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Command presence: Feeding your own self confidence
By Chief Ron Richards

Command presence is essentially presenting yourself as someone in authority, trusted and respected. This is partially done through the message conveyed by how you LOOK, how you CARRY YOURSELF, how you ACT, and how you SPEAK. 

Dress the part
Photo by Tricia Mcinroy
Remember, first impressions are a lasting one. Looking like an unmade bed is not the way to instill confidence. In order to look the part, dress professionally. Always wear a clean, pressed uniform. Look professional.... at least look like you know what you are doing.

Personal appearance is not something that starts when you walk into the fire station or appear on an incident. It starts well beyond that. How are you groomed? What does the car that you drove to the station look like? Has it been washed in the last year? It the back seat full of coffee cups and food wrappers? What about your desk? Is it orderly or does it look like a forty mile an hour wind just blew all your papers on the floor and the janitor picked them up and threw them on your desk?

Taking pride in your personal appearance and grooming not only projects a professional image to the public, but it also helps make you feel more confident. The response you get from the public when your appearance is that of a professional will also help you feel more confident. When you feel confident it will help you approach situations with a better mindset.

Body language
How you carry yourself portrays command presence or lack of it. Confidence is projected through your body language, and how you verbally deal with individuals and groups.

Walk with your head up, eyes alert, and your expression intent. You do not want to appear weak or vulnerable. You want to project the image of someone that knows why they are where they are, and who is trained and knows what they are doing.

Walk with intent. Don't shuffle your feet or use a "lazy" walk. Pick up your feet and move like you know where you are going, and that you have a purpose in going there.

You need to portray an  "I am in charge of this situation" image.  The key is to be outwardly confident - even if on the inside you are scared out of your wits. You want your body language to convey confidence.

How you sound
Your speech is another aspect of command presence. More people than you think hear you speak. Besides your face to face communications, many hear you speak on the radio. If you have the "terror in the voice" scream going on the radio as you arrive on an incident saying, "Chief 47, assuming the Blaze Street command..." that will not instill a whole lot of confidence in your peers or subordinates. I've referred to this as the "Big-Eye" syndrome. That's when you see a big fire and your two eyes open so wide that they appear to be one gaping whole in your forehead and the high pitched, screaming voice just puts the icing on the cake instilling an image that you are scared $%&less!

A solemn but good example of command presence communications is listening to the communications between a commercial airlines pilot and an air traffic controller just seconds before a plane crash. That pilot knows what's in store but still portrays confidence until the bitter end.

What do people see you doing?
If someone was watching you to see if you were able to react if they did something, what would they think?
  • Do you walk around with your hands in your pockets?
  • Do you look at the ground all the time?
  • Do you sit and watch television or listen to the radio while on duty?
  • Do you look bored and inattentive? Practice being firm and not taking no for an answer without getting angry. Keeping your cool is also a big part of this.
It all boils down to how you present yourself. Do you "look the part"? Do you carry yourself with confidence?, Do you ACT the part? Do you speak the part? If you can, then you are developing Command Presence, which will make your job a LOT easier.
About the author: Chief Ronald Richards has over 28 years of fire service experience, both career and volunteer. He rose through the ranks in the Forest City Fire Department, in Forest City, PA and became Fire Chief in 1995 holding that position through 2000 when he retired. He currently serves as the Chief for Training and Safety for Browndale Fire Company in Wayne County, PA. Chief Richards has nearly 25 years of service with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, having served as a Fire Marshal with the Department of Public Welfare, a Fire and Safety Specialist with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Currently, he is a Superintendent Assistant  within the PA Department of Corrections, responsible for media relations, litigation coordination, accreditation, and the writing of policies and procedures. Chief Richards graduated from the State University of New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Service Administration.  Richards is a PA State Fire Instructor and an instructor with Command School.  He is the founder of WithThecommand.com. 

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