How to Influence People

I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by members of the fire service and asked, "How do I make a difference in my department's attitude toward safety?"

In my opinion, it is all about influence. Specifically, it's the ability to "out influence" the negative forces faced daily on your department such as attitudes, traditions and lack of funding for safety programs.

Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted among us will influence 10,000 people during their lifetime. It indicates that every minute of every day we are either influencing or being influenced by others. In the area of firefighter health and safety, you can develop your influence and overcome some of the obstacles we face in the fire service.

Influence can be placed into one of five categories, and the effective safety leader will combine all of them.

Positional influence
This is when the only influence you have is based on your position within the department and generally comes with a title. If you rely only on this type of influence, you depend on protocols, territorial rights, tradition and organizational charts to get the job done. These are not in themselves negative, unless they become your only means of authority to influence safety programs. Someone who relies solely on positional influence usually becomes ineffective over a period of time; they drive members  rather than coach them, rely on authority being maintained rather than goodwill and inspire fear rather than enthusiasm when taking part in safety programs.

A positional leader's security is based on title and not talent, appointment and not respect. In general, department members will not follow this leader beyond his/her stated authority. Unfortunately many safety officers stop developing their leadership abilities at this level.

Permission influence
Department members follow this individual because they want to follow them. Effective safety programs thrive when the safety leader begins to develop meaningful relationships with those affected by the safety programs. The agenda for this type of leader is based on people development and not the pecking order, as with the positional leader. You can love people without leading them, but you cannot truly lead them without loving them.

Permission leaders, as in those who give their consent or go ahead to lead, possess a genuine love for what they do, see things through the eyes of others, and do things that ensure a "win-win" situation for all involved. In addition, the permission safety leader includes others on their journey and deals wisely with difficult people.

Production influence
Your people will follow a production leader based on what that leader has done for the organization. With a production leader, good things start to happen, morale is kept high and momentum toward meeting a zero injury workplace starts to seem a reality. With production influence, the safety leader develops accountability for results, beginning with themselves. This type of influence gets a kick start when the safety leader goes for the low hanging fruit; the changes that produce immediate and low cost results that help build instant credibility for safety programs within the organization. Along with those easy wins, the production influence leader is not afraid to make difficult decisions about programs that will make a positive difference.

People development influence
A safety leader can never be effective if he/she depends on the "power" of the position. They must have support from others and empower them to influence departmental safety attitudes, too. Remember, a worker's main responsibility is to do the work himself; a leader's responsibility is to develop others that share the same passion he/she does for firefighter heath and safety related issues. With the permission influence, the follower loves the leader; with the production influence, the follower admires the leader; and with the development influence, the follower becomes loyal to the leader. At this level of influence, you begin to realize that people are your most valuable asset and you learn to expose key people within your organization to growth opportunities. There is power in numbers; now we are getting somewhere with our safety programs.

Personhood influence
This type of leader is followed because of who they are and what they represent. Unfortunately many of the leaders in the area of firefighter health and safety never reach this level of leadership. They either get burned out because they feel they are not supported by administration or they get promoted to a new position and have other responsibilities that hinder their ability to influence safety. For the small group that does achieve this type of influence, the rewards are many. Their followers are loyal and sacrificial. They have mentored and molded other safety leaders and their influence transcends their organization and impacts the entire fire service. If you combine the first four influences into your safety mindset, I can almost assure you that you will wake up one day and find that you have achieved this personhood influence.

We influence others daily, so with that thought in mind, everyone is a leader. The choice is yours to make as to whether you lead your safety culture in a positive direction -- are you willing to unleash your leadership potential and make a difference? Perhaps we cannot all become great leaders that get national and international recognition, but we can all improve and become better leaders and improve the influence we have within our area of responsibility.

I would encourage each of you to attend FDSOA's Annual Safety Forum in Orlando, Florida, which takes place from October 28 to November 2. This forum will give you the unparalleled opportunity to learn from other effective leaders in the fire service and network with safety officers that devote their daily influence toward making a positive change in injury and fatality statistics.

Sandy Davis is the chairman of FDSOA. He is a retired career fire service professional, with 27 years of service to the Shreveport Fire Department. He served as the department's chief safety officer for 10 years. Additionally, he was the hazardous materials coordinator for the City of Shreveport. He is the director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for Caddo and Bossier parishes in Northwestern Louisiana. Mr Davis is also a nationally registered EMT, a certified hazardous materials technician, and a certified health and safety officer. 

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