Gareth Byatt

An interview with Donna Spethman, General Manager – Education, Training & Risk, UniSport Australia

Interviewed by: Gareth Byatt, IRM APAC Global Ambassador and Principal Consultant, Risk Insight Consulting


Gareth: Thanks for making the time to talk with me about your role in risk management for UniSport Australia. A couple of years ago you chatted to the IRM about your role and experiences, and we thought it would be good to touch base with you again to find out how things are currently shaping up. 

Donna: Well, 2018 has been a busy year for us. Some things have changed, some have not. 

In the university sport sector in Australia, a big focus for us has been on incident and crisis management in the last two years. That’s not to say that general risk management processes are not ongoing, they are still important, it’s just that we have focused particularly on education and training on incident and crisis management for our staff and for staff that work in sport on university campuses across the country. 

Part of this has been to ensure university sports departments are well equipped to deal with the risks they face if they turn into incidents. 

We have also been focusing on ensuring that various university sports departments are aware of the Risk departments that are on their campuses, and the help that is on hand to help them with their activities. 

We are also, as part of this, starting to link in with National University Sports Federations around the world. 

We are fortunate that our UniSport Australia risk management and incident management model and the way it deals with identification of risks and handles crisis management, is quite well respected.


Gareth: This is interesting to know. Hopefully the international spread of the IRM can help a little with connecting people together as well. 

Donna: Absolutely. It will be great to liaise and connect with people internationally who work in the sports sector, and of course other sectors.

We have learned from incidents that have happened to us, and from other incidents, and we focus on passing on and sharing learnings. 

The next “phase” of our Risk approach is to help others in our sector internationally, recognising that the university sports sector has some particular unique elements to it. 

For example, the risks that university sport faces include: 

  • From an incident perspective, what happens when you take a team on tour, if a crisis happens – whether it is in “the next suburb” or on the other side of the world – what risks and processes do we have that can quickly “kick in”? 
  • The profile of a university student is also changing. What does this mean for the risks that we face now and in future, including their ability to participate in sport given other pressures of education, work and life.


Gareth: This is interesting to see. Looking back at the last couple of years, how has the IRM helped you move forward in risk management? 

Donna: For me personally, the IRM has been a great basis to build from. 

The biggest thing is keeping up to date with news and thinking in risk management. It’s about “keeping a finger on the pulse” and having confidence in your abilities. This has helped me to be more active in risk work locally and more generally in the State of Queensland. 


Gareth: There’s been quite a lot of discussion this year on keeping risk management simple (for example, it’s been a topic discussed in the IRM’s Enterprise Risk magazine). Are you an advocate of this approach and ethos? 

Donna: Most certainly. We still have some way to go to simplify what we do. 

My organisation has faced this in the past couple of years. Keeping in simple definitely helps me and the team I work with. 

I appreciate that it depends on the industry that you are in. Some industries require certain processes to be followed. For us, we want and need to make risk management simple for Sports Officers and Sports Coordinators and other key stakeholders that we work with and not over complicate the process with lengthy forms or documents that may spend more time on the shelf than being read. This is where our regular staff training using scenarios really helps us. 


Gareth: Moreover, is it fair to say that communications skills are a key part of a Risk Manager’s make-up?

Donna: Absolutely. It’s so important that a Risk practitioner has good communications skills and is very approachable. They need to know how to talk to the people they work with in a way that connects with them, to get on their wavelength. For example, with Finance people the conversation could be quite different to people working as athletics coaches (we have Finance people in our organisation, of course, as well as other support functions). 


Gareth: As part of our role, we also need to understand cognitive biases. 

Donna: Absolutely, we need to avoid falling into the trap of thinking there is “one way for everyone”. We also need to think outside the box on how we ensure good risk management is practised by the people we work with. 


Gareth: Are you working with other organisations in APAC? 

Donna: We are planning to engage with University Sport Federations in the Asia region in 2019. We already have some good ties in the region including in China, and we work in the Pacific region specifically around taking teams away to play sport, to help them to identify the Risk processes that will safeguard them. 


Gareth: Perhaps there may be some opportunities to link up with our IRM members in APAC countries? 

Donna: Yes, definitely. It would be great to further connect with other IRM members in the regions and nations in which we will be more active in the coming year.


Gareth: I’d like to finish by asking you about any tips you have for IRM members in the APAC region. In your last interview from February 2017 you mentioned 

1) You will always succeed if you enjoy what you do. 

2) Stay relevant and up to date. 

3) Ensure you network with others in the risk industry. 

Donna: The main think I would add to this is: look for and seize opportunities to improve what you do, to push yourself forward for new experiences and growth. If we are not careful, we can rest on our laurels – avoid this by looking forward and grabbing opportunities that you see.