Monday, February 8, 2010

Park Ranger Application of Leadership

A successful National Park Ranger must master the art and science of leadership. Once an individual develops those leadership attributes that serve them well, a park ranger then needs to adapt the appropriate techniques and style of leadership for ever changing and developing situations. Every day of a park ranger’s life is unpredictable and can be instantly changed by the unpredictable moods of weather, natural events, and the most impulsive, human behavior.
In addition to being a leader amongst peers or subordinates during daily work operations, a park ranger needs to exude leadership to groups such as park visitors, volunteers, cooperating agencies, victims, patients, witnesses, reporting parties and others. Situations may include leading visitors on a guided walk, managing a search or rescue operation, responding to a Wildland fire and coordinating responding resources, managing the scene of motor vehicle crashes, or meeting with the public to explain and gain support of park practices. Each situation calls for different sets of leadership skills to maintain control, get the appropriate message across, prevent injury or resource damage, and focus all parties toward a common goal.
As a District Ranger I attempted to include members of my staff in the decision making and priority setting processes whenever possible. This included active use of the leadership skills of:

Listening (which I had to work at) to employees concerns and suggestions before making decisions
Communication keeping them informed as to decisions that affect their work and well being
Empathy with individual needs that relate to their performing their duties

In an emergency situation such as a wildfire or search decisions need to be made quickly and decisively in some instances to prevent injury or possible death to individuals. This eliminates the time it would take to discuss and be inclusive of others in the decision making process. Other skills need to be emphasized:

Proactive and timely decisions and actions need to be made based on your experience to deal with problems before they happen.
Setting the example through attention and staying the course of the emergency
Making sure that those involved in working in emergency situations know that you have their safety and well being in mind at all times.
Know when to exert authority to ensure instructions and decisions are followed through on by others.

These changes in style in leading of personnel and decision making processes will be accepted by peers and subordinates if the foundation of leadership is established on a daily basis. Remember, people are not automatically going to follow you toward a common goal merely because you are placed in charge by your organization.

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