Risk in Focus: Risk Manager – Civil Engineering & Infrastructure Projects | Kingdom of Saudi Arabia


Mohd Amirul Ismail SIRM
Risk Manager

Saudi Arabian Parsons Ltd


How did you get your job?

During the first 5 years of my career, I was working as a civil engineer, doing all sorts of engineering and detailed design work as well as project engineering management, from concept to the detailed engineering stage. As an engineer, I was used to being cautious when analysing soil investigation data and calculating the load bearing capability of the ground elements that would later serve the sub-structures and superstructures built directly on top. All of these are risk management factors - but from the perspective of an engineer, risk management is rather intuitive.

I started hearing about structured risk management when I was visited by a few risk engineers who conducted a construction risk assessment at my project site back in the 2006. After I listened to their risk improvement recommendations, I started developing an interest in this area. I studied the principles of risk management, framework, processes and the benefits, and finally changed my career to become a risk engineer too.

While providing risk engineering advisory services in civil engineering I completed (CECR) and large specialised risk (LSR) classes in an insurance company, I realised that project risk management is one risk management area that is very lacking in terms of its implementation. Cost and schedule overrun are the norm in the construction industry and many people cite that poor risk management is the main reason.

As someone who had worked in the construction industry, I understand this problem. Hence, I quit from my risk engineering position and moved on, working with a financial institution in the area of project financing. Here I gained knowledge and experiences in dealing with all sorts of project financing and learned about mitigating risks in construction projects from the banker’s point of view. However, it was not enough for me. The opportunity to get in-depth knowledge about project risk management came when I joined the leading oil and gas EPCC contractor. I managed to learn more, and narrowed down my risk management interests into advanced cost and schedule risk analysis, enhanced the risk monitoring and control efforts by integrating with project controls and developed predictive tools. I have become an expert. After 14 years, I finally made a return into the world of civil engineering and construction, as a risk manager. 

What’s a typical day like as a Risk Manager in a construction project?

My activities are mainly planned risk management activities, attend the scheduled technical and progress meetings, be the subject matter expert whenever risks are concerned, facilitate risk meetings, analyse, write reports and presentations. I also research the Key Risk Indicators, which is the subject of my PhD thesis; hence, whenever I have time will read articles and do the write up.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Managing project risks are crucial, and the risk manager is the right man who can guide project stakeholders about the appropriate approaches to risk management. Speaking the engineering language with them while at the same time, highlighting the potential risks, causes, consequences and mitigation strategies add values. My inputs always let them think from a broader spectrum especially when I demonstrate the potential impacts/cost savings by doing the modelling simulations. Their positive reactions give me full satisfaction.

What are the challenges?

I firmly believed that everyone is a Risk Manager, and everyone is doing risk management in their day-to-day activities. When I was a civil engineer, I already considered the risks in the engineering calculations, and as part of mitigation, I have set several instrumentation and monitoring devices to be installed at the site to check the deflation, vibration is within my tolerable limits. I was fully aware of this.  Thus the main challenge for me as a Risk Manager is how to remain proactive. I must consistently provide physical inputs that can support the decision-making process. If not, I am just a risk register doer. If I am not proactive, I will not get adequate support to perform better.

In what way are you associated with the IRM?

I feel proud to be a Technical Specialist (SIRM) with the IRM), but I won't stop there. The next target is to get qualified because until I complete the IRM learning, I don't know how much value I could add to my work and my company. With the IRM qualification, I can assure the project stakeholders that I have a solid understanding of risks associated with the project environment and the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences to support the decision-making process.

If one wants to be a risk manager, this is the gold standard, and I strongly recommend IRM membership and qualifications.

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

My project stakeholders shall have more confidences when they know I have the IRM qualifications. Therefore this will help in terms of obtaining their buy in to support the implementation of the risk management process.

Top tips

The keywords are crystal clear about the context, master the process, become niche, proactive, communicate and be predictive. Get the IRM qualification so you will see how much the quality of IRM can make you more self-reliant to facilitate the implementation of the risk management process.