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Q&A: William C. Kostner


Q&A: PRIMA's focus on skills

Published on June 11, 2007

The skills needed by risk managers of public entities in the United States have changed greatly in recent years. In an interview with Business Insurance Senior Editor Dave Lenckus, William C. Kostner, incoming president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Public Risk Management Assn. and risk manager for the city of Lincoln, Neb., examined some of those changes and his goals for PRIMA.

Q: How have challenges that public entity risk managers face changed over the past few years?

A: Well, I think in the past we focused more on straightforward safety, insurance, financing of organizational risks, contract requirements, etc., and I think we still do that.

But I think today we're facing some new challenges, and I see them as disasters, financial issues and business orientation issues.... and that involves enterprise risk management...also employment practices liability.

Q: Given those challenges, over the past 10 years have public entity risk managers needed to develop a different set of skills set to deal with these challenges effectively?

A: Well, I think we have.... Besides all of the standard skills that we would have with us...I think some of the things we've been asked to do are to become more business look at additional ways to fund exposures--really to come in as problem solvers to deal with problems within our public entities.... Most of the risk managers I deal with now are more business-savvy than in the past.

Q: Which skill sets would you say risk managers have developed best, and where do you see room for improvement?

A: Certainly the technical (skill) is there and continues to be there. But I think beyond that, there's more business knowledge.

I think public entities are forced to look more at self-funding; they're forced to look more at how to solve problems that are major dollar values--such as health insurance, such as pension liabilities--and trying to find solutions to those problems...really higher-level problems than what we might have dealt with in the past.

Q: Do you see anywhere in those skill sets where risk managers still need to improve, or do you think they're where they need to be?

A: I think there's always room for improvement and, in fact, training is one of the main issues we talk about at PRIMA. And this June we're going to be launching a program, called PRIMA University, where we're going to have a number of training opportunities for members to go ahead and refine their skills, refine some of their knowledge areas and be able to hone those business skills, really.

Q: Will PRIMA training focus on any particular area or areas?

A: We're still working on those.... It will focus both on the basic skills of risk managers, plus it will also focus on some of the needs in this changing environment.

Q: Are there enough qualified candidates vying for positions as public entity risk managers, or are public entities fighting for those candidates with the private sector?

A: Well, I don't think there are enough qualified candidates.... We're trying to offer some improved training; looking at some certification programs, also; looking at different ways we can maybe have educational partners, such as Florida State University, to assist in training more folks in the risk management area...and of course coming up with our own PRIMA Online University.

Q: How do you see PRIMA evolving over the next year during your tenure as president? What would you like your legacy as head of the organization to be?

A: Add to our membership. We have 2,000 members right now, and I would like to see us add to that substantially.... My second goal would be to improve our training.... I'd like to make sure that we go on to be a top-level training organization.... Third, I'd really like to make sure that PRIMA becomes more visible and more vocal out there among public entity associations.... We need to talk about our successes.... There's an awful lot that we have done, and I'd like to make sure that our members' stories are out there--that we can show how public risk management makes a difference.