Sunday, April 25, 2010


Every successful National Park Ranger develops leadership styles and techniques. Leadership is not only necessary for supervising employees but for managing emergency incidents, disruptive or distraught visitors, and managers to sell them on how they believe things should be done.

After more than thirty two years, many of which were spent as a supervisor and manager in the National Park Service, I have developed a list of tips that I found useful in persuading people to work toward a common goal. These leadership skills are the result of years of daily supervision of a variety of diverse employees and the stress of wildfires, searches, violent crimes, natural disasters, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and special events. I shared my experiences with new National Park employees in Wildland Fire and Fundamentals Training before retiring in 2008.

Credibility is the foundation of leadership. You must establish a level of trustworthiness, reliability, subject knowledge, and integrity with those you intend to be your followers. In the case of day to day work environments this relationship must be built over time and maintained in a consistent and decisive manner. In emergency situations, a leader needs to establish their credibility quickly and effectively. Successful National Park Service employees can function under both situations and be able to unconsciously adapt their skills to ever changing conditions.

Credibility goes beyond being given authority by management. An individual having the title of supervisor does not assure their ability to function as a leader. A mistake I saw many times during my career was when people relied on their administrative authority to demand compliance and dedication from employees to accomplish a common goal. Park Rangers by the nature of their job demands, education, and training are programmed to be thinking and working independently. To have someone tell a park ranger to do some work function that they believe is wrong will result in questions. The worst mistake for a supervisor is to respond “Because I said so,” or “Because I am your boss, that’s why.” Both are quotes I heard numerous times in my career.

I plan to present a series of lessons learned from my thirty two plus year career as a National Park Ranger to help individuals develop and maintain their credibility as leaders. These tools can be applied to any work situation, not just National Parks. Stay tuned.

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