Leadership competence: the bigger picture: 'The best people with the best skills to provide the best service' is Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service's message to FIRE during our visit. CFO Paul Hayden and newly appointed Deputy Lucy Philips take the leadership and multi-tier debate to a different plane, challenging the preparedness of the strategic command function at the highest level.(Leadership)

"THE DIFFICULTY WITH MY appointment," DCFO Lucy Philips says, "and a principle the Fire Service has still to come to terms with, is that in the absence of the Chief Officer I have ultimate managerial responsibility. It's me in court if there's a problem."

CFO Paul Hayden was adamant from the job advertisement stage that the Deputy Chief role needed to be clearly defined--that of an executive leader with exceptional skills--and the only mandate was to get the right person. "We did an organisational risk assessment, an IRMP for the strategic management team if you like, through which we identified the full range of strategic management risks facing the fire authority: not just service delivery, but organisational, reputation, legal and financial risks."

In building a management team to address all aspects of risk, you need to have people with the right mix of skills and experience, it is not about everyone having to undertake every task, he states, nor is it an opportunity for diversity tokenism. "It is simply about managing organisational risk holistically."

Lucy had a background in banking and the NHS before joining Hereford and Worcester four years ago, initially as Director of Corporate Services. "I came into the Fire Service for a better work/life balance," she confesses. "I genuinely believe that the executive experience I gained in the NHS, which included emergency management responsibilities, will be of great assistance to me as I develop the competence to operate at FRS Gold Command level."

It is the "national interest" in operational command, and the lack of consensus on what this actually means at "Gold" level that throws the proverbial petrol on the fire of this conversation. Far from decrying the need for operational competence at Gold level, Lucy maintains that the ability to provide strategic leadership through a multi-agency Gold Command remains "a vital part of the basket of skills" requisite in strategic leadership for the Service, despite the small allocation of time actually spent carrying out this element of the role. Paul raises the stakes further.

"I believe that terminology and language has the potential to get in the way of understanding and debate on this issue. We sometimes confuse the direction of resources on the ground at incident scenes, which by definition can not be a "Gold level" activity regardless of the size of the incident, with true Gold Command tasks, which are strategic functions carried out in a multi-agency setting. Colleagues in the US sometimes use simpler language to describe the key challenges at Gold, Silver and Bronze to avoid overlap and misunderstanding: "at Gold, what's got to be done; Silver, how shall we do it; Bronze, do it.

"There is an assumption that by following a traditional FRS career path, putting out sequentially larger fires as we move through our careers, we naturally absorb the knowledge and skills required to operate at the highest executive level in multi-agency command scenarios". …

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