Key Skills a Business Continuity Professional Must Have or Obtain: 2011 and Beyond

As with most things in life, one should expect that some business continuity professionals are, and will continue to be, more effective in their role than others. But, why? What skills and attributes determine who will and won’t be most effective?

Based on our work with hundreds of business continuity professionals around the world, we’ve identified the top ten attributes – organized in no particular order – that increase the likelihood of being successful in a preparedness-related role.

A Proposed Job Description
Before introducing our proposed top ten list, it might be helpful to offer a job description that depicts executive management’s expectations of today’s business continuity professional (of note, this job description can be adapted to any level of business continuity professional):

Subject matter expert charged with facilitating the development, implementation and maintenance of preparedness processes and solutions throughout the organization, as well as advising management during a disruption. With the support of a cross-functional team of management representatives and by working with other internal risk management disciplines, the business continuity professional will be successful when the organization is confident it can return to a prescribed level of business performance following a disruption and employees are well-aware of their responsibilities in a crisis situation.

Overall, today’s business continuity professional is an internal consultant charged with improving readiness and the performance of business continuity solutions.

Top Ten Must-Have Attributes
The responsibilities of today’s business continuity professional are diverse, ever-growing and absolutely critical – both before and, certainly, during a disruption (for additional information on this topic please read Are We OK?). In order to lead the development and implementation of pragmatic business continuity processes and solutions, the business continuity practitioner must demonstrate a strong ability to:

  1. Communicate
    Few would argue that the foundation of a business continuity professional’s skill set isn’t an ability to communicate via oral and written means. Beyond the basics, the business continuity professional must have the capability to tailor communications to unique audiences, specifically developing reports and presentations for both senior leaders, business process owners, customers and suppliers (to name a few).
  2. Work with business and technology professionals
    Although our profession grew out of the data center, today’s business continuity professional must not only be able to understand technology, but also understand the business and what drives product/service delivery. Far from being an expert in everything, today’s business continuity professional must have the capability to interact with a wide variety of different competencies in the organization.
  3. Think in terms of processes
    Having a process mindset is a key skill. It sounds simple but, oftentimes, takes years to develop. Ultimately, the business continuity professional must have the ability to dissect complex elements of the organization and define core inputs, activities and outputs (making sure response/recovery plans address each).
  4. Analyze
    Few people have the ability to both think “big picture” and descend into the weeds! The best business continuity professionals do both, understanding organizational strategy and developing an understanding of the inner-workings of the organization to ensure all the details are addressed.
  5. Lead, facilitate and influence
    In many organizations, the business continuity professional is a one-person team focused on preparedness while everyone else has other primary responsibilities. As a result, the business continuity practitioner must become good at leading, facilitating and influencing without direct authority over the personnel participating in the preparedness effort.
  6. Stay organized
    All business continuity professionals are faced with balancing and coordinating many diverse initiatives, and every once in a while a crisis occurs that creates additional challenges. The business continuity professional must excel at multi-tasking and should consider developing best-in-class project/program management techniques to apply to day-to-day tasks.
  7. Sell and motivate
    Planning for disruption is important, but business continuity will quickly be considered a tier-two initiative if the professional lacks the ability to sell ideas and solutions without being perceived as a “the sky is falling” zealot. It’s important to note that the ability to sell includes both the message and the technique used to deliver the message.
  8. Objectively perform cost-benefit analyses and make unbiased recommendations
    Strongly related to selling, business continuity professionals must have the ability to perform a cost-benefit analysis in order to influence change. This means that they must align their recommendations to the organization’s strategic objectives to help ensure management takes action. Again, a simple concept but one that takes practice!
  9. Be creative, while using proven business continuity planning processes
    Let’s be honest, those outside the business continuity profession often struggle with understanding our methodology. Part of this challenge has to do with failing to take the time to educate, part of it is terminology, and another part of it is unneeded complexity. Due to confusion regarding risk management boundaries and approaches, business continuity professionals are often asked to tackle unique problems and come up with unique processes to solve them. The best business continuity professionals stay abreast of new standards and interact professionally with others in order to come up with new and effective ways to increase preparedness.
  10. Learn and understand existing and emerging management practices (management system concepts, ERM, GRC, LEAN, JIT, etc.)
    There are countless management principles and concepts out there, with new ones introduced each year. As such, the business continuity professional doesn’t need to be an expert in each of them, but he/she does need to be familiar with the more important ones. Why? Management has an expectation of leveraging previous analyses and coordinating risk management efforts to introduce efficiency. Plus, management may approach the business continuity professional to engage in discussions regarding the implications of initiatives such as LEAN. Failing to have a working knowledge could easily lead to a credibility gap. Bottom-line: become an avid reader and schedule time with your peers throughout the organization in order to learn as much as possible.

Conclusions
The business continuity professional has an evolving set of responsibilities, and with these changes comes a diverse skill set that contributes to success. Join me at the 2012 Continuity Insights Management Conference in Arizona to hear more about these top ten attributes, as well as recommendations for where to go to develop and refine each skill-set.
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Brian Zawada
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting


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