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Why soft skills are so hard

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why are soft skills so hard?

A typical job call for a fire chief or deputy fire chief’s position requires candidates to demonstrate some specific competencies such as

Knowledge of relevant legislation;

  • Labour relations experience;
  • Fire command and emergency management experience;
  • Eight to 10 years of “progressively responsible fire service experience” – (I love that one, since everyone in the fire service gains progressive responsibility it is meaningless in this context);
  • Post-secondary education in fire service administration, public administration or business administration;
  • Driver’s licence.
These are all taken from a current job call. I won’t dwell on how poorly written and/or irrelevant some of them are – that is a topic for another day (competency versus credential). But I will point out is what is missing.

July 14, 2010 
By Peter Sells

at the headlines about what is happening in the fire service can help us
determine what gets fire chiefs into hot water. In the past couple of weeks,
fire chiefs have been held accountable for decisions they made or actions that
were taken by their firefighters that were far removed from the sphere of
fire/rescue operations. One has been removed from his duties for sharing G8
training information with his deputy and firefighters. The details of this are
covered elsewhere in the media, but I’m still shaking my head over how
preparing his personnel for their duties has been branded a “breach of national

hoping that it will all be sorted out when the powers that be realize that he
was doing his job.

chief has been terminated after firefighters used apparatus to block access to
the town’s offices in a dispute over budget cuts. Unless it can be shown that
he authorized the action, or had prior knowledge and did not act to prevent it,
this also appears to be an overreaction. In both cases, the rank and file of
these departments stand in support of their chiefs and are calling for

Besides these
examples, what often gets fire chiefs and town councils into expensive and
protracted damage control may be harassment suits (sexually or racially based,
or just plain nasty behavior), improper or unjustified terminations,
discriminatory hiring or promotional practices and other situations that
revolve around managing people and organizations with effectiveness, foresight
and political acumen. None of those competencies appears in the typical job
call. They are not hard to define, but they do require more effort in a hiring
or promotion process to examine in an objective and defensible manner. For
executive level positions such as a fire chief or deputy fire chief, the effort
is justified.


for the candidate, these are competencies worth developing. Get yourself
educated. Participate on municipal committees outside of the traditional fire
service sphere. Read everything you can get your hands on. Know what is
happening in your town, province and country.

don’t forget to keep your driver’s licence current, because apparently that’s
really important, too.

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