RiskDept Blog

Tips on Hiring a Risk or Safety Manager


By Admin, 1148 Days ago

May 19, 2017

“There is nothing so uncertain as a sure thing”, according to Scotty Bowman.  William Scott Bowman is not just a retired hockey coach, he is regarded as one of the greatest NHL Head Coaches in history.  Arguably, Scotty Bowman is the best coach of any sport in the world, ever.  He holds the record for being the most winning coach in NHL history by a long shot, and has stockpiled 14 Stanley Cup Rings (9 as a Head Coach and 5 as an Executive).  So what has made Scotty Bowman so successful?  It is a question that General Managers all over the pro sports would like to have the recipe for.  Ask any General Manager of any professional franchise, “What is the most difficult thing you have to do?” and they will answer, “Hire a good Head Coach”.

Why?  Because there is a certain blend of character traits and habits that need to align in order for a head coach to create a successful product and outcome.  There is a lot of pressure to perform.  They need to be able to deal with many issues on a day-to-day basis, over a large cross section of the total operations.  There are many egos and personalities that they need to cradle with soft hands on a daily basis.  They need to handle issues diplomatically and professionally at all times.  There is the media to deal with, as a 3rd party auditor of sorts.  There are player contract issues, and sometimes they might need to deal with the Player’s Association union by times. 

My point is, being the General Manager of a professional team, is a lot like running a business.  Hiring the Head Coach, to deal with players and create a winning product, is much like hiring a Risk or Safety Manager to improve your risk management program. Many of the traits and habits required for success in each role are similar.  When you hire your next risk or loss control professional, consider the advice of these successful General Managers, in order to ensure your candidate has what it takes to improve your risk management system:

1.      Communication.  Knowing how to communicate with employees and colleagues in a calm and professional manner, conducting meetings and site inspections, dealing with 3rd party auditors and government agencies, engaging employees during training sessions, being positive and providing leadership through dialogue and listening, and forever coaching where deficits lie.  Harry Sinden, long-time General Manager of the Boston Bruins sums it up, “Coaches have to be articulate.  He has to be able to speak to the team calmly, get the team to understand what is needed, to motivate in this manner”.

2.      Ability to Get Along with Others.  When Serge Savard was General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, he once said, “The coach has to treat everyone with respect and they will respect him in return”.  While ensuring the health and safety of your staff, the Risk or Safety Manager needs to be approachable and neutral while dealing with situations and sensitive matters.  Knowing how to get along with a wide range of personality types is a definite must for this position.

3.      Adaptive to change.  Being ready and willing to change is critical, as the role of Risk or Safety Manager is different every day.  Locations change, people come and go.  New training is required.  Incidents happen.  Audits occur.  The list goes on.  The great Scotty Bowman once said, “I found out that if are going to win games, you had better be ready to adapt”.

4.      Know the difference between winning and losing.  If nothing ever goes wrong, or if the risk or safety department has not experienced a precarious situation, then he may not understand how important it is to work diligently to avoid it from occurring in the first place.   As the famous George Young, former General Manager of the New York Giants, once said, “I look for a coach who has experienced, at some time, a horrible losing year – he will understand how bad losing is and will work exceptionally hard to avoid it again”.  Winning is comparable to improving the safety record and overall work environment, in order to have successful employees and optimum results.  The Risk or Safety Manager must understand and know where the safety program is at, what improvements need to be made, and how to plan to continue to improve upon the management system. 

5.      Be a “We” Person.  Teamwork is crucial in any work environment.  It goes without saying that a Risk or Safety Manager must have the skills and habits of fostering a team approach.  Jerry West, former NBA General Manager, said, “I look to see if the coach uses the pronoun ‘I’ or ‘We’ and try to stay away from the ‘I’ coach”.  Many can relate to past supervisors who managed with an  'I' or 'we' approach, and most would agree that that 'we' style of management was more productive and successful.

6.      Recognize the importance and the role that players have to the team.  Bobby Clarke, GM of the Philadelphia Flyers once said, “It is the players that play the game, the coach needs to remember this”.  Hire your Risk or Safety Manager with this in mind.  It is important to understand that the Risk or Safety Manager cannot control negative events from happening, but can work to reduce and control hazards by implementing a system whereby ALL members of the team contribute.  The employees and workforce are going to play their role, and it is up to the Risk or Safety Manager to observe, monitor, coach, train, advise and improve upon the systems and programs implemented. 

The ultimate goal is to win.  This is accomplished through continuous improvement of people, processes, systems and statistical data.   It doesn’t matter if you are running a professional sports team or a multi-national corporation, it is up to senior executives to hire the right people to lead the organization and set the example for success.


Kyle O’Shea, CIP | CRM

Director, Operations



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