Public Safety Insights Newsletter: Communicator: A Critical Role for Public Safety Leaders

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September 16, 2015 VOLUME 3, ISSUE 16
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Communicator: A Critical Role for Public Safety Leaders
Public Safety Insight: Public safety in the U.S. has been degraded unnecessarily in part because too many leaders lack the level of communication proficiency needed to keep their communities safe, healthy, and economically viable.

One of my workshops at FRI 2015, “Adaptive Leadership Roles for a Dynamic Environment,” identified and described four roles that fire and rescue leaders must fill if they are to keep their communities safe, healthy, and economically viable. Though the names of the roles – communicator, counselor, coach, consultant – are familiar, the skills required to fill them effectively have changed. At the same time, the need for leaders who are proficient in these new skills has never been greater. 

Let’s take the role of communicator. Although it seems obvious that leaders must communicate effectively, the fact is that today, the topics, the communication media, and the need to educate stakeholders all have changed. For example, public safety leaders now must re-direct the public safety conversation from cutting budgets to providing safe environments for people to live and work; educate their communities about the tremendous value they receive in exchange for their investment in salaries and benefits; and create a community of advocates for public safety by creating a compelling public safety “big picture.” They must work with a wider range of stakeholders who are more diverse than ever, and whose expectations are broader than before. They must rely on personal power much more than on position power. And they must start being realistic about their limitations – e.g., lay to rest the myth that they can maintain service levels despite massive resource cutbacks.

Unfortunately many leaders – in general, not just in public safety – are poor communicators. They lose their audiences by focusing on activities rather than on results, by speaking in technical terms or jargon, by using contexts that are foreign to others, and by failing to “connect the dots” between investment and valuable outcomes. As a result, people are confused about what leaders want or need them to do, they aren’t inspired to take action because they don’t see a compelling big picture, and leaders’ intended messages are horribly distorted. Most importantly, public safety in the U.S. continues to be degraded unnecessarily because leaders lack the level of communication proficiency needed to keep their communities safe, healthy, and economically viable.

Here are seven steps you can take to improve your communication skills:

  1. Learn what skills the role of communicator requires.
  2. Assess your proficiency – not just your knowledge – in performing each skill.
  3. Prioritize the skills that you must improve.
  4. Take the steps necessary to increase your proficiency – e.g., through workshops, mentoring, coaching.
  5. Practice the skills at every opportunity.
  6. Ask for constructive feedback from those who are in a position to assess your performance and who will be honest with you.
  7. Teach the skills to others. 

Leaders who become proficient in the skills required of the communicator role will be doing themselves, their employees, and their communities a great service, as people will be able to make informed decisions about public safety.

If you would like to learn more about the behaviors associated with the communicator role, and/or to determine your proficiency in them, take our self-assessment. To read leadership-related articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at

Public Safety Insights is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help first responders maximize their performance. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.


©2015 Pat Lynch | Public Safety Insights

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