9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Effective CTO: How To Excel as a 911 Communications Training Officer

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, August 2009
Written by Diane Beatty, training manager for Allegheny County 911 in Pittsburgh

Are you really as good as you think you are? As a public safety telecommunicator that is. How good do you have to be? Perhaps you're thinking about becoming a trainer and are wondering if you have what it takes. Maybe you're already a communications training officer (CTO) but want to know if you're doing the job as well as you could be. So what does it take to be an effective CTO?

When thinking about how to become an effective CTO, it's important to ask yourself a few preliminary questions. What made you want to become a 911 communications training officer in the first place? What might have made your own learning experience better? Are there any CTOs who made a great impression on you?

If you really want to know, read on, keep an open mind and be honest with yourself.

Qualities to look for

When I got involved in this profession, I was shocked at the requirements and, even more so, at the lack of training that was provided. Fortunately, times and expectations have changed, and more attention is given to meeting our training needs.

It takes a special personality to be a public safety telecommunicator - and even more so to be a CTO. I believe we can all agree that most in this profession have a type A personality. Those who have joined the ranks of trainer could be said to have type AAA personalities.

One must wonder why a person - even one with an AAA personality - would want to put themselves into a position of such responsibility. Perhaps you inherited the position because you had the most experience. Maybe the more you watched others providing the training, the more you believed that you could do a better job. (We can sometimes be a critical group of individuals can't we? A tendency toward a critical nature is not all bad, as long as we remember it can be a double-edged sword.) Some people want to be in a position of authority. Perhaps you were motivated by the extra money a trainer earns. (Of course, this last reason comes into play only if you work at an agency with a compensation plan that includes trainers. Yes, there are still agencies that don't compensate trainers or provide very little compensation considering the magnitude of the responsibility a trainer has undertaken.)

At this point let it suffice to say that no matter what motivated you to become a trainer you have become one of the "Best of the Best." Being selected for CTO is an honor and privilege that holds a considerable amount of responsibility.

There are some qualities that should stand out in an exceptional trainer. Some may be difficult to master, but all are important. What are some essential qualities for an effective trainer? Honesty, objectivity, kindness, courtesy, compassion and understanding, patience, empathy and courage.

These are good qualities for anyone to possess and much more so for a successful trainer. Maya Angelou once said, "One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous or honest."

In a nutshell, it takes courage to be a good and effective trainer. Without the courage to be honest and true to your trainee and your agency, your capacity for excelling greatly diminishes.

Hold up a mirror

What kind of trainer are you? How do your co-workers see you? There's always someone watching those in authority. Are they watching to learn from you or to see if you really are the "Best of the Best?"

As a qualified CTO, you must understand that you play a vital role in the development of qualified public safety communications personnel. Whether you're training someone or not, you are influencing your work environment by your actions or inactions because of your CTO status.

And what a work environment it is! No matter how large or small your organization is, there's no doubt that the comm center and the people working there exist in a world of their own. The feelings you experience working in a comm center could be likened to riding a rollercoaster, and being on a merry-go-round all at the same time. As a CTO you have been charged to train effectively in this environment.

Think about it, if you were to fide a rollercoaster all day long, day after day, the excitement would eventually wear off and get old. The same could be said for the comm center. With high-speed ups and downs, round and round day after day, adrenaline highs and lows occur as you perform your duties. Irate callers, high-speed pursuits, grouchy officers, complaining co-workers and even a lack of information from management can send morale into a tailspin. Through all of this you cannot lose sight of the fact that you are a CTO, with a resonsibility to your agency, the training program and to yourself to perform as a professional and lead by example.

Will your actions be a catalyst to help create a working environment that promotes professionalism and is conducive to learning? Think about these questions as you consider your daily work habits:
  • Would someone watching find you in the midst of a gossip session or ready with a response that would deter the gossiping and refocus the conversation?
  • Would you be seen as part of a fault-finding group that's always complaining or as an individual who points out the positives and directs the identification of a fault into a workable solution?
  • How would you be seen using your discretionary time? Would you be hard at work helping someone become better at their job, learning new things, working at becoming better in an area that you are not strong in or would you be busy surging the Internet or playing computer games?
  • If you're between trainees, will your past trainees and co-workers see you following the policies and procedures that you stressed during training or will they see you freelancing?

With all of the challenges a CTO faces it is imperative that to remain or become an effective trainer you make a daily commitment and strive to be the best you can be.

Staying focused on the performance instead of the person (objectivity) is a skill that may also take time to master. You, as a trainer represent both the agency and the industry to your trainee and they will look at you to provide what they need to succeed. To a trainee, you are everything, and the qualities above must be ingrained into your very core to be the most effective trainer.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Instead of thinking or complaining about how poorly someone does their job, look for opportunities and ways to help them improve.
  • Instead of becoming discouraged and falling into the mindset of things never change, get off the merry-go-round and look for ways to effect positive changes in your work environment.
  • Look for ways to build your knowledge, skills and abilities; don't wait for your agency to provide you with learning opportunities; seek them out for yourself.

Training the trainers

To assist you in this endeavor to become a more effective CTO, APCO is developing a CTO Web Seminar Series, which will run for an entire year. These one-hour Web seminars can be taken as a group or individually, and are very affordable.

The goal of the series is to provide support and a comprehensive sequential program that will afford comm centers and training officers the ability to build and support a quality standardized training program comprising effective trainers who make a difference.

These one-hour, monthly Web seminars are scheduled for the third Tuesday of every month throughout 2010, which gives you plenty of time to put in your requests to participate.

Join us as we strive to be worthy of being called the "Best of the Best."

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