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12 skills business continuity managers need to succeed

Communication, collaboration, IT expertise and project management are key skills that business continuity managers must have to efficiently lead a BCDR team. Here's why.

The business continuity, disaster recovery and resilience professions have matured, and face a challenging future....

Resilience has taken on various forms, and an evolving set of potential disruptive events face business continuity managers.

Numerous domestic and international standards, regulations, laws and guidance, available to business continuity managers, govern all aspects of the profession. Training and certification programs help new professionals fine-tune their skills, and many software products provide assistance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, BCDR professionals had no formal training. Most learned through experience, attending conferences and seminars and reading books on the subjects. No specific education or knowledge was needed, although many of the early practitioners had IT backgrounds.

Today, professional accreditations, certificates and college degrees are available for business continuity professionals. Current events, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and a rise in ransomware, along with evolutions in BCDR technology, have changed the way managers approach business continuity.

For those already in a business continuity manager role or looking into one, the following skills are essential:

  • communication of BCDR plans and standards;
  • collaborating through diverse channels;
  • business impact and risk analysis;
  • project management;
  • IT skills;
  • measuring risk;
  • auditing across a range of BCDR areas;
  • financial analysis;
  • emergency management;
  • consensus-building, for programs and tools;
  • adaptability to advance BCDR goals; and
  • empathy.

1. Communication

Speaking and writing skills are essential for a business continuity manager who prepares a variety of documents: policies, BCDR plans, procedures, standards and reports. Communications skills are also critical to develop and deliver educational programs to BCDR teams. Business continuity managers should put on programs such as seminars, webinars and podcasts. They also plan and promote BCDR awareness activities, such as presentations, emails and bulletins. Communication skills also pay off to reinforce the value of a BCDR/resilience program throughout the company, especially to senior management.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is a critical skill set, and this fact was apparent in the corporate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More people than ever began to work remotely and through different collaboration systems, such as Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams. Business continuity managers must effectively plan, lead and follow up on meetings, as well as generate post-meeting action plans. They perform these actions with remote employees, as well as those collocated with them.

3. Business analysis

Business analysis skills help managers understand how the company operates, how different elements interact and how the organization implements strategies. The ability to plan and execute the business impact analysis (BIA) and risk assessment is among the most important skills for business continuity managers. These activities provide valuable insights into how the organization operates and identify internal and external situations that could affect the continued operations of the business.

Because BCDR/resilience programs are major initiatives, strong project management skills are essential to plan, organize and manage these complex projects.

4. Project management

Because BCDR/resilience programs are major initiatives, strong project management skills are essential to plan, organize and manage these complex projects. Expertise with project management software complements these organizational skills, as does professional accreditation as a project manager. Business continuity managers can obtain the Project Management Professional certification from the Project Management Institute, Certified Project Manager credential from the International Association of Project Managers, or the PRINCE2 certification from ILX Group, for example.

5. IT knowledge and experience

Disaster recovery has evolved to focus largely on IT planning and operations. Business continuity managers must ensure that their teams can protect and recover essential IT resources. IT experience is also important for BCDR and resilience professionals because of how IT supports the business processes used in the organization. But BCDR and resilience are not just about technology. Professionals in these fields must understand how the business operates, the roles employees have in the business, and the many different assets the business uses.

Expertise in business and IT is crucial for people in the BCDR and resilience professions. Thanks to numerous certifications and degrees available today, those entering the BCDR fields bring both business and IT knowledge to the table.

6. Risk-related prep and reporting

BCDR and resilience activities focus on preparation for risks, threats and vulnerabilities that could disrupt business operations. A risk assessment is one of the key initial activities in this area, along with a BIA. Knowledge of how to perform risk assessments, obtain risk data -- such as actuarial tables and insurance underwriting data -- and prepare risk tables and other relevant reports is increasingly essential.

7. Auditing

Auditors -- especially IT auditors -- focus on management and operational controls. They also examine the procedures that ensure the business functions are in alignment with recognized process controls, operational metrics, standards and regulations. Auditing skills are important when examining BCDR and resilience plans, technology applications, performance exercises, BCDR training and awareness programs, and other activities regarding compliance with standards and good practice.

8. Financial analysis

Business continuity managers need to understand the financial implications of emergency situations to an organization. It is particularly useful when performing a BIA. They must identify the financial impact of specific disruptive events and present that data to senior management. Financial prowess is also helpful when evaluating proposals from vendors for BCDR and resilience.

9. Emergency management

Often a disruptive event is not just an IT issue but may be part of a larger emergency that requires a coordinated response. Emergency management skills are useful for business continuity managers to have, so they can prepare and carry out incident response plans and other activities for the early stages of a crisis. Well-designed incident response and emergency management plans can mitigate the severity of a disaster far better than if no such plans were available.

10. Advocating

Not everyone is a natural salesperson, but the ability to convince senior management of the value and benefits of a BCDR/resilience program is essential for business continuity managers. The key way to build this skill is to understand what must be done for BCDR/resilience, and then develop and deliver the message in a compelling and professional manner. Learn how to handle objections and convince management of the benefits of the proposed program. When a bit of salesmanship is coupled with good communication and presentation skills, business continuity managers can make an effective case for their recommendations.

11. Persistence

The ability to keep moving forward with a BCDR program, despite pushback from senior management and other senior leadership, is another important skill. BCDR team leaders must be prepared to accept defeat, regroup and revise the message, update the financials and justification for expenditures and effort, and lobby decision-makers again.

12. Empathy

Disasters are events that affect people, as much as they do business and operational events. The ability to put oneself in the place of others and understand their concerns and issues is an increasingly important skill for BCDR and resilience professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted empathy in corporate settings. Many organizations chose to allow employees to work from home for an extended period rather than require them to return to the office. This setup enabled employees to make their own decisions regarding personal issues, such as childcare and potential exposure.

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