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Approaches for Gaining Leadership Support for ERM Success

May 2022
Guidance on how to achieve buy-in when launching your campus-wide risk management program 

One of the biggest challenges with starting an enterprise risk management (ERM) program is obtaining support from senior leadership at your K-12 school, college, or university. Consider these strategies to gain buy-in from your board, President, and/or Head of School: 

  • Start small. Starting a new ERM program can seem overwhelming, particularly when leaders lack formal risk management training or experience. Begin by selecting one to three risks or cross-functional initiatives, rather than attempting to address many risks at once. Use your first year to help leaders see their role in managing risks and to build up their risk management skills and confidence as a team.

    Example: In the first year of one K-12 independent school’s ERM program, the school addressed a single risk: emergency preparedness and business continuity. This complex, cross-functional risk involves senior leaders from all functional areas and departments and allowed leaders to focus on a single shared goal.

    Working collectively on inclement weather procedures, the Facilities Services and Public Safety teams partnered with Information Technology (IT) to develop a checklist identifying all equipment and spaces that must be secured and maintained during a storm, including emergency generators and IT servers.

    As a result, if a major weather event happened on a weekend, a member of the 24-hour Public Safety team already would be on campus to help secure these spaces — unlike IT and Facilities Services teams, which often don’t have staff on campus on weekends.

    After meeting regularly throughout the year to implement its new program, conduct training, and participate in tabletop exercises, this leadership group was better prepared to focus on additional institutional risks the following year.  
  • Recruit a risk champion. Identify and engage a “risk champion” — a leader who advocates for proactively managing risks and will promote your program’s success stories across your institution. Potential “risk champion” candidates have been found overseeing study abroad, IT, or athletics because of the compliance and reputational implications of these programs. Consider engaging your President or Head of School to promote your efforts and ensure participation across all areas.  
  • Publicly share success stories. Showcase victories from your risk management initiatives to demonstrate the value of risk management. This can promote risk champions and show that a risk-aware culture benefits everyone.

    Example: One institution identified a shortage of meeting spaces on campus as an institutional risk. Rather than departments tackling this issue separately by looking to invest in building new spaces across campus, the institution’s ERM committee identified solutions together by locating unused spaces across departments.

    This coordinated approach saved the institution time and increased the number of available spaces for students and employees. The initiative helped the institution develop a central calendaring platform to allow any department to reserve an unused classroom or conference room regardless of location. The institution publicized the campus-wide impact of this successful endeavor.  
  • Make a case for incorporating risk management into your strategic and budgeting processes. The value of managing risks at an institutional level, rather than in silos across independent departments, is that you can elevate and coordinate on multiple smaller risks at an institution-wide level. This allows more visibility for risk management efforts and can allow leaders from multiple functional areas to get a significant risk on the radar of decision-makers. 

    Example: One leader got approval for annual funding for a significant risk because it was being addressed institutionally, rather than by a single department. The leader was able to include risk management initiatives as part of the institution’s strategic planning and obtained a budget line item by demonstrating the impact of the risk on the entire institution, rather than the leader’s department alone.  
  • Brand your ERM efforts. Since the term ERM can sound corporate, consider renaming your risk management efforts to fit your culture and programs. Institutions have used names like “community of care team,” and “U-ROC” (which stands for University Risk Oversight Committee). One K-12 independent school called it “school-wide risk management.”  
  • Look at risk trends. Share stories with real-world examples of the incidents or claims your peers have regularly encountered. Have this as a standing item on the agenda and address incidents that have happened since you last convened, how the event was handled, its impact on operations, and what changes your institution could make in responding to a similar event. Examining trends can help you identify — at the institutional level — policy, training, or process improvements.

    Consider conducting a tabletop exercise using a scenario from UE’s virtual tabletop exercises library to discuss risk trends. 
  • Validate your efforts. Enlist help from an external and reputable party to support your efforts. Adminstrators’ perceptions often shift when an external party or independent expert becomes involved. A risk manager who recently consulted United Educators’ (UE’s) Risk Management team on the institution’s ERM efforts commented: “Someone external helps validate our approaches and grabs the Board’s attention.”  
  • Benchmark Your Progress. Using the risk management topic selected (see the above lesson “Start Small”), compare or audit your institution’s progress against promising practices for managing that risk. Sources of promising risk management practices might be found in UE checklists on a particular risk, UE insurance applications, the practices of peer institutions or from authoritative sources

    Avoid getting too specific which may deter those who are less interested or knowledgeable on the particulars. The goal is to generate a conversation with your leadership on how you are currently investing in this area and how can you do better.  

ERM success requires support and engagement at all levels of your institution. Adopting these successful and proven approaches can help. Have you been successful with a different approach that you’d like to share? Email UE’s Risk Management team at risk@ue.org and share your story or seek our help with your ERM efforts. 


More From UE 

Report on Risks to Set Goals, Gain Buy-In, and Document Efforts 

Three Keys to a Successful ERM Program 

Higher Ed: Use a Maturity Tool to Advance the ERM Process 

K-12: Use a Maturity Tool to Advance the ERM Process 

Crisis Response: A Library of Tabletop Exercises 


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