Executive Officer Leadership: Maintaining Relevance through Culture and Action

Any organization’s leadership will tell you that a key ingredient for sustained success is maintaining a positive relationship with the customer. In our arena, achieving this is essential and the most stable path is through positive culture.

To gage our community relevance, fire-rescue organizations must constantly consider the perspectives of:

  • Community members and visitors we protect
  • Our responders and agencies providing aid to us

It’s critical for a fire-rescue agency to maintain a positive outlook with regard to both perspectives. One isn’t necessarily subservient to the other. Rather, they’re complimentary.

The question we should all ask is, “How is my agency perceived by the public and other agencies?”

The point of public perception may be intuitive: it’s essentially our agency’s reputation within the community. How can we understand what their perception of us actually is?

In our connected society, this measure may be relative to your online presence and gauged by the responses to any postings that include your agency’s name or associated acronyms. A number of tools are available to help you scour the web in your process of assessing this.

However, this isn’t an all-encompassing solution.

One of the best ways to understand your community’s perception of your fire-rescue agency is to integrate your companies into their district.

There are many ways to accomplish this, but let’s focus on two that have demonstrated results in many agencies:

  • Fire/EMS company education for community members
  • Professional association and union activities

With regard to educating community members, we need to be mindful of the second perspective, that of our responders and neighboring agencies.

To be successful, we must first have our own staff of educated and professional firefighters and medical personnel who get it; they understand the cultural values we want to instill throughout the agency and community.

A culture of true intent and desire is reflected at the company level to engage in educating community members on topics ranging from hands-only CPR and bleeding control to smoke detectors and the effects of closed doors in a fire.

The list of topics we can educate the public on continues to grow, but to have the greatest reach with limited resources, we must target the appropriate groups and provide them with engaged and sincere messages.

Don’t try to complete these engagements on a one-and-done basis. Continued interaction with civic, teacher, building and other associations and professional groups in the community is essential to maintaining positive perspective, once it’s been established.

How do professional associations build community relevance for your organization? Successfully translating the positive nature of your agency’s efforts to a positive perception in the community hinges on the culture your leadership has established within your agency.

If your personnel are organized in a professional association, one of the most critical aspects of translating cultural values throughout all positions and views is that the association leaders share your agency’s values. It’s vital that there’s a relationship among leaders and that your organization’s values be translated through the association’s actions.

Why is this important?

There are many reasons, but specific to community relevance, a professional association may be capable of performing acts within the community that your agency simply may not be allowed to perform.

For example, an association may be able to initiate fundraising for specific community-related causes that reflect indirectly on the agency, but directly on its positive cultural values.

An example of this ability could be that when a community member is injured, the association rallies its members to contribute to a fund directly meeting some that person’s needs. Another may be for the association to encourage its members to contribute time or funding to a youth sports program that indirectly benefits the agency’s outreach efforts.

Regardless of the mechanism, the point is that professional associations can act outside the scope of normal governmental operations that an agency operates within. Such acts may communicate the positive cultural attitude of your organization’s members. Undoubtedly such events will translate more successfully to an agency’s community relevance when leaders are on the same page.

Admittedly, these are just two activity types a fire-rescue agency may embrace to engage within its community. Any agency seeking to maintain relevance must be engaged in its community. This is accomplished through leadership participation and a culture that encourages company-level participation and interaction.

Through a comprehensive approach, any agency can affect the community and professional perception of its relevance today.

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