Company Officer Leadership: Are We Just Checking Boxes?

In the job description for these lieutenant positions, besides generic language such as “has the ability to lift X pounds,” many of the prerequisites listed were related to professional certifications: firefighter I, firefighter II, motor-pump operator and fire officer I.

I found it interesting that there wasn’t a process for quantifying a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) as they relate to the skills and certifications listed in a job description.

For example, having obtained the Fire Officer I certification was a prerequisite, but having actually spent time in a supervisory position wasn’t required.

In addition, for many of the candidates the gap in time between from completion of the Fire Officer I certification and their application for promotion was measured in years.

This raises certain questions.

What is a candidate’s ability to retain the KSAs they’ve learned but haven’t used in years? Is a promotional process in this format responsible for creating a culture of box-checking?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against professional certifications or having prerequisites. But, one of the most common things I hear about new lieutenants is how difficult it is to go from buddy to boss.

This is such a big issue that a number of books, articles and blogs offer advice on how to navigate these treacherous waters. Is the process of box-checking in order to be promoted resulting in less-prepared officers?

Perhaps it’s time that we approach new lieutenants like we do new recruits.

Rather than requiring them to collect certifications when it may be years before they every have the opportunity to use them, we should create a professional-development map that provides prospective lieutenants the opportunity to apply the KSAs as they learn them.

The IAFC’s Company Officer Leadership Symposium and the National Fire Academy’s new Managing Officer Program are both great opportunities for developing new and existing company officers.

For more information on developing company officers, you can also read the applied research project I completed last year as part of the Executive Fire Officer Program by accessing the National Fire Academy’s online resource center.

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