LEADERSHIP: Who is in charge?


Any organisation that has to deal with major incidents whether that be the Police, Fire or Ambulance use a command and control system. For those not familiar with the structure, there follows a brief overview.

A gold–silver–bronze command structure is used by emergency services of the United Kingdom to establish a hierarchical framework for the command and control of major incidents and disasters. The so-called “platinum control” is government level (COBR). Some practitioners use the term strategic–tactical–operational command structure instead, but the different categories are equivalent. Whilst this system does not explicitly signify hierarchy of rank, with the roles not being rank-specific, invariably the chain of command will be the same as the order of rank. Whilst the gold–silver–bronze command structure was designed for emergencies, it has been utilised for all manner of planned operations, such as football matches, or firearms operations.

The structure was created by the UK Metropolitan Police Service in 1985 directly after a serious riot in North London on the evening of 6 October where Police Constable Keith Blakelock was murdered. Scotland Yard soon realised that their usual rank-based command system was inappropriate for sudden events. For example, it was never clear who was actually in operational charge of the police that night. A small team, including Inspector Peter Power quickly decided that three essential roles were more important than numerous ranks in these situations and set about creating and promulgating a new structure that was soon rolled out across all UK Police Forces and became the ubiquitous command standard it is today.

The gold commander is in overall control of his or her organisation’s resources at the incident. This person will not be on site, but at a distant control room, gold command, where he or she will formulate the strategy for dealing with the incident. If the gold commanders for various organisations at an incident are not co-located, they will be in constant touch with each other by videoconference or telephone.
The CCA requires police to host and chair the multi agency gold command. This responsibility will usually fall to the local chief constable or their nominated deputy.

The Silver Commander is the tactical commander who manages tactical implementation following the strategic direction given by Gold and makes it into sets of actions that are completed by Bronze. Depending on the organisation, they may or not be at scene: Fire tend to be, police tend not to be; however this is a dynamic decision. Other organisations make their own decisions although many are encouraged to attend or send a representative to the police-led multi-agency silver command as detailed in the CCA.
This could be located in a command vehicle at or near the scene or a remote building such as the police HQ. There is a common misconception that all blue light services share one big control room and emergency control centre. This is generally not the case.
This role is often not strictly rank-related but does often fall to senior officers as opposed to constables or sergeants.
A bronze commander directly controls an organisation’s resources at the incident and will be found with their staff working at the scene. A commander or representative from each involved responder will be present and take direction from their organisation, with the overall effort generally coordinated by the police.

It is a system that works generally very well and indeed is entirely necessary. The system relies on trust from those above to those below to competently carry out the mission plan to a successful conclusion. Gold decides the overall aim or goal to successfully conclude an incident. Silver given that brief then decides how to achieve that goal. Bronze will then be in control of implementing that goal.

But in the day-to-day workings of a police force how well does that system work because it is a format that is loosely followed in pretty much everything that it does. Does a command and control system allow the growth of an individual to betterment or address the well being needs of its employee’s?

A question. Does your organisation suffer from micro management? If it does, how then does that make the leaders and the coalface workers feel? Are leaders allowed to fail every once in a while or are they expected to 100% successfully complete every brief they are given? If the latter can you imagine the enormous pressure heaped on that individual. Are near impossible portfolio’s purposely given to subordinates to solve using their own judgment with the expectation of failure whilst easily achievable briefs are micro managed to ensue certain success? A bit like pass the parcel, who wants to be holding a thorny thistle when the music stops. Reputation is important to a leader whose current role and potential future promotion depends on it.

I see on a daily basis micro management certainly from the coalface up to middle management level. Now earlier on I said that the command and control structure relied on trust. Trust that those tasked with orders from above competently complete the job in the best way they see fit. Trust of competence evaporates in a culture of micro management. It eats into self-belief and confidence.

My Sergeant gives me an order, which I follow. I know that order has been given by their Inspector. The order was passed down by the Chief Inspector. As the coalface worker’s gaze wander’s into the middle distance they see a line of leaders being told what to do. The coalface worker scratches their head and wonders if the leaders out of sight, over the horizon, beyond the middle distance have also passed the order down. They don’t know because they can’t see and so the question naturally arises and they start to consider the possibility of who actually is in charge?

Why do some leaders fail to let go? It must be a dark place to live. For not only do they worry about the order being followed, they worry that those they have given the order to follow it also A bit like giving a order to make sure the order you have given is followed. Double worry and stress. And we all know because we have talked about this previously, traits like worry, fear, stress feed upon themselves gathering speed like a stone rolling down a hill. It stops the moment you let go.

Does my success depend on your success? Is that for some a leap of faith too far, something too valuable and precious to trust to others? And in a catch 22 scenario does that mean that they are indeed a good leader themselves for surely a leader inspires others to make the best of their abilities and give them the confidence to do so and paradoxically if they had those very same qualities the question would not arise.

I keep using the word trust. It is a fundamental pillar in the support of wellbeing. If the coalface worker see’s a lack of trust between their leaders it would not be unreasonable to expect a lack of trust at the coalface. Without trust there is no engagement and without engagement there cannot be progress and growth.

All that being said there are numerous excellent leaders of men out there. I do recall a particularly difficult case where I was the FLO. At one of the court hearing’s the deceased family had been let down terribly by the general legal process. The Senior Investigating Officer, a DCI got it both barrels tied to an anvil. After the family had left he asked me how I was doing and enquired to my well-being. I then asked him how he was doing. He told me he was on his third baby death that week. How much did I trust that man….100% How much did I think he trusted me? …..1000% He was truly a leader of men.

So in summary is the command and control structure failing us in our day-to-day business? I don’t believe it is but I do believe it has been bent a little bit out of shape. The altered system has inherent micro management built in but there is also the secondary micro management aspect that I have described above. The out of shape model can be panel beaten back into shape. Maybe that will be an encouragement to change the latter. Lets hope so.


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