Sharon Lynn Bennett, PMP, IRMCert: Program Lead, Enterprise Risk Management, UCB Biosciences, Inc.

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks its members what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they'd share with people looking to move into the industry.


How did you get your job? 

I think like many people, I was an “accidental” ERM program leader. This was not a role in which I originally envisioned myself. I am a chemist by degree and I was working in global program management within life sciences, managing the development of new assets. I happened to be in the right place and had a good relationship with some key decision makers when a need to redefine ERM surfaced at my organization. I took the challenge up along with a small team, and we evolved our enterprise risk management program. Along the way we learned so much, including how much we enjoyed this role and the opportunity to make a difference. 

What’s a typical day like as a Program Lead? 

For me, every single day brings new questions, new challenges and new opportunities to help others. Our focus areas may include activities such as: creating awareness across the business areas, influencing culture and decision making, helping to understand uncertainties to achieving objectives, gaining stakeholder support, developing communication tools and outputs to our executive and board teams, and aligning/benchmarking with other external organizations on current events and best practices 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

What I love most about my job is the opportunity to feel strong in my role. Knowing that I have helped a team identify and respond to their risks in a simple, meaningful and prioritized way and that they are appreciative in the end tells me I have added value. Being able to communicate needs up to decision makers to take action on risks validates this. 

What are the challenges? 

I think with any role that has the mandate to optimize the achievement of objectives and to appropriately respond to high level risks, there is a certain amount of politics and stakeholder management that comes into play. Being resilient, objective and a good listener goes a long way in helping to manage through the tough waters. 

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?

Having the IRM certification has really given me the well-rounded and foundational knowledge needed to give sound advice or develop future maturity plans. I am able to see beyond a short term need and understand how other maturity components can be instrumental in sustaining risk management long term.

What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member? 

I would say there is really nothing to lose here, there is only upside. As a person based in the US, the IRM is not as well known here as in the UK and other places in the world. I joined seeing the potential future that IRM will have on the field of risk management globally. The community of peers, training opportunities, research materials, special interest groups help to maintain a solid understanding of risk management today and the current events that will shift the risk management practices of the future. 

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped? 

Prior to joining IRM and sitting for the certification exams, I developed my role in more of an ad-hoc fashion. We took the time to understand the needs of our organization and put ourselves to learning how best to do it. With the connection to IRM, I have been able to position advice and planning in a more holistic approach based on external standards and best practices. Regarding my future career ambitions, I have always considered myself a life-long learner and explorer. I am already asking myself, “where can I go from here?” and “what risks am I willing to take?”. I suspect I will be true to myself and find new avenues to grow. This may include going for the international diploma, but also exploring other new avenues to grow. 

Top tips 

There is a saying that goes “there is no such thing as luck; luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. I love to think that the opportunity to do risk management is everywhere….so go prepare! Good risk management, simply put, is just good management. Learning to manage uncertainty in your everyday life and in your responsibilities at work is a great way to practice the principles of risk management. Beyond that, I would recommend to learn, take courses, research the internet, talk to people, know who the decision-makers are, get involved, and show your interest by volunteering to help. Get involved with the IRM and, when ready, sign up for the certification. Look at it this way, achieving the certificate mitigates uncertainty for someone looking to hire a risk leader; you are lowering their risk and maximizing your opportunity to truly make a difference.