Note: With great regret I must inform potential readers that this fascinating book is only available in Dutch so far. I hope that I, and others, can persuade the author to do an English translation!
Read the original Dutch review from the October 2015 issue of NVVK Info here.
I hope that the English translation below at least give a good impression of this great book!
De Risicoprofessional Komt Eraan, by Walter Zwaard
Recently I was pleasantly surprised by a new book from my former HVK teacher and examiner Walter Zwaard. With regard to packaging and layout the new book looks as good as Walter’s fabulous “Modellenboek” (written with Ermin de Koning) and the text is excellent. So it’s worthwhile to follow also Dutch professional literature, even though I’m still waiting for an international version of the “Modellenboek” in English language!
To be continued!
The last sentence of chapter 3 reveals the book’s objective: “This book’s contents is hopefully inspiring for all advisors who feel that they are risk professionals or would like to become one. Regardless the domains they are working in, the risk language they use and the knowledge that they use.” From this quote we can tell that the book is not just about safety professionals, but Walter has consciously chosen the more abstract term risk professional across various domains - even domains that do use the term risk rarely or not at all.
Upon asking we learn that this book is kind of a teaser for a more voluminous piece of work that Walter is working on right now (scheduled for next year). He took some elements from the upcoming book and turned it into a stand-alone book. The follow-up book will elaborate many elements that are only mentioned in passing in the current version.
Picture of the future
The first chapter is titled "Handling Risk" and starts by defining the term risk. Risks are about a picture of the future, about things that can go wrong. The author doesn’t restrict himself to safety, but regards risk in the widest sense (including for example finance and insurances). The book discusses the term risk generally in the negative meaning of possible loss or damage, which is how most people think about risk. The positive side of risk is mentioned on several occasions, but is not discussed explicitly. This is one of my main complaints about the book.
Then the various ‘players’ connected to risk are discussed (individual, collective, insurance and the government) and we are presented the so-called risk-triangle where risk is seen in the tension between risk-producer, -consumer and -regulator. Of course there is a presentation of risk as a function of consequence and likelihood and a really clear explanation of how a risk matrix works. As far as I’m concerned this part would have been even better with a discussion of other factors that influence risk, like perception and knowledge (which is one of the important threads throughout the book, by the way).
The book does discuss diverse views on risk, both hard ones and soft ones, like quantification versus feeling and experience. After this follows how risk is handled, on both individual and collective levels in various steps and in the form of the risk management cycle. Finally a couple of approaches are discussed that take us from compliance to culture.
Walter’s language and style of writing is very accessible, like I’m used to from him. Maybe it’s even too accessible because those with ‘advanced’ within the area may get the impression in the first chapter that there is little news for them. These readers must just carry on - this introduction is necessary to get all readers on the required level so that they manage to comprehend the rest of the book!
Assisting within the force field
Chapter 2 is titled "Assisting in Risk" and is about risk advisors: people who assist and guide others in handling risks (again, in the widest sense) within the force field of the risk triangle. Questions that are discussed are the role and added value of the risk advisor, among others through their expertise in analysing and evaluating risks or in the coming up of effective actions.
The chapter divides risk advisers over three domains: physical, social and financial risks. Possibly this is just a rough and temporary division. Personally I definitely miss psychic risks. Then characteristics of professionals are discussed. Professionals are characterized by two main traits. Firstly we have their qualities, which included their knowledge, the structure, breadth and width of this knowledge and the way they handle this knowledge. Secondly there is the way how they act, which manifests itself most of all in their independence and the way they manage to be successful in uncertainty and in the way they interact with their customers.
Hard and soft
After this general discussion of professionals (pages 51 to 56 are definitely a highlight in the book and kind of mandatory reading) the general term professional is combined with risk and we get the term risk professional. Risk professionals don’t only have knowledge of the ‘hard’ side of risk, but also of ‘soft’ aspects like behaviour, culture, organisations and the way how risk could or should be communicated. At this point also ethical dilemmas are briefly mentioned, something I hope will get much more attention in the next book.
By using two dimensions, knowledge and independence, the book then divides risk advisers in four different groups: risk craftsman (limited knowledge and independence), risk specialist (much knowledge, limited independence), risk artist (limited knowledge, much independence) and risk professional (much knowledge and independence). Many will be able to identify themselves with one of these groups that return in the next chapter.
There are various ways to develop from the stage of ‘risk novice’ to risk craftsman and eventually possibly to risk professional. Do mind the word ‘possibly’ - becoming a professional is a choice, no must. Some will be perfectly content working as a specialist, or to handle a limited amount of knowledge relatively flexible as a risk artist. The chapter concludes by summing up what characterizes a risk professional.
“Professionalising in Risk” is the title of the final chapter. For starters we return to the risk triangle to see how the risk professional fits in. Next it discusses how risk professionals see risk, cooperation and interaction with their customers and how risk professionals handle advice that has been asked for or not been asked for, desired or undesired advice and non-binding or compulsory advice.
A major part of the second half of chapter 3 deals with knowledge; on one side the contents of knowledge and on the other side the way risk professionals use the knowledge. For this the four different groups of risk advisers return. Typical for the risk professional is the way how they structure and develop knowledge and the level of abstraction that they can fall back on. Risk professionals veer continuously between concrete experience and abstract thinking through which they develop themselves and their profession. This applies both to knowledge through experience and to structured knowledge from the own, and also from other professional areas. The author correctly remarks that learning from other domains still is nog in its infancy which creates major opportunities for the future. This is why we must learn to respect and understand each other’s ‘risk dialect’. Here’s a large and important challenge for all of us.
The last few pages discuss who considers himself a risk professional. It’s my expectation that many can find themselves under that nominator. I’d like therefore to invite everyone to read the book and maybe come to the conclusion that they yet have to take a couple of steps in their development or that they maybe should be happy as a craftsman or specialist.
I’m looking out for the follow-up to this book!