Career Development

4 Ways to Build Communication and Leadership Skills

Career Development Advice for Risk Managers

Thursday, February 3, 2022

By Liz Alton

Career development is an ongoing consideration for risk managers, who must cultivate the skills to succeed in their current roles and think ahead to future promotions. In the 2021 GARP Risk Careers Survey, respondents noted that the two most important skill sets for future career progression were leadership and communication. Candidates blending cutting-edge technical skills with communication savvy and leadership insights are in high demand.

Here are four soft skills that can improve a risk manager’s career prospects:

1. Learn to Listen

Soft skills are vital to building trust and engaging a broad range of stakeholders, and the ability to listen is a soft skill that's crucial to success in any industry. The Rough Notes Risk Manager's Forum suggests that risk managers spend 70% of their time listening and only 30% talking.

Risk managers with strong listening skills will naturally be better at working with colleagues to identify challenges, develop solutions that companies can successfully implement, and understand employee concerns or process roadblocks before they create larger problems. The Harvard Business Review highlights two key areas for developing strong listening skills: listening without distraction and creating systems and processes that support active listening over time.

2. Position Yourself as a Leader

The Harvard Business Review once went as far as saying every leader is a risk manager since the ability to address risk is an important aspect of leadership. In many cases, it's critical that risk managers learn to see themselves as organizational leaders.

Stepping into the spotlight can be challenging, especially in a role that may be regarded as influencing indirectly or limited in scope, but there are strategic steps you can take to position yourself as a leader.

  • Audit your strengths and weaknesses. What areas might present a risk to your ability to lead? For example, you might struggle with public presentations in high stakes situations or prefer to avoid difficult conversations. Once weak points are identified, you can create a plan to address them.
  • Focus your leadership efforts both internally and externally. Set leadership goals that focus on both your internal role within your team and your external interactions with other stakeholders. Identify priorities for each context and focus on one high-impact step you can take each week to progress toward your goals.
  • Seek feedback on your leadership from your bosses, team, and outside stakeholders. Understand how you're perceived. Leverage the strengths you already have and loop feedback about potential areas for improvement into your leadership audit and professional development planning.

3. Cultivate Empathy

Risk managers often deal with high-stakes issues that may involve emotional tension. Mitigating risks might require scrutinizing a specific colleague's practices or putting a much-desired project on hold. Being assertive and cultivating empathy at the same time is challenging, but learning to do so can be greatly beneficial for risk managers aiming to progress their careers. You can build greater empathy by doing the following:

  • Minding the empathy gap. Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management note that rejection often hurts more than we realize, resulting in what researchers call "the empathy gap." If your job is telling people "no" all day or only explaining the risks, you may become numb to the impact you're having or underestimate its effect on morale. Cultivating empathy and thinking carefully about the weight of your decisions and words can help you develop creative solutions and communicate ideas with an appropriate degree of consideration.
  • Mastering empathetic assertions. Psychology Today recommends cultivating the skills required to deliver basic empathetic assertions. Begin by acknowledging the other person's interests or needs, and then state your own perspective. For example, you might need to turn down a colleague's request for capital, in which case you could frame your response as follows: "The idea has significant promise, and I think it's a worthwhile investment to consider in the future. Right now, large capital requests would push us beyond our comfort zone, and we've decided to pause new initiatives of that scale for the next quarter."

4. Communicate Like a Pro

Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful leadership. This is especially true for risk managers who may be communicating across all departments and at every level of an organization. To communicate with authority and impact, consider the following strategies for getting your message across:

  • Prepare accordingly. Insights by Stanford Business notes that preparation can mean the difference between reaching an audience and striking out. Make sure every communication has a driving point, supporting data, and actionable takeaways that are appropriate for both what you're discussing and the audience you're addressing.
  • Put the issue in context. Take the time to put the risk issues you're discussing into a context that your audience will find relatable. For instance, the legal team has different concerns and KPIs from those of administrators, sales team members, and frontline operations staff, so you would need to articulate why a particular issue matters to them and how addressing it correctly could help them avoid greater challenges down the line.
  • Seek continuous improvement. Improving communications skills is an ongoing process. Risk managers can find opportunities to level up their presentation skills specifically by joining groups like Toastmasters, presenting at industry conferences, or taking training sessions with presentation components. Finding ways to improve your writing, such as taking classes or seeking editorial feedback, can help you strengthen those muscles as well. Finally, if your job demands that you adapt to communicating through new media, such as webinars, invest time in learning how to communicate effectively in those formats.

Balancing technical skills development with a greater focus on acquiring soft skills tied to communication, listening, and leadership can help risk professionals build the foundation they need to take on greater challenges and more demanding roles.

For more professional development support to help you level up in your career, join the world's largest network of risk professionals.

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