How to Do the Best Risk Assessment

by Dr Rob Long on September 14, 2015

in Psychology of Safety and Risk,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Robert Long

How to Do the Best Risk Assessment

Kudos to anyone who can articulate the full meaning of the photo…….

crystal ball risk assessment 1A risk assessment is a form of strategic planning and strategy methodology. The process attempts to think about the future by reflecting on the past. Most strategies are built upon specific beliefs about the future unfortunately, the future is unpredictable. The worst risk assessment is the one that denies the reality of unpredictability. Zero ideology and language help foster the denial of unpredictability.

The best risk assessment is the one that prepares and focuses on resilience. Adopting a framework that assumes absolute control, no mistakes, projecting value onto some score, colour or measurement creates a strategy that makes it more difficult to adapt when turbulence or change arrives. The key to managing risk is not fixity but adaptability.

A risk assessment is not a mathematical or engineering exercise but rather a human social process that should focus more on conversation than some shifting of colours and scores that have no meaning. Risk assessment should be a conversation and dialogue about the subjective understanding of uncertainties. It was Karl Weick who constantly stated: ‘I can’t know what I believe until I see what I do’. This means, as humans we have unlimited hindsight but very limited foresight. When we talk about what we have done, we rationalize backwards, when we talk about what we might do we imagine what might happen. Humans are not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Setting zero goals may be good for god but doesn’t make sense for humans.

The risk assessment exercise is a thinking conversation and strategic task, if we think it is an engineering and mathematical task, we are in trouble. The notion of ‘controlling’ the unexpected and uncertainty actually diminishes any thought about adaptability and resilience. So whilst it is helpful to talk about the future, this helps us imagine and process possibilities but not certainties. Rather, having a focus on resilience and skills of adaptability we might be more able to manage the unexpected.

The best risk assessment should have a section at the end for thinking, learning, conversation outcomes, dialogue, adaptability and resilience thinking. What is the discourse of the risk assessment tools you use in your workplace? What kind of thinking do they drive? Are they making you adaptable and resilient or closed and fixed? Are we any safer by trying to predict the future? Or are we making our workplace more ‘fragile’ (Taleb) to surprise so that when that surprise comes, things fall apart rather than hold together?

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.
  • As time goes on, relying on the past to predict the future will become an increasingly risky choice, because everything is changing at an accelerating rate. Planning itself is less reliable as a tool, because there are so many factors outside our / organisational control. We need to develop better management tools, criteria and approaches, including a better option than the inclination to blame when things don’t go to plan!

    • Absolutely! Ask any parent about how many different ways kids can get into trouble these days! Gigerenzer’s “Risk Savvy” has some great examples of how easy it is for bankers, stock brokers and other professionals and experts to get it completely wrong when they rely on past data to predict future exposures


    Totally agree, the risk assessment is something dynamic. My experience in the field, more than 10 years, has shown me that when we analyze their workplace hazards can have a methodology that is generally applied.

    If no positions all parameters under consideration certainly no problem.

    Dozens of times are forced to xanepistrepseis back and see things, events, situations details that may have eluded you and basically is the essence.

    The conclusions substantially and measures occupy a small part of the whole work.

    The analysis, however, the rationale should be understood by all.

    The revised periodically necessary. Sure incorporating guidance on safe working or sometimes incorporate more into one.

    The more experience the workplace, the more intense is the demand for a revision of a freshener.

  • I often tell the people in my team the value in the risk assessment is the discussion, not the score. I ask them to have the correct people around the table to have the right discussion, and having a critical person in the team is more often than not an advantage. I am glad this approach has been validated in this post (by someone whose opinion I value highly). I also believe there is value in the discussion, even if there is no outcome. (This sometimes happen when one discusses a problem that does not have a clear answer.) I feel that, because the discussion happened, the mind is “switched on”, and this carries over to the workplace. I think we are sometimes so focused on the outcome, we forget the value of the journey (the discussion). Don’t get me wrong, we need outcomes, but sometimes not getting an outcome is acceptable, if the discussion provided enough interaction and thought.

    • Rob Long

      Well said Wynand. The discussion also primes the unconscious and sows seeds (ideas and images) in the mind from the discussion that pop back into consciousness as they work.

  • Rob Long

    Hey Dave, is that little red riding potato? and a safety spud head with an elephant nose? Thanks to Col for his comments, I don’t expect anything intelligent or much positive from Linkedin so, a nice surprise.

    • Best I could do at short notice – LOL. That is Safety Elephant, who never forgets, reflecting on the past and consulting with Madam Zelda and her crystal ball for his risk assessment!

      • Rob Long


  • Rob Sams

    Good one Rob, this article makes a lot more sense in the context of understanding Weick’s models of Mindfulness and Sensemaking better as I do now after a few days of intensive learning

  • A positive comment from LinkedIn:

    I find that an “occupational hazard” of being a safety knob is the inclination to nit-pick, particularly when it comes to us talking amongst ourselves about safety stuff. Long’s article and observations, for mine, are flawless. Final comment: “hear hear”. – Col Finnie

Previous post:

Next post: