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The various parts of the designation process look to develop the person as a whole and help set goals and objectives for continuous improvement. While each designation is specific to the field it is focused on, there are similarities among them. These include a personal profile and employment information, letters of reference, professional development, contributions, memberships, affiliations, community involvement and technical competencies. The technical competencies are where you find the greatest difference in each designation area. CFO has 20 competencies, CEMSO 18, CTO 15, FM 17 and FO 12. Each competency is derived from National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) professional qualification standards and related fields.
The technical competencies will help a candidate the most in terms of using the application as a development guide. By reviewing the competencies in the designation related to a particular field and promotional process, an individual can “map” out a path to prepare for the job. Once this is done, the individual seeks those opportunities that will help achieve the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) for each one of the specific competencies. It is also important to note that not just one course may complete one technical competency. It may take several classes to meet various contents within the specific competency itself. For example, in Technical Competency 1, Assessment and Planning for CFO, the learning content or KSAs a person must have include:
“Insurance grading, community and general planning, planning methodologies, demographics, economics, environment, climate, culture, ethnic influences, use of fire management areas, collecting and analyzing data, hazard analysis, change process, trends and patterns.”
A single class most likely will not cover all of the areas contained in this competency. The individual must seek out those opportunities that will provide insight to each area. Programs may include college-level courses in economics, planning and sociology. Classes from the CPSE on strategic planning, standards of cover development, so statistical analysis using Excel would be advantageous. Other related courses could be third-party courses from a Global Information System (GIS) software provider, Insurance Services Office (ISO) or the many other programs that are available.
Using this example it is easy to see that the process lends itself to helping a person develop in a coordinated manner. The various designation programs also make mentoring our future leaders more consistent as well. If a department wants to establish a formal mentoring program, the various designation programs are a great place to start. The applications can be used to help mentor a person in the competencies they need to seek out. It also helps the mentor to see where a person may be deficient and show them opportunities where they can give the person assignments that will help strengthen them within the department. This also coincides with the International Association of Fire Chief’s (IAFC) 2010) Professional Development Model that emphasizes the need to mentor future leaders and provide them real world experiences as well as traditional education, training and certifications.
Navigating the process
Recognizing the potential for the designation process to be a powerful mentoring tool, the CPSE and the CPC set out to develop the FO Bridge Process. Anyone who has completed the Fire Officer designation process is eligible to participate, but only a limited number of applicants are allowed each year. This process, simply put, assigns a mentor to a candidate to help them navigate the process and puts the forethought into helping the person achieve their goals and hopefully the promotion they desire.
The rigor associated with the FO Bridge process is evident in the fact that the program follows the CFO competencies – challenging candidates and helping them prepare for significant leadership opportunities before being promoted formally. This helps the current department leadership adequately prepare the future leaders of the organization. Another benefit of the FO Bridge program is that a person who completes the bridge and obtains a position commensurate with a chief officer is eligible to submit immediately for the CFO designation; upon successful review, the CFO designation is awarded.
With some understanding, planning and forethought, we as current leaders can provide a method to our future leaders and help them attain their fullest potential. Using the various professional development models and the designation processes can help to take the frustration out of developing our future leaders and provide them a clearer picture of what steps they need to take to prepare themselves for the opportunities they seek.