The Risk of No or Low Risk Tolerance

Last year I was fortunate enough to participate in a youth leadership project to Timor Leste. Through the Scouting movement I spend two weeks with a group of teenagers that did a community project in the high country of Timor Leste. For the project there was a comprehensive risk management plan that was conducted to ensure the success of the project and the safety of the people involved. As we travelled around Timor Leste, it was very clear that the risk management practices in Timor Leste were either limited or non-existent.

In Australia we have tendency to have a very low tolerance to risk and many organisations are becoming very risk adverse. As I train in Risk Management and I have observed many organisations use the risk management process to cancel or terminate activities in order to avoid short term risks to the organisation. However what is the long term impact on reducing these short term risks?

When in Sweden two years ago at the World Scout Jamboree, I had the opportunity to camp with group of Norwegian Scouts for a couple of nights. These youth members were aged between 10 and 14 years of age. Despite their age, these youth members all had the skills, knowledge and ability to competently operate axes, large bush knifes and gas stoves without direct supervision. Some of the teenagers from Australia that I was traveling with expressed their concern over operating all these tools themselves, despite being senior in age.

Have we created a cotton wool environment where people are losing their skills?
Does this low risk tolerance lead to a loss of opportunity?
Are we creating a greater structural Risk?

I would like to challenge you to review your tolerance and approach to risk. For myself, it is not about increasing risk levels, but more about better up skilling staff to deal with risks. For example instead of avoiding an activity due to the risk level, is there a way that we can provide support staff to face risk. Would providing more opportunities for our staff to deal with risk actually reduce our risk in the long term?

For example the road system in Australia is far better than the road system in Timor Leste, especially in the high country of Timor Leste. Due to the risker roads in Timor Leste, I found that our drivers in Timor Leste drove differently than the drivers in Australia. In Timor Leste the drivers had a greater level of situational awareness for the other traffic (foot, bikes, cars, trucks and buses) on the roads, they paid more attention to the road, they had a greater respect for other drivers and were more focused on the driving task. This seemed to result in quicker response times and a high skil level for the Timor Leste drivers.

While in Australia my experience is that drivers tend to as a group take greater risks than drivers in Timor Leste. This seems to be a result of having better roads. Through greater risk management in Australia and having better roads, has resulted in safer roads overall, in my opinion it has also led to a lower skill level for our drivers than the drivers in Timor Leste. In fact many Australia’s would lack the confidence or skill level to drive in Timor Leste’s high country. So does this mean that our safer roads in Australia, have created a risk for our drivers when driving overseas?

What can be done to ensure that as we create safer environments for ourselves and our organisations? How do we ensure that we do not create a risk of deskilling our staff in critical areas? I propose the following:

  • That we provide opportunities for our staff to take risks and learn from these experiences. A certain tolerance to mistakes and failure is important to ensure that our people understanding that taking calculated risks are an important part of growth and development.
  • Provide educational and training opportunities that develop skills of staff and enable them to take on greater levels of risks and opportunity.


I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you support your people to take risks as part of a calculate approach to seizing opportunities?
  • How do you handle failure among your team?
  • What opportunities do you provide to your staff to learn, grow and develop?


©Attila &Kim Ovari 2013. The content of this Article may be reproduced with permission of the author, Attila Ovari. Created 10Jul 13. This article first appeared in the EZine The ExtraMILE.

  1. This article is very timely for me, and I am considering sending the link to my colleagues. I couldn’t agree with you more. Creating safety isn’t about becoming completely risk averse, it’s about creating opportunities, offering support and up-skilling. Thank you for sharing.

  1. Pingback: The Risk of No Risk… | Attila Ovari

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