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The Risk Management Professional

February 18, 2014

P&IDA successful risk management professional needs to have personal attributes that match his or her technical knowledge and skills. Some of these attributes are discussed below. Of course, no single person can possess all of them, but the list does provide an outline as to goals to aim for.

Education and Certification

Most risk management professionals have a technical education — often in engineering or environmental science. Such an education provides the necessary skills to handle the technical and quantitative aspects of the work, particularly with regard to the analysis or risk, fires and explosions and gas dispersion.

Technical Knowledge

The risk management professional should have a thorough understanding of the many technical topics that the discipline covers. Obviously, no one person can be an expert in all of the technical areas that make us risk analysis, but he or she should possess enough knowledge of them in order to develop the correct parameters for risk analyses and to understand the findings and reports that the experts provide.

Holistic

A person who thinks and works holistically is not limited to a single, narrow detailed specialized sphere; instead he can understand management, technical and human systems, and how they interact with one another. A risk management professional understands how his or her profession is composed of a wide range of disparate topics such as human factors engineering, Boolean algebra, government regulations, starting up a process plant and the design of instrument systems.

If a risk management professional is to be effective at integrating different types of knowledge, he or she must possess a good grasp of those topics. This does not mean that the professional has to be an expert in everything ­— such a goal is obviously unrealistic — but it does mean that he or she needs to have a working knowledge of multifarious topics, and to have a comprehension as to how they fit together. The phrase, “jack of all trades, but master of none”, is usually considered pejorative. However, with regard to the risk management professional, it is a sensible job description.

Numerate

As has been stressed throughout this book, risk has both objective and subjective elements. The objective part of the work means that those working in the area of risk management need to be numerate; they need to be comfortable with a variety of quantitative topics such as gas dispersion modeling, the development of F-N curves and the use of Boolean algebra.

Communication Skills

Risk management professionals spend much of their time communicating with others in a variety of ways such as writing reports, listening to client needs, delivering presentations and listening to anecdotes. Hence the risk management professional must be a good speaker, writer, listener and reader. Discussion of these topics is provided later in this chapter.

Industrial Experience

There is really no substitute for industrial experience. It is one thing to learn about a topic from books such as this, and by reviewing incidents that have occurred elsewhere, but it is quite another to actually learn from the school of hard knocks. Industrial experience includes not only a hands-on knowledge of industrial processes and equipment, but also an understanding of the realities of client/consultant relationships, the resistance that managers have toward spending money on safety, problems at the management/union interface and how government agencies actually enforce regulations.

Knowledge of Past Events

holmes-watson-1

Watson and Holmes

The risk management professional should know about incidents and events (both good and bad) that have occurred in other companies and locations. He or she can use these events to understand and identify patterns in current operations.

The importance of understanding the past is illustrated with regard to (the fictional) Dr. Watson’s ruminations as to what new friend Sherlock Holmes does for a living, not long after they first meet. Watson summarizes Holmes’ attributes. The list includes the following statement:

< knowledge of . . .> Sensational Literature — Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.

So it is for the risk management professional; he or she should possess an “immense knowledge” of incidents that have occurred and what lessons can be drawn from them. An overview of some major incidents in the process industries is provided in Chapter 1.

In this context it is interesting to note that the recently released proposed update to the OSHA PSM standard (Chapter 2) relies heavily on actual incidents. Almost all of the proposed changes are justified by showing how such changes could have helped prevent the cited incident.

Professional Involvement

Risk management professionals should be involved in their community. This is usually done by working with professional societies or independent trade organizations — often by helping with the organization of meetings, editing papers and articles, and writing technical standards. Reasons for being involved include the following:

  • It is a way for experienced professionals to give back to their community and to help young people who are entering the field.
  • Development of personal reputation and contacts within the community that could lead to more interesting and rewarding work and assignments.
  • Enhancement of the reputation for the company or organization that the professional works for.
  • The writing of articles and papers requires the author to carry out thorough research on the topic about which he or she is writing.
  • Helping others to prepare and publish their work increases the knowledge and skills of all parties.

Network

A well-known proverb states, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This proverb is only half correct — technical knowledge and personal skills are vital to any professional. Yet it is important to maintain a network of qualified contacts. In particular, when an expert is has to address a challenging problem it is useful to have someone to call who can help out as a friend and colleague.

The Resumé / CV

The expert’s knowledge, skills and attributes are summarized in his or her or resumé or curriculum vitae (CV).

It is critical that the resumé be accurate and verifiable, especially with regard to statements, such as the possession of advanced degrees, or major work experience. Accuracy of the resumé is particularly important when the risk management professional is involved in litigation. He or she must expect to have his qualifications challenged because, if the resumé can be discredited, then the expert‘s statements can be discredited also.

Many professionals fail to keep their resumés up to date. It is a good idea to check it and modify as needed every three months or so, particularly when new types of work or project are being carried out.

a)            Level of Detail

An expert’s resumé can become very lengthy because he or she is likely to have years of experience in a wide range of tasks and projects. Such length has its drawbacks — it can make the resumé difficult to read and lacking in focus. For this reason it is often a good idea to have a short (say half page) summary of at the start of the resumé, supplemented by an attachment that provides the detailed information.

b)            Publications

An expert’s resumé is greatly enhanced if he or she has published professional papers, articles and books. Books, in particular, can make a very strong impact — the risk management professional can say, “I wrote the book on that. Here it is!”

Involvement with professional societies, as discussed in the previous section, also looks very good on the resumé.

c)            Gaps / Negative Facts

After many years of work experience, no one will have a perfect work record. Everyone’s career hits the occasional bump in the road. In particular, there will often be gaps in the work record for the times that the professional was unemployed or was trying to land new contracts. These gaps can be filled with information to do with background work such as the preparation of seminars or professional papers, or with time spent on continuing education.

d)            Multiple Resumés

Some risk management professionals have multiple resumés, with each version emphasizing particular qualities. For example, one version may stress say design experience, whereas another may place a greater emphasis on field operational work.

Although this practice may help in specific situations, it is generally best not to have more than one resumé. This is particularly true with respect to litigation work because an opposing attorney may use the two documents to “demonstrate” that the witness is not to be trusted, particularly if the professional appears to have a “plaintiff resumé” and a “defendant resumé”.

e)            Declining Experience

One of the traps that experts can fall into is that, if they fail to keep up with the latest knowledge and practice in their field, they may not really be qualified to help a client in an area that is shown on their resumé. The expert may fail to recognize that his or her knowledge and judgment is out of date.

A related problem is that some process risk experts may have worked for just one company for the duration of their careers. On retirement they seek to become consultants with other companies, but find that their deep, but narrow, experience can be quite limiting.

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