Texas Division of Emergency Management/Frank Hicks

You’re the Leader. Now What?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that, as of May 8, the United States had experienced seven confirmed $1-billion weather/climate-related disasters in 2023. Three more storms that occurred in April may soon be added to that list. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 35 major disasters have been declared in 2023 as of June 2. Adding significant natural events to disasters related to technological and human-caused threats, any community or organization can be suddenly thrust into emergency response mode. 

When an expected or unexpected event occurs, leadership capabilities are a determining factor for each community’s level of resilience and ability to recover. During such times, various titles naturally put some people in leadership roles. However, an impressive title may not equate to a good leader. So, what makes a good leader? In simple terms, leadership is defined as the ability to influence and guide others. When faced with an emergency or disaster, effective leaders can use this ability to achieve organizational goals and maximize community response efforts. 

Defining a Good Leader 

On May 30, 2023, Domestic Preparedness hosted a multidiscipline panel discussion at the annual Texas Emergency Management Conference in Fort Worth to ask five leaders to share their knowledge and experiences on their paths to developing good leadership skills. These five professionals brought to the table 195 years of combined experience across emergency management, public safety, law enforcement, emergency medical services, hospitals, fire, hazardous materials, military, disaster psychology, and other areas of expertise. 

The discussion began with the panelists describing how and when they realized they had become leaders. Some had a defining pivotal moment, and others developed that realization over time. However, the one thing in common was that they all recognized their leadership abilities long before assuming leadership positions within their careers. From there, the panelists answered the following key questions: 

  • What key characteristics are required to be a good leader? 
  • During normal operations, how do you build and maintain interagency relationships? 
  • During large-scale incidents, how do you manage the different leadership styles and jurisdictional differences to effectively work together? 

One interesting debate involved the ability of leadership traits to be learned (i.e., nature vs. nurture). Although there may be no consensus on whether leaders are born or made, there was a common theme throughout the discussion that the best way to realize one’s potential is to embrace opportunities and step up to challenges when they arise. Other recommendations for being a good leader include keep developing knowledge and skills, continue building resilience, and always communicating within and between organizations. 

Each of the following five panelists embraced their leadership roles in different ways. Yet, they all have been and continue to be effective in influencing and guiding others. Click the link to listen to the full panel discussion. 

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 30 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and the DPJ Weekly Brief, and works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in international business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in emergency and disaster management from American Military University.

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