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Jacqui McGill AO

Non Executive Director

Controlling Risk In A Dangerous World – Book Review

  1. I read Controlling Risk In A Dangerous World some time ago and it has a wealth of great material. It is a very information dense book and rather than covering the whole of the book I will focus on the first section which focuses on the important difference of controlling risk from both a Management and Operational perspective.
    The book is a great example of how the Space industry contributes to broader society, not only are there cool space flight examples peppered throughout, it also demonstrates how Captain Jim Wetherbee thinks about risk as both a Manager and Operator. Often texts focus purely on the managerial aspects of risk, but this book has great perspectives on how we can only mitigate risk effectively if we consider risk from both a Management and Operator’s perspective.
    I would recommend this book for people with considerable experience with operating in risk laden organisations who are searching for tools to assist them in navigating how to control risk in their work and through their leadership.
    One of my key takeaways from this text is how it explains the difference between Management and Operators. “Managers seek to manage the risk, and Operators control risk”. And anyone who seeks to deliver great outcomes in managing risk needs to ensure both are executed to the best standard achievable. However, they also need to acknowledge that it is the Operator who are the last line in defence of disaster. In the space shuttle this is the Astronaut, highly trained and the most elite in terms of performance in their field.
    At Board level, Directors focus significant amounts of time on Risk. They set the Risk Appetite, review the Risk register, audit the controls and ensure that continuous improvement is part of the work program. Often however, Boards can overlook the importance of the front line worker in controlling risk. A front line worker operating your Tailings Dam, or preparing meals for diabetic resident all need to be an active and educated operator in controlling your risks.
    This is why Board rooms need to understand both the culture of their organisations and how they consider investment in systems, and leadership. A culture that engages and supports all of its team in understanding their role in risk is crucial.
    For me this was the first book that really engaged my thinking on how important it is to understand how Operators view risk and how this needs to be seriously considered by leadership when designing safety and risk management programs.
    Operators need to have three elements: knowledge, skill and proper attitude about risk. When we consider where organisations invest their resources they tend to focus on knowledge and skills – both are relatively easy to train and assess. But when it comes to attitude, how do you effectively evaluate and improve this?
    This is particularly challenging when you consider teams who work in hazardous environments. Working underground or working with molten metal or hazardous materials all present minute by minute exposure to hazards in order to perform the work at hand. And all through my career I have looked to improve the attitude of team members to risk.
    One of the great tools recommended is the application of this is the application of the following;
    To develop and maintain risk awareness you need to engage your teams in
    Searching for vulnerabilities (learn from the past)
    Maintain situational awareness (sense present operations)
    Anticipate the changing shape of risk (predict future operations).
    Now many organisaitons do the first two really well- we share incident reports to ensure we learn from the past, we foster situational awareness through the use of Job hazard analysis (or Take 5) to identify hazards and controls. But the last element is about thinking about what can go wrong and how to prevent it, or how to respond when bad things happen. A great tool Capt Jim shares is the Expect Failure approach. It works like this, first is the acceptance that humans and machines all fail – predicting how they can fail and what you should do in response to that failure is key to avoiding injury and incidents. Building an expectation of failure, will ensure that your team has the right thinking in place and therefore the right risk attitude when failures occur. The closest application of such a practice is the HAZOP, but compared to the practice as described in “Controlling risk” which is more focused on the Operator in real time. Fostering a culture where we expect failure will deliver significant benefits and ensure risk is effectively controlled.
    I hope you take the opportunity to read the book, it is a great investment in your leadership development.

Cheers Jacqui


MBA, BSc (Extractive Metallurgy)

DAdel (Honoris Causa), GAICD

Adelaide, South Australia



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