So, You're a New Executive Protection Manager

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The executive protection industry is growing, and so is the number of new executive protection manager positions. This is great for our industry and for all the people who take this important move up the career ladder. But it also ushers in a range of predictable problems for many of the new managers and the programs and people they lead.

As we will see in this blog, new EP managers face all of the same challenges as new managers in any industry – and there are plenty of them – as well as a number of issues more specific to executive protection.

New programs, new teams, new managers – what could go wrong?

The start of every new executive protection program, whether it’s at a corporation or a family office, is a journey into uncharted territory.

Principals and their organizations will be unfamiliar with the mission, requirements and tasks of executive protection. Protective team members will be unfamiliar with the corporate culture and infrastructure, and the principal’s personal preferences.  There might be unanswered (and even unasked) questions about the scope of the work to be done and the span of control to properly manage that work.

If programs are not managed properly, all of these uncertainties can easily lead to fear and people using the shield of ego to protect themselves and the program, thus adding more trouble to an already troubled situation. 

To prevent this negative spiral, a new manager needs to be a good translator on both sides of this equation.  How does a new manager get this to work?  It is really about creating transparency and understanding for all involved and aligning language and goals for both sides.  Managers need to ferret out misalignments, identify them for what they are, and help both sides come to an understanding.  All of this takes a high level of emotional intelligence, situational fluency, patience, and creativity.

New managers must often learn – on the job – how and when to switch up their leadership approach based on the evolving situation.  Do you stay in the coaching and influencing mode, or is now the time to be more directive?  What are the consequences of using the right approach at the right time or the wrong approach at the wrong time? Some managers have an intuitive knack for their leadership roles. Others grow into the job as they learn through trial and error. Some should never have been appointed as manager in the first place.

New EP managers often face unrealistic expectations about their focus.

One of the classic problems new EP managers face is unrealistic expectations on straddling their operational and management roles. Often, employers ask them to be the primary close-in protector and the one who builds and runs the entire program. It’s simply not possible to do both well at the same time.

Close protection agents must focus on the here-and-now and upcoming movements. Program managers must focus on enabling close protection agents to do their jobs. This entails being responsive to the needs of the entire organization, reporting, managing the performance of others, strategy and planning for the future.  If you spend 50% of your time as an agent and 50% of your time as a manager, it is not realistic to expect 100% performance in either area.

If managers matter so much, why don’t they get better training?

Corporate executive protection managers play an important and highly visible role, and the job can be as daunting as it is thankless.

Not all new managers are tasked to lead new programs. Some new managers must take on programs that are running well and not make things worse.  Others are asked to turn around underperforming programs. Far too many are tasked with managing programs without agreed performance benchmarks or even alignment on what the program should deliver. All must manage change and balance the needs and wishes of the principal, defer to organizational higher-ups, and navigate the varying interests of other stakeholders in family offices, corporations, or households – not to mention all the agents on the protective team.

We do not have any statistics specific to the executive protection industry, but it is no secret that dissatisfaction with managers and direct supervisors is one of the leading reasons people leave jobs. Based on our own experience, there is no reason to believe that this should be different for our industry.

Most executive protection managers transition into their roles from the operational side. Although they usually have excellent protective credentials, their new roles require a good understanding of business and management basics. Unfortunately, few receive any kind of management training on their way up the career ladder.

Unlike the rest of the business world, where managers can often be counted on to have at least a theoretical background in many of the domain areas crucial to success, the executive protection industry has nothing like the MBA programs that spit out so many graduates to corporate jobs.

At a very practical level, many discover that they now need to be fluent in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but have zero experience with MS Office. But whether they ever end up realizing it or not, they also lack expertise in fundamental business competencies that all managers need to master, at least to some extent, in order to thrive in corporate settings. These include:

  • Finance and Admin: EP managers will be expected to follow all standard corporate procedures, so they need to be proficient in budgeting, bookkeeping, reporting, metrics gathering, analysis and sharing, etc.
  • HR: Recruiting and developing talent, training, compliance with corporate and national/local laws and regulations, etc.  Getting training right is important in order to maximize operational service delivery while also remaining in compliance and reducing liability. Developing and implementing the extensive training requirements of an EP program takes a lot of time and coordination to do well.
  • Engagement (a.k.a. Sales and Marketing): Evangelizing the protective mission and lobbying for it, aligning expectations with superiors and subordinates, communicating effectively with all stakeholders, etc. A proactive approach to transparent and consistent engagement is critical to success.

New managers everywhere face many of the same challenges, and these are all relevant for EP managers, too.

As they settle into their new roles, new managers everywhere discover that the job has its challenges as well as its perks. These new challenges fall into three broad categories:

Managing people: In addition to now being in a position of authority relative to old coworkers and all the stress that can create, new managers also discover that they are the ones responsible for motivating the team, even though it might be understaffed, underappreciated, underqualified, and underperforming. They are the ones that need to carry out personnel evaluations, spot and fix skills gaps, iron out teamwork issues, and make the decisions that might end careers. But managers have to manage their own managers, too, along with many other stakeholders throughout the organization.  Whether complicated or simple, managing people and managing change must be addressed effectively.

Managing time: New managers often find themselves working more hours than ever before. Yes, there is a learning curve, and things get better with experience, but there are also just a lot of things to do and only so many hours in a day. While keeping operations humming along, managers must also find time to write reports, prepare budgets (and re-do them…), hold meetings, and take care of all the stuff that falls through the cracks. They must be sure everyone on the team is managing their own time efficiently, too, so team productivity is optimal. And they must also make time to think about strategies and goals in addition to tactics and details.

Managing conflicting interests: When you’re in operations, your job is to do your job. When you’re in management, your job is to get others to do their jobs, give others in other parts of the organization what they need to do their jobs, make sure your higher-ups look good doing their jobs, all while trying to keep your own job. You might be asked to do more with less. You will be expected to keep an eye on all the details as well as the big picture.

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