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Successfully Transitioning from Company Officer to Chief Officer

June 1, 2010

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issue of On Scene

IAFC On Scene: June 1, 2010

Chief officers are expected to think big picture and strategically, something the company officer is not used to. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to have administrative and program management responsibilities, something most company officers aren’t adequately prepared to immediately handle. This article will provide you with many tips to successfully transition from company officer to chief officer, including not forgetting where you came from and who you ultimately work for, two common mistakes made by some chief officers.

For more on this topic, attend the author’s session, Successfully Transitioning from Company Officer to Battalion Chief, Thursday, Aug. 26 at 3 pm. Check out the complete list of courses in the Chief Officer Leadership Symposium.

Once you’re a chief officer, enjoy the journey; it will go fast.

Realize that the higher up the chain of command you rise, the less people may like you. Don’t try to be liked or everyone’s best friend. Don’t forget: it’s the position or rank they dislike.

Embrace the fact that you’re no longer one of the guys or gals; hopefully you already realized that when you were promoted to company officer.

Instead, try to be respected by your peers and superiors.

Realize you’re more in the spotlight now than you ever were: one wrong word out of your mouth can doom your career or reputation. And one wrong word documented can also doom your career or reputation.

You’re probably going to have to give oral presentations, so learn to be a good public speaker. You’re probably going to have administrative duties, so learn how to create and manage budgets and programs. You’re now one of them—administration; get used to it.

If there was ever a time to be calm, cool and collected at everything you do, this is it! I hope you realize the liability, the commitment and the responsibility you have to your personnel, your community and your department.

Chief Officer Leadership Symposium at Fire-Rescue International. The course is designed to help newly promoted chief officers get the training they need to succeed in their new position. Some of the topics include among others:

  • But They’re My Friends: Transitioning from Company Officer to Chief Officer
  • The Perils and Pitfalls of Employee Performance Reports
  • Fireground Decision Making

The Chief Officer Leadership Symposium offers three days of leadership-level education chief officers can’t find anywhere else. Plus, chief officers get access to all of the FRI workshops and one of the largest exhibit halls in the fire service—there’s no greater value.

Here are some closing thoughts for the newly or soon-to-be promoted chief officer:

  • A chief officer can truly feel stuck in the middle, between line and staff, because you have two primary loyalties.
  • You have to be loyal to both your subordinates and your superiors, not to mention your peers.
  • It’s not “us versus them” anymore; it’s “all of us are in this together” to do what is best for the personnel and communities we serve.
  • Make sure you keep your supervisors in the loop, and know what they expect of you.
  • Don’t be part of the problem; be part of the solution.
  • Don’t allow your personnel to come to you with problems without having thought of at least two solutions.
  • You may not agree with the decisions made above your head; however, once a decision has been made, accept it like it was your own decision.
  • Very few of your decisions require immediate action.
  • When making a decision, ask yourself, “Can I justify it to the public, the department, the union and my family?
  • One wrong decision or choice of words can doom your career and level of respect.

The bottom line is that you had a great deal of responsibility as a company officer. As a chief officer, you have even more responsibility!

Steve Prziborowski is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County (Calif.) Fire Department. He has been a member of the IAFC since 2001.