The personality-based approach to risk management.

The thousands of decisions any individual makes each day, consciously or unconsciously, will be heavily influenced by their personality and their natural disposition towards risk and uncertainty. People vary dramatically in this respect. Within any workforce, there will be an extraordinary variety in people’s approach to risk and decision making. So, given these individual differences, how do we support employees in following Health & Safety policy?

Take Ivan and Erin, for example. Ivan has a wary approach to risk and decision making. This means he is likely to be ultra-sensitive about vulnerability and exposure to risk in any situation. He is zealous about eliminating uncertainty and fervently seeks to establish order and control events. Ivan will religiously stick to H&S guidelines.

His colleague Erin, however, has an adventurous approach to decision making and will view risk as something to be weighed up in the context of her search for new opportunities. She is likely to be fearless and confident, enjoying the excitement of breaking new ground. Enthusiastic and optimistic, she sets herself ambitious objectives and is inclined to feel inhibited by fixed routine. Erin will push the boundaries without deliberately intending to break the rules. She is very comfortable tackling issues as they arise, giving more consideration to opportunities than things going wrong.

What can H&S managers do to allow for these natural differences in personality, ensuring safety requirements are met? 

Differences in risk disposition are measurable. Based on Cognition and Emotion, the Risk Type Compass psychometric assessment (RTC) divides the full spectrum of risk dispositions into eight reliably distinguishable Risk Types. These Risk Types define a person’s risk awareness, their reaction to risk and the level of risk that they are comfortable with, an approach which supports a management style that fosters trust, cooperation, and mutual respect. This awareness allows managers to:

  1. Review H&S task requirements against this background, to highlight the boundaries of personal risk dispositions and uncertainties and to recognise when a particular change of mindset or concentration will be important.
  2. Generate a ‘plan for personal responsibility’ that immediate supervisors and managers are aware of. This is a basis of monitoring and mentoring during an initial or probationary period. The approach is collaborative and supportive.
  3. Provide additional support such as ‘pairing’ with another operative with a similar Risk Type profile (‘how do you deal with this situation’, ‘how difficult was it for you?’). Within a larger organisation, opportunities to attend a group meeting for each specific Risk Type encourages exchanges of view, challenges, experiences (e.g., My name is Mary, I am an Excitable Risk Type and for me…).

Geoff Trickey, CEO of Psychological Consultancy Ltd., and creator of the Risk Type Compass, comments “It simply is not the case that all risk managers are prudent, cautious, and attentive to detail, or that all operatives are inclined to impulsivity and carelessness. Risk dispositions are instinctive; part of a person’s nature. They are a feature of personality; they define a person’s identity and persist throughout a working life. Characteristics such as a prudent attention to detail, impulsivity, excitement seeking, creativity, curiosity or composure are ‘wired’ in. These are consistencies that will impact on work performance – sometimes in good ways, sometimes not – depending on the work demands that need to be met.

The whole point of a more ‘people-centric’ approach is to exploit approaches that ‘work with the grain’ of human nature. This is made eminently feasible by a Risk Type approach. It provides a clear framework that will take any risk manager from being focused predominantly on the risk per se to focus on the people dealing with the risk; developing an insight into the basic instincts that influence work performance in those they supervise. Facilitating engagement, participation, and trust. 

By acknowledging personal responsibility and natural risk behaviours, it is possible to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ risk management process while, at the same time, ensuring that safety behaviours meet the necessary H&S requirements in the future.”

This article, the personality-based approach to risk management, is adapted from Geoff’s original feature with the brilliant Safety & Health Practitioner magazine, view here.

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