Risk in focus: Norman McNair

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) talks to Norman McNair, Business Planner at NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCI Agency) on what a career in risk is like and what advice they would share with people looking for a position in risk management.

How did you get your job?

To start with Risk wasn’t my day job! I’ve been with NATO in Belgium for 7 years and I was employed to award and manage contracts as part of the Procurement function. When our Financial Rules changed in 2015 volunteers were sought to introduce Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) and Internal Control procedures. I had some experience of project risk management but developing ERM policy and then rolling that out across multi-locations in a multinational environment was a whole new challenge.

What’s a typical day like for you?

During our ERM initial implementation phase, I would be running risk workshops, training risk champions, refining policy and briefing at conferences, as well as trying to do some procurement work! It was challenging but exciting. After 6 months of that, I came to the conclusion that some formal risk management training and qualifications would greatly benefit my own personal ERM journey and the organisation.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love taking on new challenges and introducing ERM to the NATO Finance world was certainly that! But as it was a blank canvas I was really able to put my stamp on it. I really enjoy working in a military/civilian environment with personnel from NATO’s 30 member states. We have staff from the Air Force, Army and Navy all working here and their knowledge and experience are inspiring. My military colleagues typically remain in post for 3 years. This just wouldn’t be sensible in a private enterprise but is normal in a military environment. That means training and procedures have to be regularly refreshed. Communication is key and that applies to ensuring we have the correct Internal Control environment. ERM plays a key role in delivering our Internal Control objectives.

What made you decide to study for the Certificate/Diploma?

I realised that for my own credibility and development a more solid foundation in ERM was needed. Initially, I wasn’t thinking about the Diploma. I fought hard to get the funding for the Certificate and just scraped through the exams – my studying opportunities were limited as our ERM implementation was in full swing. After passing the Certificate I decided a career in Risk was something I was really interested in. As well as the technical skills required, good communication skills, empathy and enthusiasm as essential and this aligned with my strengths and the direction I wanted to take. I was motivated to complete the Diploma and really enjoyed the academic challenge. When funding was not available for my last 2 modules I even paid for them myself – that’s how keen I was to achieve Diploma status. Now I’ve reached that milestone I can’t wait to share my knowledge and really champion the benefits of ERM as a qualification and career choice.

What has it taught you that you can immediately put into practice?

Planning for future crisis and organisational resilience is something all military organisations are focused on, and NATO is no different. I think my most recent studies have allowed me to bring an ERM perspective to our internal planning discussions. Organisational culture can make or break how successful an organisation is when it comes to adopting and applying change programmes such as ERM. My studies have given me the tools to assess and monitor attitudes to Risk and ERM implementation. It allows me to speak to senior members of the organisation from a position of knowledge and strength.

What would you say to other people considering studying the qualification?

Go for it! Don’t underestimate the amount of work required to pass the exams. It’s considerable. But the process is fair and between IRM staff, lecturers and fellow students there is a network there to support you. Don’t be afraid to use it. As alumni I’d also be happy to support students and I’m sure many other graduates would feel the same. We’ve all been there. The confidence and knowledge these qualifications give you will last your whole career, so the investment is definitely worth it.