From Situational Awareness to Situational Fluency: The Executive Protection Industry’s Big Challenge Moving Forward

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It’s a well-known fact that executive protection professionals require excellent situational awareness skills. To succeed in mitigating risk for principals, we must be cognizant of the threats and vulnerabilities in the environments our clients find – or will find - themselves in. We must also be ever-vigilant as to even the small changes that could transform what appears to be a peaceful place into one that requires protective action.

Many in the executive protection industry have had the importance of situational awareness drilled into us from our backgrounds in the military, law enforcement or other governmental agencies. Effective executive protection training reinforces the importance of situational awareness skills in not only physical environments but, increasingly, in the digital and online environments that we and our principals also frequent.

Situational awareness as a core element of executive protection will never go away. Rather, as training and technology relevant to situational awareness continue to evolve, this tactical skillset will continue to develop. However, as the industry grows and professionalizes and adds more demanding clients and skilled employees, situational awareness is a necessary but not sufficient element of modern executive protection. What we need now is a heightened focus on situational fluency.

Situational fluency: More domains, more demands, more complexity…and more in demand

Anyone who has learned a foreign language knows there is a huge difference between the ability to communicate at a basic level and true fluency. The former will let you order a beer and, on a good day, find the toilet; the latter will enable you to communicate freely with native speakers and understand what is important to them. 

Protection professionals must now make some similar distinctions between situational awareness and situational fluency. Situational awareness is primarily a tactical skillset that used to keep a principal safe. Situational fluency is a more strategic skillset used to simultaneously keep a principal productive (also extremely important to protectees) and happy (at a minimum, not aggravated by the protective effort and, at a maximum, highly pleased with the protective effort).

For military veterans and other highly skilled people who transition from government work into executive protection for corporations and family offices, the differences between situational awareness and situational fluency are critical. As we move up the hierarchy or into completely different contexts, the situations faced require moving from mere awareness to active fluency. For example, the situational awareness skills of an infantry specialist in a hostile environment are different than the situational fluency skills expected of generals working in complex relationships with politicians and policymakers. 

Successful executive protection practitioners in the private sector need to master other and more abstract domains, including those related to:

  • Navigating in and influencing corporate cultures and organizational ecosystems
  • Navigating in and influencing private/family cultures and associated ecosystems
  • Running a professional service business

The good news is that making the transition is entirely possible. The more challenging news is that successful transitions require learning new skills, the willingness to change and grow, and the insight to know what baggage is worth bringing along and what’s best left behind.

Thriving in private sector executive protection means acquiring the situational fluency necessary to negotiate the intersection of a professional service business, risk mitigation and deeply personal preferences.

Many government officials don’t get to choose whether or how their protective service agents do their jobs. While personal preferences may be considered, protection per se is often mandated by law. How that protection is carried out is the purview of the protective service leadership, informed by deeply entrenched practices and hierarchical systems, and not something the government official is expected to micro-manage. 

The situation is completely different in the private sector. The CEO of a company requiring executive protection is a customer, not an official entitled to or forced to receive protection as part of the job. And, as the old saying goes, the customer is always right (even when the customer isn’t necessarily right from our professional perspective).

Put another way: private sector executive protection is a service business. In fact, we consider it to be a professional service business; a specialist profession that requires specific training and experience, not just a purveyor of generic services that can hire people off the street. 

To handle the service aspects of private sector executive protection, we must master the situational fluency required to deal with everyone from CEOs to chief security officers (CSOs); executive administrative assistants; the principal’s partner, children and pets; and a host of other stakeholders. We must be emotionally intelligent and culturally sensitive. We need to master human skills as well as technical skills. If we are not good at this, we will fail personally and professionally.

To handle the business aspects of private sector executive protection, we must master the situational fluency required to run a company in a competitive environment. While we don’t all need to have MBAs, we do need to cover the business basics and understand that there are always alternatives for the customer. If we are not good at this, we will fail commercially and professionally.

If you’re working in the executive protection industry or thinking about starting a career in it, I’d love to know what you think. What have you learned about situational awareness and situational fluency? How do these concepts apply in your own life and work?

Ping me on LinkedIn – Or Click here to learn more about our Executive Protection services 

Brian Janzen
Executive Vice President
Allied Universal® Executive Protection and Intelligence Services