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Risk In Focus: Donna Festorazzi, CFIRM and Chair of the IRM Scottish Regional Group Risk Director Risk & Value Solutions | Advisory Services

How did you get your job?

My pathway into the field of risk management was facilitated by studying risk management at Glasgow Caledonian University which allowed me to join the Institute of Risk Management. In 2001, I graduated with a honours degree in Risk Management and secured my first role working as an Insurance Risk Analyst for Network Rail. In 2003 I transferred internally to fulfil the role as a Project Risk Analyst, and I have continued to work in this area of risk management.

What’s a typical day like as a Risk Director?

For me a typical day is spent liaising with clients, supporting my team, as well as challenging myself and my team to think of innovative ways to test the boundaries of common risk management practice. I also, spend a lot of time travelling and mentoring and coaching other risk practitioners by offering specialist risk management advice.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love working with people and teams and in the field of risk management this is something that is integral to your success; collaboration and working to a common goal. In addition, in the area of infrastructure I enjoy seeing things get built and the sense of achievement that comes from knowing that you have (in your own way) assisted in delivering a benefit to clients / stakeholders.

I enjoy finding creative solutions to atypical problem knowing that there is ‘no right answer’. By using previous experience, industry knowledge and exploring risk theories with my team I ensure I always get the best solution that is tailored to the clients need. I am inquisitive by nature and this keeps me focussed and challenged.

What are the challenges?

As a Risk Manager I have practical experience and have seen first-hand how good risk management can play a key role in success for businesses. The challenge is that others have many different perceptions of risk. This could be experience of ineffective risk management, risk functions not being embedded effectively or overly onerous risk processes, all of which drive people to avoid risk management and manage issues reactively. This can be frustrating, as driving efficiency and risk-based decision making becomes difficult.

Personally, as a Director my challenge is to ensure that through my own deadlines and expectations placed on me, that I remember to prioritise my team and ensure they have the support required. To understand their challenges as well as my own and to set expectations that I know are achievable.

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

Becoming a member of the IRM provides many benefits.

The key benefits are:

  1. Ability to keep abreast of relevant and topical areas and progressive material.
  2. Having a network and a support group with like-minded to talk through concepts with.
  3. Having unlimited resources (publications, presentations). The material is for everyone, at all levels, on their risk management journey.

Many risk teams within organisations are small and having the extension of a community / membership if great for self-development.

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

My aspiration was always to be recognised by my peers as a competent Risk Manager. As I started to push my capability and competency, I also started to challenge myself in the area of the softer skills; leadership and management, which is where my role has developed. I now manage a team of very experienced Risk Managers and that is a challenge, however extremely satisfying and exciting; ‘pushing boundaries and being creative’.

I have been extremely lucky throughout my early career to have the opportunity to be mentored by passionate and experienced managers. I wanted to have a chance to provide advice to others using an industry recognised body, which is why my ambition was to become more involved in IRM. I am now the Regional Chair for the Scottish Group in which I hope to be able to inspire others, as well as learn from the wider group too.

My key ambition is to continue to push the limits, remain passionate and resilient whilst having fun with those around me. What has transpired throughout my career is that it is not a title that is my main priority. Ultimately, it is the ability to inspire others, and receive recognition from peers as being someone they can learn from, and provide challenge to, that keeps me focused.

Top tips

My main advice to people that want to change careers into risk management, or start their career in this industry would be:

  1. Surround yourself / tap into networks with the most knowledgeable people in the industry to test your thoughts / recommendations as this will enable you to grow
  2. Keep up-to-date with theories and ideas and test them! Don’t be afraid to try something new; risk management is an area where you can be very creative.
  3. Don’t limit yourself. Even if you do not have any experience in risk management that does not mean you can’t become a great Risk Manager. With the right courses/ qualifications, practical support and the knowledge already gained from previous experience, these are all great attributes to be a great Risk Manager.

“If someone tells you “you can’t” they’re showing you their limits not yours!” - Dwayne Johnson