MCP Insights

The Difference Between Change Management and Change Leadership In Public Safety Communications

Posted on May 7, 2018 by John Spearly

Profound changes are coming to the public safety sector, particularly to 911 centers. Next Generation 911 systems and the nationwide public safety broadband network—which is being implemented by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)—will generate a tremendous amount of new, actionable data in real-time that dramatically will enhance situational awareness, in turn improving emergency response by leaps and bounds. In time, even more usable information generated by the billions of data-collection sensors already in place—whose numbers will reach into the trillions in the not-too-distant future—will be leveraged by 911 centers, which will become the center of the information universe, at least as it pertains to public safety.

These information streams will converge at the 911 center, which will need to undergo transformational change to deal with it all. This will not be easy. Change never is, especially on this level. But it will be necessary if 911 centers truly are to leverage the treasure trove of data.  

A previous post examined, on a high level, how public safety communications can cope with the changes that are coming. In this post, we examine the difference between change management and change leadership, terms that often are used interchangeably, but actually represent two related, but quite different, concepts. Understanding the difference will make effecting change easier and far less painful.publicsafetycommunications

Change Managers Focus on Minimizing Disruptions

Change managers use existing resources to control the change, with an emphasis on minimizing disruptions and problems. They accept change, they understand the need for it, and they act upon it. But they are not the creators of the change—they need clear direction to do what they do.

Change Leaders are Visionaries

Conversely, change leaders spawn the vision that drives not just change, but large-scale widespread transformation. They not only champion the change, they energize people to make it happen. Change leaders challenge the status quo and create a strategic course of action that transforms the organization.

A simple way to think about the difference between change leaders and change managers is this: while both are essential to effecting change, change leaders spawn new ideas and directions, while change managers bring those ideas and directions to fruition.

Let’s examine a few of the key traits that effective change leaders exhibit:

  • They understand that to get stakeholder buy-in, they have to sell them on the strategic value of the change—it’s not enough to trumpet the “cool” factor. The new technology or operational tactic has to align with a specific business need and/or advance the organizational vision.
  • They understand that the people aspect of change cannot be overemphasized. Unhappy or unsettled workers will not fully support the change, or work toward it.
  • They are persuasive. They understand that change and influence are intimately linked. They understand that while compliance with a change is good, commitment to the change is far better—and getting that commitment requires a lot of persuasion. The end game is to create change agents.
  • They understand that the key to winning people over is honesty and respect.
  • They understand the importance of listening to the concerns of those on the front lines, because their experiences and insights will be critical to executing the change.

Knowing one’s audience is a critical factor in persuasion. Effective change leaders understand that, as identified by leadership development company Discovery Learning, there are three types of people in this regard—conservers, originators and pragmatists—and tailor their messages accordingly. Conservers embrace the status quo but will accept incremental change. Originators like to challenge the status quo and they embrace new ideas and possibilities. Pragmatists are focused on getting the job done and will accept change that is functional.

One could argue that 911 center personnel largely are pragmatists, because they know the job is saving lives. The changes that are coming to public safety will profoundly enhance their ability to do so—which makes the changes worth embracing. I don’t think the change leaders will have too much trouble persuading 911 center personnel of this essential truth.

We're optimistic about where public safety communications is headed, and are focused on being change leaders in the evolution. Learn more about where we think the industry is headed by visiting our 50th anniversary tribute that celebrates our past, but most importantly, shines a light on where the future of public safety communication is headed by visiting

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