Are You A Leader or a Manager? There Is a Differenrce

May 1, 2006

How many of you are like me? I love going to fires and really dislike paperwork. Over time, however, I have come to realize the importance of paperwork, and have even become quite talented in that arena. I guess that is how one ends up being an administrator: by default. You do it better than everyone else, and then you end up continuing to do it.

For many of us, the focus of our careers has been in the technical and operational aspects of service delivery. We fight fires or we prevent fires, and we get a great deal of personal satisfaction from what we do. Many of us have spent many decades happily extinguishing fires or doing our best to prevent them.

Unfortunately, we get so wrapped around the wheel of the doing of things that we frequently overlook an important part of fire department operation. I am referring to that boring part of our lives and those of our fire departments which involve creating and using those management functions that let us get the job done. It is far too easy to forget that the excitement of fire combat and the satisfaction of technical excellence come with a price. If we are to continue our commitment to operational excellence, we must understand the need to create an organization capable of getting the job done.

The accomplishment of our protective goals will occur only if our efforts are built on the bedrock of a successful administrative effort. To place the concept of administration in the proper light, it is essential to define my terms. Let me stress that there is a certain plot of common ground whereupon the varied aspects of administration and management coincide with the world of people and things.

Someone must be responsible for creating the vision and defining the organizational mission. These are the people charged with setting the goals and objectives, creating the strategic plans and providing the logistical imperatives for the people who will do the work of the organization. Never confuse the work of a manager with the tasks of a leader. Even though they are both critical to the success of an organization, they work in different ways. I have seen far too many people who have chosen to lump the concepts of leadership and management into the same definition.

Leadership and management require two distinctly different skill sets. Managers manage resources and leaders lead people. While there are those who consider people to be a resource, I would remind you not to make the mistake of lumping people and toilet paper into the same organizational pool. Whether the toilet paper is ordered by a polite person or a pompous person matters not. The toilet paper does not care who is ordering it. As long as it is ordered and paid for promptly, the toilet paper doesn’t care at all. It just moves along happily fulfilling its critical organizational job.

People, on the other hand, are infinitely more difficult to order about. They have feelings, goals and aspirations, both within the service and without. In his book, Fire Service Management (1973), Professor Donald F. Favreau provided one of the simplest and best definitions of leadership. He stated that “leadership is the ability to get something done, by someone else, because he wants to do it.†A good leader creates an environment within which their people prosper and achieve a buy-in to the vision and support provided by the leader.

Even though this column is about administration and management, it is important to define and delimit the breadth of these concepts. They are part of an overall leader/administrator dichotomy. That must be the understood.

An administrator has the responsibility to create an organizational framework wherein the goals and aspirations of the organization and its members have the necessary logistical and administrative support to do their job. A lack of resources will hinder the operation of even the most highly-motivated organization. This issue lies at the heart of management as a field of endeavor. Fire Department Management: Scope and Method (1972) by Chief David B. Gratz defines management as “a dynamic process which effectively utilizes all resources…in the achievement of policy and goals established for the (fire) department.†Gratz proposed that all efforts within the parameters of fire department management fell into four areas:


How often have you heard the axiom that those who fail to plan are planning to fail? My friends, failing to plan is much like starting out on a long journey by car without having studied a map. Hopefully, the top-level management of your fire department will have created a vision for its future success. That will serve as the destination of your journey. The plan which you create for the journey to that destination will be the map that makes your trip easier. Gratz tells us that planning “is nothing more than determining the department’s objectives and deciding the means by which our resources (men, money, and material) may be used in the most effective and economical manner to achieve those objectives.â€

After you have decided on your fire department’s strategic plan, you must gather the requisite people and things to implement your plan. Think of the organizing function as the structure within which you will perform your tasks and achieve your goals. Planning and organizing will require integrating the costs of your operation into a concrete budget. In our book, Management in the Fire Service (1998), Erwin Rausch and I provide a basic, four-step approach to budgeting:


You need to become an expert in using your system, whatever it might be. Learning to manage money is one of the tough nuts that you will have to crack if you want to succeed in running a fire department. But it is an area that can make or break you as a fire service administrator. If you cannot justify your fiscal needs, you will not experience budgetary success.

Let me now outline what constitutes the process of evaluation. Simply stated, it is the measuring of results. To expand the definition for fire service purposes, we can say that evaluating is the measuring of those results that we find, compared against those that we expected to find. It is essential to perform this function if we are to ensure that the planning function of our department is being performed correctly. There is nothing worse than continually producing plans that are never checked for results, validity or resemblance to the real world.

The best way to check for results is to build the evaluation into your plan by using a time line. You lay out all of the tasks in your plan, assign responsibilities and list points in time when results are to be examined. This can be done by using a task analysis and implementation plan.

What is a task analysis and implementation plan?

It is a process that gives you a clear picture of what is going to happen and when it should occur.
It identifies responsibility and approval requirements.
It estimates required funds and personnel costs.
It records decisions.
It provides a tracking and evaluation system.

How is this done?

You and your planning group identify all tasks to be done
You work at this by brainstorming
List all tasks identified
Put them in time-order sequence
Enter them on the form
Go to work

Someone has to be in charge and that person must possess:

Commitment to the project

Estimate costs and time requirements early on. The more accurate the figures you use, the better your operation will be. People as well as monetary resources must be considered. Be on time! Be on target! You must agree on your time estimates prior to asking for project funding. You do this by laying out the necessary dates on the schedule in chronological order, listing very boldly the milestones when something special, like a commissioner’s or chief’s approval, is needed. Evaluation points also make good milestones.

Once you have your entire task analysis and implementation plan in place, you are ready to work your way through it. It is crucial to evaluate all programs:

Were your income projections too low?
Were your growth estimates too low?
Were things beyond your control working against you?
Did people who had promised to do things for you fall down on the job?

I have presented a variety of issues in relation to management and administration. If you want to a successful fire service organization, you must put the time, effort and talent into each area covered. The forces of change are out there. Try proper management techniques; you may come to like them.

Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is the former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Currently the chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is secretary of the United States Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through at [email protected].

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