CareerLink: What public service experience brings to the table

May 14, 2012
Why a public service and government background is important for corporate security leadership jobs

In my last column I argued that, although the current trend in many businesses is to avoid hiring from government service, the public sector will continue to feed the corporate security community for many years to come. The perception that security leaders with government backgrounds bring more drawbacks than benefits to a business environment is erroneous. Public service is a good place—and in certain circumstances, the only place—to find security executive candidates with certain skill sets that are highly valued in the private sector. Here are some of the most transferrable skills that successful public-sector security professionals may offer to the business world.

Scale of Experience. Successfully leading at a senior level within a large organization with thousands of employees and contractors presents unique learning opportunities, and many public-sector security leaders come from just that environment. If you’re a multi-national looking for an individual to lead an organization of 500 professionals and manage budgets in excess of $50 million, you will be hard-pressed to find candidates with experience at that scale if you exclude the public sector.

Appreciation for Visibility. Large organizations are always under the eye of journalists and stakeholders. Individuals with a successful government background should be accustomed to performing their roles under a microscope and have an appreciation for their high profile. It influences how they achieve their objectives, how they communicate their personal and organizational actions, and how they handle any internal organizational conflicts. These individuals are very sensitive to the public impact of what they’re doing. They often have experience testifying at highly public hearings both in court and in Congress or local or state government.

Maturity in Management. Security leaders with a successful government background are adept at dealing with politics, and the private sector has as great a need for this skill as the public sector. It can be extremely challenging to encourage and achieve consensus between employees, executives and elected officials. A mature public-sector leader can do this without coercion or backbiting by de-escalating conflicts and making each stakeholder in the decision feel as though the final choice is what he or she really needs and wants.

Mature leaders can also sidestep pressure to change their actions or decisions for “political” reasons. When they become aware that certain members of the organization may be attempting to push them in a certain direction, they are able to step back and analyze these attempts in the context of their impact on security and then go forward to do what they’re charged with doing.

Succession Planning. Public agencies, including the Armed Forces where many public security executives have previous experience, maintain a very strong focus on succession planning. We routinely see that this is absent in many security organizations within the private sector. Mentoring high-potential staff and others within the organization is a very transferrable skill, and something that can help businesses maintain continuity during change of control, management shakeups and the normal staff rotations that all departments must address.

Today, public-sector security leaders are more business oriented and are participating in more business training than 15 or 20 years ago. They are using a lot of business processes and metrics within their government organizations, which enables them to make the jump to the private sector with fewer setbacks. The portfolio of skills they offer to business is robust and growing.

Jerry Brennan is co-author of the book Security Careers and content expert faculty for the Security Executive Council. He is also founder of Security Management Resources, the leading global executive search firm specializing exclusively in corporate security. The new edition of Security Careers includes more than 70 security job descriptions and career paths; up-to-date compensation trends for each position; tips on how to get the best compensation for yourself and your staff; comprehensive lists of certifications, member organizations and job resources; and resume tips and samples.