Public Safety Insights Newsletter: Succession: No More Excuses

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July 15, 2015 VOLUME 3, ISSUE 13
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Succession: No More Excuses
Public Safety Insight: For over fifty years, fire and rescue professionals have bemoaned the lack of effective succession processes in their agencies. For the good of your community, it’s time to dump the excuses and start focusing on what you CAN do rather than on what you think you can’t do.


Recently I facilitated a workshop called "How to Develop and Implement an Effective Succession Process" for the IAFC’s Fire Service Executive Development Institute. I was told that before their graduation from the program, all 22 participants, who represented a wide range of agency sizes and types, committed to taking action to implement a succession process in their agencies. Why? Because they learned that there really are no excuses for failing to staff the critical jobs, provide the critical functions, and perform the critical skills that keep their communities safe, healthy, and economically viable.

I define "effective succession process" as a long-term, systematic process for ensuring a pool of qualified applicants who can hit the ground running when vacancies arise in critical jobs, critical functions, and critical skills throughout an organization. Below are some common excuses for failing to implement an effective succession process, and reasons why they are not credible.

"I don’t have the resources." Like the ICS, a succession process is scalable. That means that whatever the situation in which you find yourself, you use the resources you have at hand while waiting for others to arrive (if they do).

"I can’t do everything an effective process requires." There are elements of a succession process that EVERY public safety agency can implement, regardless of its size and type. Identify what you can do right now, and what elements can be done in the medium- and long-term. Succession is a process, not an event or task.

"It’s tough to justify resources for things people can’t see." Educating decision-makers is a key leadership responsibility. Teach them that public safety agencies without effective succession processes leave the community – and its protectors – unnecessarily vulnerable.

 "I don’t have the time; I’m too busy putting out literal and figurative fires." EVERY employee has a vested interest in succession, and each one has a role to play. Delegate tasks while retaining overall accountability and responsibility. Your agency’s ability to serve your community well depends on the extent to which it is able to staff critical jobs, provide critical functions, and perform critical skills.

"I’m working on a succession plan." This is the most deadly excuse. Planning and implementation are two different concepts. Until you put the plan into action, your community remains vulnerable.

It’s time to stop the excuses and start the implementation. Here are some steps you can begin to take TODAY:            

  1. Identify the critical jobs, functions, and skills throughout your agency.
  2. Establish a formal or informal mentoring program.
  3. Create a public safety "big picture" such as a safe, healthy, economically viable community, and work backwards from there to identify what you can do to achieve it. Make that big picture the touchstone for everything you do.
  4. Put in place mechanisms to capture and share institutional knowledge so you’re not constantly re-inventing the wheel.
  5. Focus on what you CAN do instead of what you think you cannot.

To see what an ideal succession process might include, take our Succession Process Self-assessment. If you’d like to learn how to identify the critical jobs, functions, and skills in your agency, take a look at our article Organizational Effectiveness Triage.

To find 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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