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Risk in Focus: Tom Clare, CFIRM, Senior Risk Manager, Ministry of Defence

Tom Clare CFIRM

Senior Risk Manager, Defence Equipment & Support

Ministry of Defence


How did you get your job?  

A slightly unorthodox route perhaps.  I applied to for a job with a consortium delivering a Ministry of Defence project and the hiring manager spotted on my CV that I’d worked as an immigration officer for a couple of years. She told me that as I was already used to going into rooms where no one wanted me, I was a clear match for the team’s risk management vacancy! I learned on the job how much I enjoyed the combination of people skills and problem solving. As my career in risk management has progressed, I’ve held a range of roles in different industries and in both the public and private sectors.

What’s a typical day like as a Senior Risk Manager?

I am in the team responsible for development of risk management as a profession in Defence Equipment & Support. My focus is on mentoring and coaching our risk professionals, including a cohort studying for the IRM’s International Certificate in ERM, developing their skills to provide risk management to the business and supporting the use of risk software. I assist in the design and delivery of training, contribute to our risk communities of practice and work on new ideas to develop the profession.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy seeing how complex projects and programmes all fit together in a risk management role. There’s a real sense of reward and satisfaction when you can help a risk owner or project manager understand how risk work can assist them to understand the threats to their delivery, and then see the positive steps taken to manage those threats. 

In my present role I really enjoying helping develop risk managers – It’s very rewarding seeing their confidence improve when delivering workshops, explaining technical concepts or interacting with owners.

What are the challenges? 

Getting accepted into a team and getting to the point where you can ask challenging questions and get people to discuss potential problems. This is because raising the topic of risk can lead to a lot of resistance if delivered in the wrong way. Communication skills are key – it’s vital to understand your audience, have a range of techniques available, be able to reflect on what worked/what didn’t, work out what can be done better next time and incorporate continuous improvement into your practice.

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant? 

Holding IRM qualifications has helped me advance professionally. As my career in risk management has progressed, I’ve taken the IRM Certificate, then the Diploma, becoming a Certified Risk Professional and this year I achieved Fellow status within the IRM.

In my first role I was lucky enough to work for an experienced risk manager who gave me a solid start in the basics; I think on the job training is vital. Completing the IRM Certificate provided a broad foundation in risk management and professional credibility; taking the Diploma consolidated my experience and broadened my knowledge. Project risk management is a speciality, so taking the Diploma exposed me to the wider picture of risk – gaining that understanding of how risk fits together across an enterprise has been of huge benefit.

What would you say to others thinking about taking an IRM qualification?

The knowledge and wide-ranging skills and techniques you’ll gain will be invaluable to you, whatever path you take. IRM qualifications are very well recognised by employers worldwide and a key standard for risk managers. They’re hard work but worth it. If you commit to taking the qualifications, give them the time and effort they deserve then the courses will give you an excellent return, even if your career focus is not risk management.

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

From running individual project risk registers in the early part of my career, I have picked up experience in a wide range of areas of increasing technical complexity and monetary value. With the skills and knowledge gained, coupled with my study with the IRM I have since been looked toward to provide assurance to organisations on their levels of risk maturity, develop new risk structures and now in my current role to assist in the development of other risk managers through technical coaching and mentoring.

I want to continue my work in the Civil Service. Contributing to risk management at the heart of defence procurement for the UK has been a huge privilege and I hope to continue.

Top tips:

  • Develop range – work across lots of areas, experience different risk cultures and learn about context and leadership styles – that knowledge will be what you draw on in future engagements. 
  • Gain the technical skills– your professional credibility rests on being able to provide your teams with what they need. Take the qualifications relevant to your industry/area.
  • The soft skills are vital– risk managers must enjoy working with and talking to people! Focus on understanding how different types of people tick, how to talk to them, how to capture attention and adapt your message to get the information you need. After taking the IRM Diploma I completed a formal coaching and mentoring qualification to further my skill set in this area and it’s been a huge help.
  • Buck the trend– be aware that risk management often inspires dread. Become the specialist who can build rapport even with the most unwilling team member. Learn to contribute your technical skills in a way that works for your organisation; be willing to change your approach often.
  • Consider the public sector – to those starting out I’d say don’t assume you need to be in a finance organisation; the civil service offers a wealth of opportunity.


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