Blog: Risk and responsibility – where does governance end and operations begin?

Managing risk is an ongoing concern and major focus for governance bodies. With increased attention being paid to domestic and family violence (DFV), including the role of workplaces in responding to DFV when it affects their clients or staff, governance bodies need guidance on what their responsibilities are. In the community sector, where DFV affecting our clients is a significant issue, differentiating governance and operational responsibilities is critical.

Governance vs operational responsibilities

When it comes to DFV risks to an organisation’s clients, both the governance body and the organisation’s managers and staff have responsibilities. As in other areas of risk, the governance body has oversight of the risk management system, while staff (both managers and direct service providers) have responsibility for managing risks in practice.

One way to think about this is that while the governance body stipulates how staff can meet their responsibilities, it is staff members themselves who are responsible for identifying and responding to actual DFV risks.

If the governance body doesn’t ensure that appropriate resources and processes are provided to inform and guide staff in meeting their responsibilities, this is a failure of governance. If a staff member fails to respond appropriately when a client DFV risk is identified (or would have been identified had they acted appropriately) despite having sufficient training and resourcing, this is a serious staff performance issue. It does not mean the governance body has failed to meet its responsibilities. (However, they may have a role in investigating and determining the consequences for the staff member or changes to risk management processes that follow investigation into the lapse.)

Governance responsibilities – risk oversight

So, to meet their responsibilities in relation to DFV, governance body members need to:

  • Ensure that the organisation’s staff have the resources they need to meet relevant standards and responsibilities, such as:
    • thorough training in identifying and responding to DFV indicators,
    • strategies for promoting safety and meeting other relevant work health and safety requirements,
    • regular and effective guidance and supervision, and
    • appropriate policies and procedures to inform and guide decision making.
  • Regularly review risks and the risk management strategies in place (just as they must do in relation to other areas of risk).
  • Consider legal requirements and community expectations, then use these to identify areas where the organisation’s strategic direction, policies or procedures need improvement. This includes identifying the risks if improvements are not made to direction, policy or practice. For example, if an organisation does not have an appropriate process for DFV risk screening and response, relevant risks would include failing in duty of care to clients and/or staff, disruption to operations due to avoidable crises, reputational damage from mismanagement, financial problems if current or future funding is withdrawn, legal action if harm occurs to a client or staff member, and so on.

Operational responsibilities – risk response

Managers and staff are responsible for carrying out risk management, including responding to any suspected or confirmed DFV risks. In many community services, this means being aware of DFV risk indicators and following policies and procedures for identifying and responding to indicators, such as:

  • reporting any concerns to their supervisors,
  • linking at-risk clients with DFV specialist services, and
  • reporting child safety risks to the relevant authority.

In services where DFV is the focus or a common client concern (e.g., in DFV specialist services or child and family services), staff and managers have a larger role in responding directly to DFV risks. Services may need to:

  • complete detailed assessments and safety plans,
  • enact additional security protocols, including lockdown procedures where warranted,
  • upskill in documentation regarding DFV risks,
  • develop processes for working with other services (child safety, etc.) where ongoing DFV risk is present,
  • receive training in police and court processes and appropriate supports for clients undergoing these, and
  • make a range of other operational changes.

Guidance for operational considerations can be found in the Queensland Government’s DFV Common Risk and Safety Framework.

Further resources

For a review of risk management responsibilities for governance bodies, see the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute.

For more information on the policy response to DFV and what your organisation can do to increase alignment with governmental and community expectations, see the DFV Prevention Corporate and Community Organisation Engagement Framework 2022-2026.

The Queensland Government also provides resources to raise awareness of DFV in the workplace.