The American fire service focuses its members on the tactics and strategy they confront daily in responding to all-hazard emergencies, ranging from the simple to the complex. However, the increasing complexity of operating in the new economy has challenged the fire and emergency service and most other industries in the areas of service and production.
The operating environment for leaders in the 21st-century fire service involves unprecedented financial compression, generational workforce transformation, explosive technological influences, heightened public accountability and transparency, to name a few.
These daunting challenges require leaders at all levels who have both the education and experience needed to prepare them and their organizations to successfully meet the challenges.
Many businesses have been built by visionary CEOs who drove their organizations to high-performing results but neglected succession as part of their vision and responsibilities; these companies often floundered, and some simply failed. The fire service has a roadmap for developing its officers in place; the fire officer pyramid provides transitional tools necessary to develop leaders from the tactical to strategic level.
In addition, many educational programs exist for administrative management, from the vocational/technical level through the graduate level, and in many mediums, from traditional education to distance learning.
Other opportunities exist at the national level through the National Fire Academy. The Center for Public Safety Excellence’s Chief Fire Officer credentialing process also provides an excellent roadmap for necessary core competencies for leading the fire service in these times.
The challenge for many organizations is providing adequate learning experiences to future leaders. Current fire service leaders have a responsibility to their organizations' success to identify learning opportunities and to proactively include developing leaders in those opportunities.
This requires organizational commitment to ensure that an organization's future leaders are not only supported with appropriate educational opportunities, but are also allowed to participate in or observe the processes of leading an organization.
Examples of potential learning opportunities include dealing with fiscal management and such human-resource issues as fitness for duty, grievance/arbitration resolution and collective bargaining, as well as other administrative responsibilities.
The temptation in many organizations is to defer such responsibilities to seasoned officers and executives who have the most experience, which of course is appropriate. However, the challenge is including the next generation of leaders who can best be developed to succeed.
Providing the necessary education and experiences in the next generation's leadership toolbox is a hefty responsibility for current leaders, no matter where they're leading in the organization. This is an excellent opportunity to assess how you and your organization are doing at developing future leaders. A succession assessment lets leaders review how successful they are in preparing those coming up the career ladder in all areas of the organization.
Flight instructors know the importance of letting student pilots assume the flight controls under the watchful eye of a seasoned instructor so the students can learn the mechanics of flying. Fire departments are no different!