Stepping Up: Should You Be a Manager or a Leader? Part II

By Ron Hiraki


Last month we defined and described management and leadership. Management and leadership functions and characteristics are found in the work of firefighters and fire officers and benefit every fire organization. Most of us have heard or perhaps made a comment about management or “bean counters.” Ideally, firefighters and fire officers will see the need for and the importance of BOTH management and leadership functions and qualities.

Through a combination of good management and leadership behaviors, firefighters and fire officers

  • Are prepared to do the work by having knowledge and skills as well as tools, equipment, and supplies.
  • Know what is expected of them and when.
  • Know that the work was done correctly and on time.
  • Can complete work in coordination with other people.
  • Know that the work was appreciated.
  • Develop additional knowledge and skills.

Whether or not a firefighter has an “official” leadership position, his leadership and management behavior has an impact on the work environment. It is important for firefighters and fire officers to be aware of how their actions (or reactions) and the actions of others can enhance or hinder the work group members and the flow of the work.



  • The fire officer who says, ’Thank you” or recognizes your work in front of other people.
  • The firefighter who grumbles when asked to perform a mundane task.
  • The fire officer who does not communicate the need for improvement or the need for a change in behavior.
  • The firefighter who puts some extra effort into a task.
  • The firefighter or officer who shares his knowledge or experience with you.
  • The fire officer who does not plan the company’s work for the day or communicate the work plan to everyone.


Below is a list of functions or characteristics of firefighters and fire officers. In my classes, I have asked firefighters (students) to list management or leadership functions or characteristics. Offer your assessment of whether the function or characteristic is reflective of management or leadership.

1. A competent public speaker and writer (reports, e-mails, memos)
2. Able to multitask or complete multiple tasks in a workday
3. Accepting
4. Accountable
5. Actions serve the end customer (community members)
6. Acts as a buffer
7. Allocates time
8. Approachable
9. Aware of community issues
10. Aware of labor-management issues
11. Budgets resources or uses resources wisely
12. Challenges subordinates to improve or develop additional knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs)
13. Change agent
14. Coaches
15. Communicates
16. Compassionate
17. Completes objectives
18. Completes tasks
19. Concerned with his image
20. Concerned with safety
21. Concerned with the fire department’ image
22. Consistent
23. Counsels
24. Creative
25. Deals with “stuff”
26. Dedicated
27. Delegates and motivates
28. Delegates appropriate work
29. Demonstrates support for others
30. Demonstrates thanks and recognition.
31. Develops strategy
32. Directs projects
33. Disciplinarian
34. Disciplines
35. Does not frequently change statements, opinions, or decisions. “Stays the Course”
36. Does not shirk responsibility or “Pass the Buck”
37. Does not stand by while others do the work
38. Does what he said would be done
39. Easy going, “Goes Along to Get Along.”
40. Empathetic
41. Empowers
42. Enforces rules and procedures
43. Ensures materials, tools, and equipment are available to complete the job
44. Ensures the safety of others
45. Ethical
46. Evaluates
47. Facilitates
48. Fair
49. Filters information
50. Flexible
51. Focused on preparedness
52. Focused on the mission
53. Follows SOPs
54. Follows the law
55. Follows through on tasks
56. Gives clear direction
57. Goal oriented
58. Good follower
59. Has a good attitude
60. Has and shares “another life.” Not all work or fire service.
61. Has desire
62. Has integrity
63. Has vision
64. Holds peers accountable
65. Holds subordinates accountable.
66. Holds superiors accountable.
67. Honest
68. Human
69. Humble
70. Initiates work or actions
71. Inspires
72. Instructs
73. Invests extra time in other people or the fire department.
74. Joins in or contributes to the work or actions
75. Keeps everyone happy
76. Knows his crew
77. Knows how to, and will apologize when necessary
78. Knows incident tactics
79. Knows priorities
80. Liked by others
81. Liked by subordinates
82. Liked by superiors
83. Listens to others
84. Loyal
85. Make decisions
86. Makes a self-sacrifice
87. Makes mistakes
88. Makes or implements change
89. Manages resources
90. Manages time
91. Meets goals
92. Mentors
93. Monitors
94. Motivates
95. Not a micro-manager
96. Organizes
97. Plans
98. Politically savvy
99. Positive
100. Possesses technical knowledge
101. Practices diplomacy
102. Prioritizes
103. Problem solver
104. Produces results
105. Progressives
106. Referees
107. Represents subordinates
108. Represents superiors
109. Respected by others
110. Respected by subordinates
111. Respected by superiors
112. Respectful of others
113. Schedules
114. Sees “The Big Picture”
115. Set and enforces policy & procedure
116. Sets a standard for others to follow
117. Sets an example
119. Stands by decisions
120. Supervises
121. Supports organizational policy and procedures
122. Supports teamwork
123. Tactful
124. Teaches
125. Team builder
126. The boss
127. Tolerant
128. Understands
129. Union friendly
130. Willing to be an advocate
131. Willing to challenge superiors
132. Willing to make tough or unpopular decisions
133. Works safely

Remember, we are all human, and none of us is perfect. Don’t expect that you or your officer will be or do all of these things all of the time.

When I am asked to design a promotional exam or process, one of the frequent themes is to ask candidates about their role as an officer.


  • What are your most important functions as an officer?
  • What qualities do you possess that will make you a good officer?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What quality do you need to develop? Why? How will you do that?


Perhaps this table and your assessments will help you decide what’s most important, why, and how it is related to other functions or qualities.


Ron Hiraki began his career as a firefighter in the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, working in a variety of operational and administrative positions leading to his final assignment as assistant chief of employee development. Completing his career as an assistant chief for a small combination fire department, Hiraki has nearly 30 years of fire service experience in urban and suburban settings. Hiraki holds a Master of Science degree in human resources development and is a consultant to a number of public safety agencies for their selection and performance evaluation programs.


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