Louisa Allen, IRMCert: Strategy and Risk Manager, The Open University
Louisa Allen, IRMCert
Strategy and Risk Manager
The Open University
How did you get your job?
It was very fluid, I joined the Strategy and Information Office and we were just taking on responsibility for risk management and I was asked if I would take the lead. As someone who relishes opportunities I seized it with both hands and got started, developing my knowledge and expertise in the area.
My background is that I started life as an engineer; I then qualified as a solicitor and worked in London for a number of years. I joined the Open University to be closer to home. So I didn’t start out wanting to be a risk manager but now that I’m here, I love it.
What’s a typical day like as a Strategy and Risk Manager?
No day is the same. There is a risk management cycle that I operate within which includes producing reports to our Executive, Audit Committee and Council (Board). I also annually review our risk policy and risk appetite to ensure it is fit for purpose. A lot of my time is spent getting out and about supporting colleagues in their risk management. I deliver risk management workshops regularly to enable the embedding of risk management. Every two years I undertake a University wide risk maturity survey to understand where they are gaps and prioritise key actions.
Because our risk management function is closely aligned to our strategy and performance, I am involved in some great discussions around what key decisions need to be taken in order to gain maximise value. I know I’m fortunate to have such a holistic view across the organisation.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I most enjoy seeing my colleagues realising value from doing risk management. This can be anything from proactive, timely and informed decision-making, to our Council considering whether a course of action is within risk appetite.
What are the challenges?
In a University we have a lot of independent thinkers who like to question why we do things. I relish the challenge of persuading people of the importance of managing risk and how they can play their part in communicating concerns or worries in an open and transparent way so we can act on them sooner than later.
In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
Firstly, it’s given me a well-rounded understanding of the whole risk management discipline so that any gaps in my knowledge have been filled. Secondly, having a qualification in the area you practice is an important endorsement especially in the higher education (HE) sector.
What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member?
It is an essential part of my role as a Risk Manager. I have attended a number of workshops, joined an external risk network in Milton Keynes, accessed useful know-how on areas such as risk appetite and receive a quarterly magazinewith interesting insights.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped?
I didn’t realise when I first took up my role how much exposure I would get to the executive level of my organisation. I sit in on the highest level discussions and support and enable some key strategic decisions. As a result I have honed my skills and expertise not just in risk but also in ensuring that my organisation’s resources are used effectively with information and support.
Having brought my organisation some way in its risk management function, I have an interest in continuing to develop my knowledge and expertise in risk potentially in a different sector with some fresh challenges. I’m also keen to share my journey with others to enable them to navigate and bring good outcomes for their own organisations.
My three key reflections on anyone interested in working in risk management are:
- Show an interest in what risk management can do for your organisation. Talk to colleagues who hold connected roles and ask to meet or shadow them. You can then find out first hand if it’s right for you.
- If you’re trying to embed good risk management practice, I’ve found that the concepts in risk can be a bit abstract for newcomers so I like to give real life examples of risk management failures that have happened and lessons learnt (which usually include more effective risk management). These examples can be from your own organisation or high profile failures.
- Be enthusiastic, nothing beats someone who is motivated and keen to contribute effectively.