Interview with David Hillson


Risk Is Uncertainty that Matters

Interview with Dr. David Hillson

The Risk Doctor
London, United Kingdom

Interviewed by Yu Yanjuan
Journalist, Project Management Review: PMR (China)


Introduction to the interviewee

David Hillson (CMgr, FRSA, FIRM, FCMI, HonFAPM, PMI-Fellow) is known worldwide as “The Risk Doctor”. In his eyes, a doctor is a trusted professional who helps you when you have a problem that needs his expertise, especially if you’re not sure what’s wrong. That reflects his role very well. “Doctor” also introduces ideas of consulting, diagnosis, treatment, prevention is better than cure, and promoting wellbeing and health. The medical metaphor works for him on many levels.

David has a reputation as an excellent speaker and presenter on risk. His talks blend thought-leadership with practical application, presented in an accessible style that combines clarity with humour, guided by the Risk Doctor motto: “Understand profoundly so you can explain simply”.

He also writes widely on risk, with eleven major books, and over 100 professional papers. He publishes a regular Risk Doctor Briefing blog in seven languages to 10,000 followers; he has over 4000 subscribers to the RiskDoctorVideo YouTube channel. (www.youtube.com/RiskDoctorVideo).

Dr. Hillson has over 25 years’ experience in risk consulting and has advised leaders and organizations in over fifty countries around the world on how to create value from risk based on a mature approach to risk management, and his wisdom and insights are in high demand. He has also received many awards for his ground-breaking work in risk management over several decades, including “Risk Personality of the Year” in 2010-11, the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award.



Definition of Risks

Q1.      You’ve noted that risks are more than uncertain future events, so what is “risk” by definition in VUCA era?

David Hillson (Hillson):          I start with the idea that risk is “uncertainty that matters”. All risks are uncertain, but not all uncertainties are risks. Most uncertainties don’t matter, and the only ones that we need to consider are the ones that could affect our ability to achieve our objectives. Risks include events that might or might not happen in the future (for example, a key supplier might go out of business), but it also includes non-events, such as variability in tasks that we already plan to do (for example, a trial may take longer or shorter than planned), or ambiguity in key aspects of our projects (for example, we may not fully understand part of the client’s requirement). Variability and ambiguity are uncertainties that matter, but they are not uncertain future events.

There’s a lot of talk about VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) as a framework for identifying and managing risk. VUCA was based on leadership models developed by Bennis & Nanus in 1985, and it was adopted by the US Army War College in 1987 to describe the world after the end of the Cold War. It’s since transferred to the business world, but I’m not a great fan of VUCA as I think it’s an incomplete framework, and it can limit our thinking about risk to just those four categories. But it does help people to think about other types of uncertainty, not just uncertain future events, so that’s a good thing.

Qualities of Risk Practitioners

Q2.      What qualities should project leaders have in order to deal with risks? You’ve said risk leaders need to “dance the TANGO”; what does it mean?


To read entire interview, click here


Editor’s note: This interview was first published in PMR, Project Management Review magazine, China.  It is republished here with the permission of PMR. The PM World Journal maintains a cooperative relationship with PMR, periodically republishing works from each other’s publications. To see the original interview with Chinese introduction, visit PMR at http://www.pmreview.com.cn/english/

How to cite this interview: Yanjuan, Y. (2019). Risk Is Uncertainty that Matters: Interview with Dr. David Hillson; Project Management Review; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue IX, October. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/pmwj86-Oct2019-Yanjuan-Interview-with-David-Hillson.pdf



About the Interviewer

Yu Yanjuan

Beijing, China




Yu Yanjuan (English name: Spring), Bachelor’s Degree, graduated from the English Department of Beijing International Studies University (BISU) in China. She is now an English-language journalist and editor working for Project Management Review Magazine and website. She has interviewed over forty top experts in the field of project management. In the past, she has worked as a journalist and editor for other media platforms in China. She has also worked part-time as an English teacher in various training centers in Beijing. For work contact, she can be

reached via email yuyanjuan2005@163.com  or Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/yanjuanyu-76b280151/.