Canadian Underwriter

Why COVID-19 created opportunities for risk managers

May 19, 2022   by Jason Contant

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Risk management professionals are gaining a voice in the executive ranks, partially because COVID-19’s helped raise the sector’s profile.

“There is now a seat at that table where there never was before,” said Steve Pottle, chairman of the RIMS Canada Council. “It’s that move from middle management to senior management.”

Plus, new job titles and crossover opportunities are emerging, due in part to work risk managers did during the pandemic, added Tina Gardiner, manager of risk management services at the Regional Municipality of York (Ontario) and RIMS board director.

“There’s been a lot of crossover with business continuity planning [and] emergency management because of the pandemic,” she said.

Ten years ago, it was uncommon to see people with the title of chief risk officer, chief safety officer or vice president of risk management. Now, those titles are prevalent. “That has created a little bit more buzz in terms of what risk management can do in terms of being in those strategic conversations,” Pottle said.

Gardiner added there’s a shift toward being more proactive as a risk manager.

“People [used to] think of risk as, ‘Who [do] I go to when I have a problem?’” she said. “Now, they’re starting to think, ‘I need to talk to risk [managers]. What do I need to worry about? What opportunities might I be missing?’”

This proactive approach has helped corporations view risk professionals as strategic assets.

A member of York Region’s emergency response team, Gardiner said it’s “music to my ears to hear people talking in risk terms all the time now. ‘How are we going to mitigate that?’ ‘What’s our backup plan?’ That’s really raised the profile [of risk], which is leading to some of those new titles.”

Pottle said COVID-19 highlighted what risk managers do, adding company executives are no longer pigeonholing it as a health and safety function, and instead seeing the value it brings to the whole organization.

This has created opportunities for those who’ve been in middle roles step up to manager or director.

One plan to accelerate the trend is a program called ‘RIMS Path to the Boardroom.’ It’s a series of podcasts and webinars on topics like boardroom presentation, why environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues matter to boards, board diversity and lessons from risk professionals turned board members.

The program is still gaining traction, Gardiner said, including development of continuing education courses.

Serving on a board gives risk managers a good perspective on what board directors want and expect, and developing team members is equally important.

“I’m…very conscious to make sure that they have the next step, the next training, the next course, the next designation, so that they can…take that spot,” Gardiner said. “The pandemic gave us lots of chances to try people out in different things.”

A lot of opportunities exist in the field, Pottle added, so even if your skillsets are outside what’s traditionally associated with risk management, put your name forward.

“Those who are hiring know what they’re looking for; it doesn’t always fit into that box of ‘Broker,’ ‘Insurer,’ or ‘Underwriter,’” he said. “They’re looking at their organization’s risks, and how they should be managed by somebody who has a broader skill set.”


This article is excerpted from one that appeared in the April issue of Canadian UnderwriterFeature image by