The 7 Qualities Fire Service Leaders Must Possess

(This is part three of a seven-part series on leadership.)


During this series we will be examining the seven qualities that are necessary for a leader to be successful in leading the organization and the team. This issue will focus on Confidence.

You cannot be an effective team leader without being confident. Confidence can be described as a belief in oneself, that one has the ability to meet life’s challenges and to succeed — and acting in a way that conveys that belief. Being confident requires having a realistic sense of one’s predicated knowledge, skills and abilities.

For fire service leaders, a realistic appraisal of your abilities enables you as a leader to strike a healthy balance between over confidence and under confidence. For today’s fire service it is important to understand that too much confidence can come off as cockiness and arrogance. This is an instant turn off of personnel and colleagues. Overestimating one’s predicated knowledge, skills and abilities might also lead to such problems as failing to execute effectively and efficiently on scene, complete projects on time and to be able to truly train your personnel to the level they need to reach. Too little confidence can prevent people from taking risks and seizing opportunities and often failing to engage when they have value to contribute.

Projecting the right amount of confidence helps people gain credibility, make a strong first impression, deal with pressure and tackle personal and professional challenges. This is a balance that may be different in different environments in the fire service so the leader needs to know what level of confidence to exhibit and when. It is also attractive interpersonally, as projecting confidence helps put others at ease, a quality required to be a profound leader.

The best way to ensure a balanced sense of confidence is to assess oneself and the environmental factors realistically.

The Role of Leadership

In today’s fire service it is imperative to understand that confidence is the cornerstone of fire service leadership. I have worked on professional development and fire service leadership for a number of years. During that time I have found that it is easy to teach an individual to be an effective problem solver, to be more decisive, enhance their communication skills, help develop the ability to be an effective coach, the fundamentals of being a mentor and how to affectively hold team members accountable — along with many other fundamentals of leadership — in an effort to help them develop that Leadership Resume that will outlast them individually. What I have found is without that individual/leader first believing in himself or herself, true leadership will exist on in a badge, a nameplate or on an organizational chart with their title on it.

It is important to understand that in the fire service, a leader (aka most times an officer) that is technically qualified (knowledge, skills and abilities) for the position, but lacks confidence, will find it extremely difficult to lead others.

Routinely it is believed that people may think that leaders who are overly aggressive in their communication and/or leadership style have strong confidence. There is a unique balance that must be maintained because when taken to an extreme, leaders who are overly aggressive are even referred to as arrogant, a bully or pompous. Interestingly enough, individuals with strong confidence do not have a need to be overly aggressive to get their goals accomplished, thus making them a strong leader. Leaders who act overly aggressive are actually showing signs of a lack of confidence and a lack of strong confidence.

Today’s fire service personnel desire to work with leaders who are truly confident. There is a natural tendency in our society to trust people more when they appear confident. The fire service personnel, due to the nature of the business, find this to be critical as they connect to leadership. For most of us, dealing with a confident person helps assure us that the person is also competent. Of course, you could argue that someone could be trusted, but not confident, or confident, and not trusted. This could be the case sometimes, but it’s not typical especially in the culture of today’s fire service. Generally speaking, when a leader exhibits confidence, it makes it easier for individuals to trust that leader, and people want to work with leaders they trust.

In reality, self-confidence could be considered a more important asset than skill, knowledge or even experience. In the fire service you can surround yourself with knowledge, skills and abilities, and even though it is important you possess those, the reality is you have to rely on and utilize the talent that your organization has. As a leader it is important to remember that without confidence, you will find it difficult to make tough decisions, lead meetings with authority, get people to communicate with you candidly, and be open to feedback, particularly when it is of the constructive type. Without confidence, you will second guess your decisions and find yourself becoming defensive, when challenged. Without confidence, you may find yourself sadly lacking in one very important component of leadership — followers.

Confidence by leadership has been shown to enhance team member confidence and performance at all levels. When a leader is confident and builds team confidence, team members believe their collective team to be successful and capable of executing and performing at a high level. In this confidence and team building there is a positive impact on performance outcomes.

Most effective leaders are confident and empowered. Empowered leaders leverage strategies to motivate, build confidence and create organizational commitment among their personnel leading to achievement of desired performance objectives. The confidence that is shared allows the team members to be willing to try harder and attempt the uncomfortable. This has a continued effect on individual’s predicated knowledge, skills and abilities as they feel a sense of empowerment through the confidence boost.

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.

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