In the previous article in this series on managing fire service politics, we explored the need to build and nurture relationships. To accomplish this, it's essential that a consistent message is communicated from the fire chief down. Hearing one voice engenders trust and credibility among stakeholders. This third set of tips highlights gaining buy-in:
- Develop talking points that focus on results, not on methodology or activities. Communicate them often, consistently and through various media. Make sure they answer the question, "What's in it for me?" so you get and hold stakeholders' attention.
- Invite the public into your organization. Create a process by which they can provide meaningful feedback so they feel they're heard. Even if a decision or outcome isn't what they want, they will accept it if they believe the process by which the decision was made was fair; that is, it was transparent, without bias and with a feedback mechanism for those affected.
- Meet with every homeowner, business and civic group in your area. Stop by from time to time just to say hello. They'll appreciate your presence.
- Speak to the concerns and issues of your stakeholders by putting yourself in their shoes. This will increase interest in what you have to say and willingness to work with you. For example, businesspeople want to know the fire chief can speak knowledgeably about financial matters and how the department contributes to the community's economic viability. Residents want to feel their fire department will be there when they need it. Elected officials want to be able to show how their constituents benefitted from their actions and decisions, so make sure you acknowledge the roles they play in providing resources.
- Never underestimate the political influence of residents. They can be your advocates or your adversaries: your relationship with them may decide which role they play.
- Pay attention to the often unspoken, emotional side of an issue. Underneath some of the most contentious differences are fears or concerns that, if acknowledged and addressed, can result in resolution rather than resistance. Seek others' interests rather than taking their stated positions at face value.