Risk Facilitation Made Easy



Dr David Hillson PMI Fellow, HonFAPM

aka The Risk Doctor

Petersfield, UK


A skilled facilitator is a key success factor in ensuring that groups function well together. The root of the word “facilitate” is the Latin facilis, which means easy, so a facilitator is supposed to make it easier for the group to achieve their intended outcomes. But too often facilitation is seen as a difficult task, and our meetings and workshops struggle to produce valuable results. This is especially true for risk workshops, where the need to work with uncertainty makes things even harder.

This paper starts by explaining the basic theory of facilitation, including the role of the facilitator, and the range of available facilitation styles across the Facilitation Spectrum. Three distinct styles are considered: Directive, Collaborative and Supportive. Guidelines are presented on how and when each style is most useful in the setting of a facilitated risk workshop.

Having laid the conceptual groundwork, the remainder of this paper focuses on practical advice for effective facilitation. Seven types of difficult individual are outlined, with strategies for handling them. Influences on group behaviour are also explored, and the use of applied emotional literacy is explained as a tool for managing group dynamics during the risk workshop.

Finally, the paper presents critical success factors for effective facilitation of risk workshops, challenging those responsible for this vital role to develop and improve their facilitation skills in order to support more successful outcomes.


The Facilitation Challenge

Managing risk is a challenge for many reasons. There are lots of barriers to effective risk management, including organisational, practical, procedural and personal (Hillson, 2011; Hillson & Simon, 2020, pp. 14-17). As a result, many people don’t bother with risk management, or if they do then they see it as a necessary chore or bureaucratic overhead. Too much so-called “risk management” involves simply ticking boxes, going through the motions, attending risk workshops and review meetings, and getting it over with as quickly as possible so we can return to the real job. Whatever this is, it is not managing risk.

There are many ways to overcome the barriers to managing risk properly (Hillson, 2011; Hillson & Simon, 2020, pp. 17-20). One of the most effective is to use a skilled facilitator. The word facilitator has its roots in the Latin facilis meaning “easy” (Collins, 1979). This indicates that the facilitator’s role is to make things easier for others, helping them to achieve their goals as efficiently as possible. A good facilitator understands the barriers and has proven tools and techniques for dealing with them.

Facilitation skills are helpful in a wide range of settings, but they have particular value when we are dealing with risk (Murray-Webster & Pullan, 2022). If we define risk as “uncertainty that matters” (Hillson, 2009, 2019), then both the inherent uncertainty and the potential for significant consequences are likely to make people cautious in the way they approach risk. This will inevitably affect their behaviour in a risk workshop, where they are required to identify risks (which could be seen as an a priori admission of failure or weakness), assess risks (relying on their subjective judgement with which others are likely to disagree), and propose risk responses (which might be turned back on them as risk owners, increasing their responsibility and workload).


To read entire article, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 2015 PMI Global Congress in London, UKAn updated version is published here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Hillson, D. (2022). Risk Facilitation Made Easy; original version published in the Proceedings of the 2015 PMI Global Congress, London, UK; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/pmwj124-Dec2022-Hillson-risk-facilitation-made-easy-2nd-ed.pdf

About the Author

Dr David Hillson, HonFAPM, PMI-Fellow, CFIRM

The Risk Doctor
Petersfield, UK


Known globally as The Risk Doctor, Dr David Hillson is a thought-leader and expert practitioner who speaks and writes widely on risk management. David has a well-deserved 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”.

David has advised major organisations, governments and charities in nearly sixty countries on how to create value from risk using applied risk-based thinking, and his wisdom and insights are in high demand. David has written 14 major books on risk, and he has developed significant innovations that are now widely accepted as best practice. He regularly shares his work through the RiskDoctorVideo YouTube channel, with over 200 videos and more than 1.5 million views.

Dr Hillson has received many awards for his ground-breaking work in risk management. He is a Fellow of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and also an Honorary Fellow of the UK Association for Project Management (APM), as well as a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (IRM).