Strategic Leadership: A Critical Skill in Short Supply

Emergency managers need to demonstrate value to their organizations but may lack the skills to think strategically.

by Lucien G. Canton / September 14, 2018

In an article in Security Management magazine entitled The Strategic Leader, security consultant Chris Walker makes a strong case for the need for a security manager to demonstrate strategic leadership. While he is writing for security managers, his basic premise is directly pertinent to emergency managers as well.

Walker points out that companies are oriented toward growth. There is strong competition for the limited resources of the organization and the winners of that competition are usually those functions that contribute to growth. Security functions are viewed as cost centers, not revenue generators, and are at a disadvantage in the competition for resources. To succeed, security managers need to demonstrate that their functions are strategically aligned with company objectives and contribute to company growth.

The same situation exists for emergency managers. Because our role is not always highly visible, it becomes important to demonstrate how we add value to our organizations. Where a security manager may be able to quantify savings through more efficient use of his or her resources or demonstrate a dramatic drop in incidents based on new systems or procedures, it is not always so easy for the emergency manager to demonstrate value, particularly if we do not think in strategic terms.

Walker defines strategy as “how the business intends to engage its environment in pursuit of desired goals.” He further defines strategic leadership as, “the ability to … align organizational capabilities and competing interests in ways that effectively engage the everyday opportunities and problems presented by the competitive environment.” In short, strategic leadership is about recognizing goals and aligning resources to achieve them; it is about translating vision into reality. It is about taking the long-term view. Unfortunately, as Walker points out, research suggests that fewer than 10 percent of leaders think strategically.

This brings us back to a theme I have discussed elsewhere: the need for the emergency manager to rise above the role of technician and take his or her place as a manager among peers. We need to recognize what our organizations value and what they are seeking to accomplish in the long term. We must use this knowledge to organize our efforts in a way that supports these organizational goals. This means recognizing that emergency management is not a discrete function but is rather an enterprise wide distributed function that is an essential part of the community’s risk management strategy.

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