By Jeff Kuhn
Public safety agencies continue to grapple with challenges of effective succession planning brought on by the aging of baby-boomers, early retirements due to budgetary cutbacks, and lack of resources for adequate management training. The responsibility for preparing future leadership within these agencies is most commonly placed in the hands of police, fire and emergency management executives.
But what about the responsibility of the line officer who aspires to leadership in their public safety discipline? What should she or he be doing to prepare themselves for a future leadership role?
Individual preparation for leadership requires active participation in several different activities:
- Read the professional literature and study reports affecting your profession
Incorporate review of relevant trade publications, professional journals and government bulletins into your weekly routine, focusing on proven best practices for addressing challenges within your field.
- Network with peers
Listen, ask questions and offer observations or solutions based on your own experiences, successes or failures. Do not hesitate to assume a mentorship role if the environment is right for it.
- Take a team leadership role in departmental activities as opportunities arise
No one likes a butt-kisser so limit your attention to issues of interest to you within your agency and practice a carpe diem approach when the opportunity presents itself.
- Within the parameters of agency or department policy, utilize the Internet as a resource
Take the time to learn about social media tools and their use to potentially benefit you as a public safety professional as well as your agency.
- Participate in research and report the findings
Take the initiative to research an issue or a challenge that is affecting your agency and develop a report on your findings that includes recommendations for next steps to resolving the issue.
- Serve as a guest lecturer and/or accept invitations to speak
Community colleges, public schools and organizers of local conferences and seminars are always looking for representatives from the public safety community to talk with their students and trainees. Check with your community or public information officer about these opportunities.
- Participate and lead in civic opportunities within your community
Join the parent-teacher organization at your child’s school and participate in volunteer civic organizations. Take a leadership role in these groups.
- Attend voluntary as well as mandatory in-services
Look for opportunities to attend training sessions on a regular basis and participate in those sessions as much is reasonable to do so.
- Add to your formal education
Many public safety executives have completed graduate degree programs in some aspects of business, leadership, management, public administration or similar areas of academic study. When these same executives consider the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for ascension to the ranks of supervision and management, all other things being equal, formal education will be a differentiator.
Ultimately, earning a potential leadership role within the succession plan of your agency is partially within your control. Simply doing what is expected of you and even being the best at what you do may not be enough. Help yourself by increasing your value to your agency. Take steps to understand what makes your agency successful, assume responsibilities that help contribute to that success, expand your knowledge, skills and abilities and be proactive by communicating your intentions to those who are in a position to know what you are doing.
~ Jeff Kuhn is a former Federal Special Prosecutor who has taught at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is also a former Senior Court Executive with the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts. Prior to his practicing law, he completed his legal education while serving as a probation officer, working with a high-intensity case load. Kuhn is currently the Associate Vice-President, Business Development for the Public Safety and National Security Sectors at American Military University.