Communicating Risk for Attention and Action


Risk Doctor Briefing

Dr David Hillson, PMI Fellow, HonFAPM, FIRM

The Risk Doctor Partnership

United Kingdom

Communication is difficult, especially when we are dealing with uncertainties that matter. People need to know which uncertainties are most important, and what can be done to manage them effectively and proactively. Risk communication has two purposes:

  1. Attention. Tell people things they need to know that they do not know already.
  2. Action. Encourage people to do things they need to do that they are not doing already.

It is really important to communicate clearly about risk, and this should not be left to chance. Following a simple structured approach to risk communication will help to ensure that each person or group receives risk information that enables them to pay attention and take action. Effective risk communication requires three steps:

1. Analysis – Who needs what? Answer the following questions for each person or group:

  • How frequently will they need updates?
  • When do they need risk information to be supplied?
  • What level of detail and precision do they require?
  • What do they need it for, and how will they use it?
  • What risk information do they need?

2. Design – What shall we produce? Consider the following factors:

  • Content. Design outputs that meet the needs identified in the first step. A range of risk outputs may be required at different levels of detail, and it is more efficient to design outputs in a hierarchical manner if possible, to avoid the overhead of producing multiple versions. For example, high-level reports can be generated as summaries of low-level reports.
  • Delivery method. Alternative types of communication should be identified, allowing us to choose a method that is appropriate for each person. These might include written reports in hard-copy or electronic format (email, intranet, website, accessible databases), verbal reports (briefings, presentations, progress meetings), graphical or numerical outputs (tables, charts, posters) etc.
  • Responsibilities. For each output, identify who will be responsible for its production, and who will approve it. A RACI analysis might also be useful (Responsible, Approval, Contributor, Information).


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About the Author

Dr. David Hillson

The Risk Doctor


Dr David Hillson
CMgr FRSA FIRM FCMI HonFAPM PMI-Fellow is The Risk Doctor (http://www.risk-doctor.com/).  As an international risk consultant, David is recognised as a leading thinker and expert practitioner in risk management. He consults, writes and speaks widely on the topic and he has made several innovative contributions to the field. David’s motto is “Understand profoundly so you can explain simply”, ensuring that his work represents both sound thinking and practical application.

David Hillson has over 25 years’ experience in risk consulting and he has worked in more than 40 countries, providing support to clients in every major industry sector, including construction, mining, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, financial services, transport, fast-moving consumer goods, energy, IT, defence and government. David’s input includes strategic direction to organisations facing major risk challenges, as well as tactical advice on achieving value and competitive advantage from effectively managing risk.

David’s contributions to the risk discipline over many years have been recognised by a range of awards, including “Risk Personality of the Year” in 2010-11. He received both the PMI Fellow award and the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award from the Project Management Institute (PMI®) for his work in developing risk management. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the UK Association for Project Management (APM), where he has actively led risk developments for nearly 20 years. David Hillson is an active Fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) to contribute to its Risk Commission. He is also a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and a Member of the Institute of Directors (IOD). Dr Hillson can be contacted at [email protected]

To see other works previously published in the PM World Journal by Dr David Hillson, visit his author showcase at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/dr-david-hillson