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Mission & Motivation: Who Manages Risk at Your School?

By Net Assets posted 05-20-2019 07:47 AM

  
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Risk Management |

Given the emergence of new risks and the evolving school operating environment, now could be the time to revisit your organizational structure and carve out the resources to add a new position.

Article by Simon Parker, Ashbury College

From the May/June 2019 Net Assets magazine

Feature image: From Ashbury College's Twitter feed: "Our students have arrived on Vancouver Island for the @CAIS_Schools Student Leadership Conference!"

In March, I attended the NBOA Annual Meeting in San Diego. One of my personal goals was to meet other risk managers and establish a network for risk management. Although I met one or two people who are responsible for safety or security, I quickly realized that few independent schools seem to have a single person dedicated solely to risk management broadly. For the most part, it appears that risk management is typically assigned as a secondary or tertiary responsibility to positions such as the chief financial officer, director of school operations or some other similarly busy position within school leadership. Risk is not their primary responsibility, meaning it can sometimes take a back seat in the course of normal duties.

If we believe that risk management is important, and we are devoting resources to the topic, why are there not more people within independent schools dedicated solely to risk?

Despite these realizations, almost everyone I spoke with at the conference agreed that risk management in schools today is extremely important — so important, in fact, that schools are devoting more and more resources toward managing risk and risk-related activities.

If we believe that risk management is important, and we are devoting resources to the topic, why are there not more people within independent schools dedicated solely to risk?

There are many answers to this question, all valid. Many schools just do not have the financial or human resources to dedicate a single person to managing risk. School size and complexity also play a part: A small day school may not need a dedicated risk manager, whereas a larger, well established school incorporating more complex elements (such as day, boarding, homestay and international travel) may see risk differently. Attitudes toward risk also play a part. At the NBOA conference, I developed a perception that some schools approach risk management from a more traditional lens. In these cases, risk is the purview of financial and legal experts, and all risk falls neatly into categories such as financial, liability, property or human resources. This approach tends to exclude issues such as behavioral, cyber and travel as belonging to the safety and security portfolio.

Given the inherent complexity in independent school operations, perhaps schools should consider a new paradigm in which risk encompasses many more issues.

A New Paradigm for Risk Management

I suggest that independent schools embrace a proactive risk management approach that both maintains the safety and security of staff and students while securing the assets and resources of the school more broadly. A successful program includes thoughtful and strategic planning, considering all possible and relevant factors. More importantly, it assigns the necessary resources, including for personnel. Through the dedicated efforts of one or more staff members assigned specifically to risk, you can be assured that the right individual will be best positioned to undertake a proactive approach. In contrast, an individual assigned risk as a secondary task may not be well situated to react proactively, and very possibly in fact may react to risk and crisis.

The risk manager becomes the school’s champion for all things risk-related. When risk is centralized with one office, the risk manager can break down silos of expertise and provide the cross-functional coordination and collaboration needed to adequately address risk.

What are the benefits of having a risk manager? The risk manager becomes the school’s champion for all things risk-related. When risk is centralized with one office, the risk manager can break down silos of expertise and provide the cross-functional coordination and collaboration needed to adequately address risk. (Many risk issues touch different school departments.) Small projects can be implemented quickly by a dedicated risk team, allowing management to focus on the larger issues. Time and resources devoted to risk can be minimized, rather than spread across the entire organization. Examples from higher education and the private sector also show that risk management departments identify risks, develop strategies to protect against risks, oversee the execution of those strategies, and coordinate and motivate colleagues to adopt the strategies. In fact, one just needs to look to colleges and universities to see that risk management has a very important seat at the table.

For independent schools specifically, designating a risk manager to apply a thoughtful and proactive approach to managing risk frees the school’s leadership team to focus their efforts on the school’s strategic objectives, such as the well-being and development of students and staff. An effective risk manager can also reduce disruptions and dislocations that could hinder the delivery of educational effects, harm the reputation of the school, contribute to lost time and resources, increase stress and negativity derived from moving from crisis to crisis, and raise the spectre of legal repercussions.

The Risk Champion

Reporting to the CFO, the risk manager could assist in enhancing the school’s culture of delivering effective, safe education and character-development programs.

What roles and responsibilities might a dedicated risk manager take on at an independent school? This person could directly advise and assist the leadership team and board of trustees in creating strategic, practical and effective processes to minimize organizational risks. Reporting to the CFO, the risk manager could assist in enhancing the school’s culture of delivering effective, safe education and character-development programs. From the strategic to the tactical level, the risk manager might also undertake specific activities that protect students, faculty and staff, contractors, volunteers, and real and virtual property, including:

  • Deliver safety, risk awareness and risk management education to all school staff and volunteer board members.
  • Develop processes to ensure that operational policies and procedures appropriately address risk mitigation.
  • Ensure the ongoing development of departmental and whole-school safety and risk management plans, and that safety and risk reviews are regularly undertaken.
  • Promote the reporting and documentation of all identified risks.
  • Provide departments with legislative, regulatory, and case law updates as appropriate, and ensure compliance.
  • Inform the leadership team of best and emerging risk management practices and recommend revisions to school policies, procedures and documents as appropriate.
  • Coordinate fire and lock-down procedures and other emergency preparedness training.
  • Administer risk management systems including co-chairing the safety and security committee, and supporting safety-related task groups.
  • Maintain the school’s risk registers and ensure compliance.
  • Oversee the risk aspect of student-travel programs.
  • Conduct horizon scanning for new and emerging risks.

For some independent schools, centralizing the responsibility for risk into one person or office might go against school culture. However, given the continuously emerging risks in our evolving school operating environment, it might be prudent for schools to revisit their organizational structure, consider this new paradigm, and carve out the resources to add this key position.

Simon Parker is the senior risk officer at Ashbury College, a day and boarding school with over 680 students in grades 4-12 in Ottawa, Ontario. Prior to joining the school in 2018, Simon served for over 20 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as an infantry officer managing risk in some of the wold’s most complex and dangerous environments.
In Mission & Motivation, an independent school leader shares a core belief and/or source of guidance or inspiration. Interested in contributing? Please email netassets@nboa.org. In the subject line, type MISSION & MOTIVATION.

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