Risk Management – It’s Not Just About ‘Ticking Boxes’

Fiona Davidge ‘fell into’ risk management rather by chance after resigning her commission at The Princess Mary Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS). She decided to study for a law degree as it offered ‘intellectual rigour’, a grounding for many different careers and most importantly of all, it interested her. In 1998, in her final year at university, she considered many options but responded to an advert from Thames Water for an emergency planning role.

“To be honest, I was not totally sure what it would entail but the advert said they wanted someone familiar with legal issues (my law degree) and used to working within processes and procedures (my nursing). To my amazement I was offered the job and went through a steep learning curve to adapt to working in an office environment and in a new specialisation.”

Over the next nine years, Fiona took on business continuity, moving on to risk management while studying for a Diploma in Risk Management. Since 2007 she has worked at London Underground, ISO International Organisation for Standardisation and is now Enterprise Risk Manager for Wellcome Trust. Here she discusses what she finds interesting and exciting about risk management, and the challenges involved in this career.

Within risk management you’ll tend to be at the centre of the organisation overseeing all the component parts. Assessing strategic threats to the organisation and its objectives is paramount. Ensuring that key decision makers see the benefit and relevance of risk management, rather than just ‘ticking boxes’, is also imperative.

Fiona says: “I like the independence of thought, although sometimes it can be rather lonely as risk teams are often small or only yourself. It is viewed as a professional role – so within reason it can take you anywhere.”

Fundamentally, risk management roles tend not to differ too much across organisations. Wherever you are there is a corporate risk management framework to manage and develop. Fiona says: “However, here at the Wellcome Trust I took on managing the insurance programme; it is not uncommon for risk managers to run this for an organisation, but I had never done so before.”

She adds: “It was this extra challenge that appealed about this role. I think with every job move you should look for something new, otherwise you get stale.”

Fiona believes her work as a former RAF officer was a factor in being offered the role at Thames Water. She says: “The familiarity of working with uniformed services was directly relevant in the emergency planning role as I did a lot of liaising with local and central government. Since then I have worked for organisations with strong links to government and the familiarity that life in the Services gives you of government structures is of benefit.”

What advice or tips do you have for anyone leaving the Services now?

  • Objectively look at what you have experienced in your military career and write about it in your CV in words and descriptions civilians can relate to. I have seen several ex-military CVs and they still use too much jargon and descriptions that civilians would find difficult to understand and apply to their environment. In other words, ‘de-militarise’ the wording your CV and couch your experience in terms that matches to jobs you are applying for
  • Find the job before the house!
  • Be very open minded about what jobs you will consider
  • Be prepared, if necessary, to start at the bottom of a career and then work hard to accelerate promotion. The military should have given you the drive to do this!
  • Leave your rank behind you – most of the world does not know what it means anyway