no fault of their own from machine failure. You can't really do that and make sure you have no losses. So the only thing you can do is loss control. You can affect it on that end by keeping the cost of your losses down. The employee that never gets injured doesn't file a workers comp claim. The fire that doesn't happen or is contained is not going to cost you very much money. ”

The panelists urged new risk managers to get out from behind their desks, see remote locations, and meet the people they work with.

“People in the field really help you no matter what your industry is,” said Barbara Ferraro, who recently retired as director-vice president of corporate insurance for Raymond James Financial Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Rickey Kendall, risk and environment safety manager for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority said risk managers want to build positive relationships when they visit various locations and sites to aid them when they have to conduct investigations.

“Those relationships are very, very important,” he said. “Later on, when you have to come back around to do an investigation on what incident may have occurred, you want people to be open. If you're only coming around when something happens, people aren't going to talk you, and you don't want that.”

“If you go out to a site and everybody's running around finding their hard hats and safety glasses,” Mr. McNabb said, “you haven't gone out there often enough.”