One of the pressing topics within the actuarial community is how to grow and develop good actuaries into great managers. The actuarial profession is built upon solid technical skills and ongoing development. An analytical mindset and the ability to comprehend complex data sets and numbers create a firm foundation for any young actuary. However, as individuals step into management roles, they must augment this knowledge with leadership skills to be truly successful.
Actuaries continue to increase in demand, as organizations recognize the value of their core skills outside of traditional areas such as pricing and modeling. As a result, it’s becoming much more common for actuaries to need to lead larger teams, and even teams that expand outside of the actuarial space. Effectively conveying complex concepts and inspiring excellence from both actuaries and non-actuaries is essential for these individuals.
In addition to the expansion of actuarial roles and responsibilities, there’s a continued mid-level actuarial talent gap. Current leaders must focus on growing and retaining these mid-career individuals by providing development opportunities and setting them up for success within the managerial ranks. As the role of the actuary shifts, a variety of skill sets and attributes are necessary to be most effective. In our experience, there are a few areas that can take technically skilled actuaries to the next level in their careers, while driving their organizations toward business goals.
Areas of Focus
The role of the actuary is expanding and skills such as being able to tell a story around data, influence outcomes and lead effective teams are becoming more important than ever. Depending on the situation and team, a variety of soft skills can help launch actuaries into the realm of great leadership. Here are a few that are in high demand and can greatly impact an actuary’s career trajectory.
Being able to adapt and redirect a team’s focus is essential in today’s working environment. Artificial intelligence and technological advancements are changing how actuaries work and expanding their capabilities. Reskilling and upskilling have also become common for actuaries to remain relevant and knowledgeable, while avoiding skills gaps. In the evolving environment, the ability to quickly learn new programs, integrate newly available information and even adjust project scope are vital.
Ability to Think Big Picture
Especially within project-focused teams, it can be easy to operate with a narrow, tactical focus. However, in addition to solving immediate challenges at hand, true leaders consider longer term impacts and anticipate potential roadblocks. It’s important for actuarial leaders to consider all stakeholders, as well as how those stakeholders will be impacted and their abilities to influence outcomes.
The days of the back-office actuary are over. Today’s actuarial leaders must effectively communicate with a variety of audiences, from organizational leadership to their own employees and peers. Well-honed presentation skills and the ability to facilitate meetings and conversations in person, remotely and in hybrid environments are crucial. Additionally, effective actuarial leaders must be able to break down data and share it in a way that is digestible and enables those outside of the actuarial community to understand its importance and impact.
In the pandemic’s wake, employees’ expectations around empathy are shifting. Rather than focusing on set rules and processes, leaders across all insurance functions must be in tune with employee needs. The ability to listen to employees, accommodate their unique situations and continue to meet business goals, is becoming a mark of a great leader and essential to retention efforts.
As a current actuarial leader, ensure individuals on your team are given opportunities to flex their interpersonal skills while continuing to build technical competencies. Allow team members to run meetings with varied audiences, and encourage them to step up and participate in high-visibility projects. Early on in actuaries’ careers, even before they are on the management track, include soft skills in their career development plans in parallel with technical expertise.
Provide exposure to other areas of the organization.
Learning how other departments operate will help create a more comprehensive understanding of the business. This helps provide insight into stakeholder objectives and builds awareness of other departments and their goals. This may also include cross-training and reskilling opportunities, as business needs expand and evolve.
Offer management training.
Create career development plans that include training for management and leadership skills. Individuals are seeking support as they move to the next level in their careers and clear professional paths play a large role in employee retention. Ensure your future leaders are set up for success and have the training and skills necessary to thrive.
Allow people to fail fast.
Give employees the opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and take on stretch projects and other challenges. In the actuarial space, there has always been an emphasis on being correct; however, this can be a hindrance as individuals grow into leaders. Encourage stepping into unfamiliar territory and increase their comfort levels around making and learning from mistakes. Demonstrate you have confidence in your team and their leadership potential, and that you’ll continue to support them as they grow.
Prioritize leadership development.
Often, pressing projects and initiatives can cause development and training opportunities to be pushed aside or neglected. Ensure you’re prioritizing your next generation of actuarial leaders and providing them with the skills and knowledge to effectively lead teams and move to the next phases of their careers. A strong leadership pipeline should be a department-wide priority.
As the role of the actuary transforms and continues to grow in scope and demand, strive to create a sustainable bench of future leaders. Emphasize soft skills in addition to technical skills, support growth and development in all areas, and embrace opportunities to provide learning experiences and unfamiliar challenges. By prioritizing leadership development, the industry will be well-positioned to take on future needs with capable and effective leaders at the helm.