Fire Politics

Seven Areas of Focus for the Fire Chief

• Employees – Interacting directly with the members of the fire department is important to the fire chief and should be a priority. Depending on the size of the fire department, this can be difficult. Making the effort to periodically meet with the members of the department can send a very positive message. Showing the desire to do so can be as important to the members as the reality of the chief being able to do it regularly. This can be as simple as scheduling opportunities to meet, responding to major emergency incidents, and other ways the fire chief can display concern and respect for the members of the department and what they do.

• Direct reports and management staff – The fire chief must be an effective first level supervisor for his/her direct reports. The chief should also place a priority on ensuring the competent and relevant performance of the department’s management staff. The support of the chief’s direct reports and the rest of the fire department management team will be very important to the fire chief’s success and influence inside and outside the organization. Excelling in this area of focus will impact the ability of the fire chief to lead the department effectively in the short and long terms.

• Community leadership and stakeholders – Interaction between fire chiefs, community leaders and other fire department stakeholders is another critical area of focus. One of the best ways for the fire chief to be viewed as a community leader is for him or her to interact regularly with other community leaders. This can include relationships built through Chambers of Commerce, service clubs, charitable efforts and many other opportunities to be involved. These interactions provide a forum for the fire chief to meet future elected officials and to tell the fire department’s story to current community leaders.

• Family – Being the fire chief is a very demanding job. Sometimes, fulfilling the responsibilities of the position can mean that the chief’s family relationships suffer negative consequences. The job can simply become totally consuming for the chief. Balancing work and family, while still doing the job well, can be a challenge but deserves a great deal of the chief’s attention. Deteriorated relationships with the people closest to us can be a high price to pay for success at work.

Influence is a reflection of leadership capability, and addressing these seven focus areas will enhance the political and operational influence of the fire chief. If any of the seven areas are weakened or ignored, it can negatively impact a chief’s ability to lead the organization. Fire chiefs should do a personal assessment of how they measure up in each of these seven focus areas, and then make ongoing adjustments where necessary and possible. This is not a one-time assessment, but should occur periodically throughout a chief’s career.

Helping future chief officers become aware of these focus areas can also help with their own professional and personal development. Take the time to do the assessment for yourself and encourage future chief officers to do the same. Bottom line, doing this can strengthen the current and future political and operational capability of the fire department – in good times as well as in the more difficult times.






Dennis Compton will present “Raising the Bar for Fire Officer Leadership” and “Progressive Leadership Principles, Concepts and Tools” at Firehouse Expo 2011.