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Risk Management

How to Apply Enterprise Risk Management in K-12 Education

Cyberattacks, sexual abuse and molestation, and violence all pose significant risks for K-12 school districts, but what is the best approach to managing them? Integrating an ERM program can help identify risks before they become a serious problem.

February 26, 2024

An enterprise risk management (ERM) approach uses a collaborative, accessible, consistent, and mission-focused process to help organizations make better decisions. Its application can be a powerful tool for school districts to proactively address challenges and safeguard their reputation and resources.

“Creating a safer environment for students, staff, and the community is at the heart of an appropriately strategized ERM program,” said Sara Gibson, Senior Risk Service Manager at Safety National. “This cohesive risk management structure can help identify and mitigate risks related to accidents, injuries, violence, and data breaches, and then develop action plans to address these emerging threats.”

These eight steps can help build your district’s ERM approach.

1. Create a business case.

Leaders will need to understand the actualized benefits of an ERM approach. Risk managers will need to stress the importance of the following benefits:

  • Better decision-making and management practices
  • Reduced reactive and corrective efforts to problem-solving
  • Stronger stakeholder communications
  • Increased staff engagement and coordination throughout the organization
  • Improved culture
  • Alleviated concerns for the risk-averse, like a school board

2. Express your commitment to ERM.

The most effective approach must include buy-in from everyone responsible for risk. Support from the district superintendent and school board is paramount to a program’s success. Ensure that the financing and staffing details required for maximum efficiency are included when presenting the plan.

3. Consider the structure.

Every district’s needs will differ, but the groups included in the development, implementation, participation, evaluation, and approval of risks can consist of a school board, an ERM steering committee, senior leadership, working groups, a chief risk officer, and employees. Risk responsibilities should be assigned based on current role requirements, including strategizing, setting risk appetites, monitoring, and communicating risks.

 4. Apply risk management to decision-making procedures.

A threat impact scale can help determine how to prioritize risks based on their impact to reputation, operations, people, and finances. For example, a severe injury could significantly damage a district’s reputation with negative publicity, with weeks of disruption, affecting employee retention and budgets. Conversely, an opportunity impact scale can assess the effects on those same categories through improved risk management.

5. Describe how you will manage risks.

Once risks have been thoroughly analyzed, there should be a plan to manage them. Options can include:

  • Avoiding the risk
  • Eliminating the risk
  • Reducing the occurrence or consequences
  • Sharing or transferring the risk
  • Accepting the risk

6. Establish accountability and performance measures.

Measuring accountability in an ERM program is crucial in demonstrating its value, but responsibilities will vary based on role. Some of those assigned duties can include:

  • All employees: Identifying hazards and areas of opportunity
  • Management: Ensuring ERM is part of all key decisions and business processes
  • Senior management: Applying resources to support ERM and effective performance
  • Oversite committee: Monitoring the ERM program as a whole

Accountability measurements can be tracked through software like Power BI, which can help in risk identification, ranking, evaluation, and actions.

7. Communicate

Encourage open communication about risks at all levels, but ensure that there are channels for reporting concerns, asking questions, and sharing information without fear of repercussions. Tailoring communication strategies can also help different stakeholder groups when considering their specific needs. Updates on program goals should be timely and proactive with well-established frequencies.

 8. Look ahead.

When planning for an ERM program’s future, use different perspectives. Consider its trajectory and what maturity will look like. Understand how employee awareness and engagement will grow. Examine how it will integrate with district goals and its reach when including new stakeholders.


For more expertise, guidance or resources on this topic, please contact [email protected].