Darren Chalmers-Stevens shares his perspective on what it takes to be a transformational leader in the security and safety sector…
One of the joys of working in start-ups and innovative technology sectors is that you get to collaborate with bold individuals who aren’t afraid to take calculated risks.
Some of those individuals are our customers and are determined managers who want to do things differently rather than keep going with well-trodden strategies in the hope of somehow getting better results. I’ve been in awe of the personalities I’ve come across in my work with universities and in the healthcare sector in particular. I’ve been impressed by the way so many of these leaders have an appetite to do things differently, to take risks, and deliver change. Some heads of security in the corporate sector might be surprised to hear me say this, but many are being left behind when it comes to innovation and influence.
Not long ago, things looked very different.
Then, higher education and healthcare security used to be seen as just the sleepy backwaters, where demands were low, and budgets were even lower. But that’s absolutely not the case now. Take one example: just consider the role of the security officer. It’s a job that has changed beyond recognition. In both university campuses and healthcare settings, the work that frontline staff now do is of higher value, and more varied, proactive, and skilled, than in most corporate environments.
The locations where these officers work are akin to small cities along with the corresponding risks, and their roles combine the functions of police/security, safety, pastoral care, mental health, medical, emergency management, and public relations – and that’s just the start. The range of challenges that front-line teams are now tackling is much wider, compared to working in a bank, say, or an industrial facility.
The tools and technology they are deploying such as SafeZone have become more advanced too.
Control room operations are increasingly equipped with leading-edge unified technologies for better command and control, team coordination, domain awareness, and communications. The team leaders and officers who use these tools have been upskilled with enhanced training. And they are working increasingly effectively with external agencies, and collaborating in alliances with other providers to deliver safety everywhere for their community. This change has undoubtedly increased the status and influence of the security leaders driving change in these fields, relative to other sectors.
How did this happen?
To an extent, it was driven by circumstances. In education, for example, student safety is now an expectation and a top consideration for prospective students and their parents. A recent report by the ISS in 2020 found that safety was the number one concern for over half of international students considering higher education.Safety has become a key part of the offer that institutions have to make in a highly competitive market. Their success or failure in ensuring student welfare, will be publicly judged and commented on. Those organizations that aren’t plugged into this and promoting their capabilities leave themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
In healthcare, the enormous stresses faced by staff have been obvious to see. Shortages of workers and increased demand on services post-pandemic have changed the sector before our eyes. Now providers are placing a much greater premium on both recruiting staff and retaining them. And this is driving the quest for better ways to look after those staff and to protect them from high levels of workplace violence and aggression (in the hospital and also in the community).
So, powerful drivers for change have been at work in both sectors. But still, it takes a certain kind of visionary manager to rise to the challenge.
Change can be a difficult beast. A lot of people – most people perhaps, most of the time – are afraid to break away from the crowd. When you first try to overhaul long-established culture, operational, procedures and policies, training, branding, uniform, diversity of staff, technology, etc. you face resistance. You have to convince your staff, colleagues and executive boards.
This means developing, socializing and presenting a cohesive strategy so that you achieve buy-in across all levels, from the unions representing the staff who will have to work differently, to the executive boards who will need to support and fund the changes. You also have to engage with other managers/stakeholders, navigate internal politics and build new bridges with other departments. This requires understanding the specific needs of those departments and building SOPs and service offerings around them.
Innovative leaders in healthcare and education have understood this. They’ve seen that they had much to gain from realigning their services and changing perceptions. And they have got on and done it – by sharing experiences with contemporaries at other institutions, by learning (and stealing with pride!) ideas from each other, and by being bold and brave. The journey might seem daunting before you take the first step. But talk to managers who are already on that road, and they’ll tell you it’s a much more enjoyable, satisfying, and rewarding way to work.