Be Political without Being a Politician: Build and Maintain Solid Relationships

Politics is all about relationships, which makes relationship building and nurturing one of a fire chief's most important functions. Building and maintaining your relationships constitute a process, not a task or an event. Though they require ongoing attention, the payoff is huge.

In this series on managing the political side of fire service leadership, the next set of tips to focus on is about building and maintaining relationships:

  • Build relationships early on and maintain them routinely. Don't wait to get to know stakeholders until you need something from them.
  • Do not try to sell yourself or your department; you won't be successful. Instead, speak about your issues in terms of how they serve the decision-makers' needs and wants.
  • Take the time to develop your staff so they can be fully successful in their roles. Then allow them to shine by making full use of their skills and talents. No fire chief can be successful without the support of his or her team. 
  • Develop a trusting and collaborative relationship with your labor units. They have a very strong voice and can deliver messages and otherwise influence elected officials in ways that fire chiefs can't.
  • Make yourself easily and readily available to stakeholders. The fire chief must be the face of the department and embrace that responsibility. Trusted staff will take care of the operations and keep you informed.
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