The Secret to Success in Executive Protection
With 18 years of experience in private security, I’ve had the privilege of working with royalty, ultra-high-net-worth individuals, and government officials. Over the years, I’ve shared advice and training with aspiring protectors in the essential skills needed to excel in this demanding field. And while there’s no denying that technical expertise and physical abilities are crucial, I’ve learned firsthand that soft skills play an equally important role in ensuring the success and effectiveness of executive protection agents.
In this article, I’ll reflect on some of my personal experiences to illustrate why I believe soft skills are so crucial in the field of executive protection. While the list of soft skills can be broad and varied, I will pull out the five that I think can give you the biggest bang for your buck if you can master them.
5 Critical Soft Skills for Executive Protection
1. Communication Skills
We often talk about building rapport with our principals, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, certain clients will resist all attempts to build a relationship. I’ve found this particularly true of authority figures who might feel challenged by your assertiveness. In these situations, clear communication between the team members and the principal is vital to ensure everyone is aligned with the security plan and knows how to respond when it matters.
Early in my career, I learned valuable lessons about the importance of effective communication while protecting government officials in a hostile environment. Effective communication was essential to establish trust and maintain a strong working relationship with what could be described as a ‘difficult client’.
On one particular move, which was warned as high-risk but deemed mission-critical by the client, we were hit with the worst-case scenario, a targeted VBIED. We were hit square on, spun around, and the wind knocked us out. Remarkably, there were no fatalities, and thankfully, our engine was still running too (thank you, Stoof)!
A mixture of fear, anger and guilt (from ignoring the advice) quickly surfaced. Finding ourselves partly immobilised, vulnerable and in hostile surroundings, we had all the ingredients of a situation we could quickly lose control of. But by falling back on countless hours of training and providing clear, calm, and concise instructions to the principal, we were able to evacuate the area and make it to a place of safety.
Through that experience and others that followed, I learned that assertiveness would be essential for managing the team and clients’ expectations. In that particular situation, decisions had to be made confidently and decisively. Any hesitation or uncertainty and authority and control would be lost.
Our clients tend to wield a lot of power, and in normal day-to-day interactions, there may be an expectancy for you to adopt a more subordinate and compliant posture. But when the situation turns ugly, the principal will expect you to be assertive and take control of the situation. Never relinquish your assertiveness; it will help you navigate high-pressure situations and maintain control during adversarial encounters.
3. Teamwork and Collaboration
In this line of work, you can just as easily find yourself working ‘one up’ in the PPO role or operating as a cog in the larger team. Both come with their own challenges, and the dynamics of an executive protection team can be complex and tricky.
Large entourages often accompany high-profile politicians and celebrities, and in these settings, you’ll learn to appreciate the importance of teamwork and collaboration truly. The success of the security detail will rely on your ability to coordinate efforts, support one another, and value each other’s contributions.
Everyone has an important role to play on high-profile tasks, and every team member’s input can be vital to the mission’s success. By fostering a collaborative environment and addressing disagreements constructively, challenges can be overcome, achieving the ultimate goal of ensuring the safety and satisfaction of the client.
If not correctly managed, hierarchical jostling can spread through a team where team members are all vying for position and importance. Any mission will flirt with failure unless everyone pulls together and works constructively towards a single goal.
One particular assignment that serves as a great example of teamwork and collaboration comes to mind. I was part of the security detail for a private family where the safety of the principals was the primary concern. With a healthy budget in place, the team was comprised of high-calibre operators. Morale was high, and everyone felt valued and of equal importance. This was achieved through good leadership at the top but also because of a policy of rotating team members regularly through all roles. Not only did this keep everyone well-versed in all areas of the protective blanket, but it also contributed towards reducing egos and the unhealthy clamour for client face time.
This effective leadership tactic was only given more validity in my mind when an uninspired directive from office-based decision-makers decided to devolve power to the teams and appoint team leaders and deputies. A move that not only eliminated neutrality and equality from within the team but also fostered suspicion and uncertainty among team members.
4. Attention to Detail
As security professionals, most of us appreciate the importance of vigilance and attention to detail. Our training has conditioned us to spot the unattended bag in an area we’re responsible for securing. And through inherited authority, we feel empowered to stop and question anyone who looks out of place or acts suspiciously in our area of operation.
But beyond this, attention to detail extends to adhering to dress codes, etiquette, and protocols. In our role, we’re expected to blend seamlessly into various settings and provide discreet, effective security services by paying close attention to these aspects. This is the art of being the gray man and a separate article itself!
5. Etiquette, Protocols, and Cultural Sensitivity
As EP operators, we must be well-versed in the appropriate etiquette and protocols for various environments, cultures, and lifestyles. We must adopt our posture to suit the specific needs of the principal, whether working with billionaires, foreign royalty, heads of state, or celebrities. It is crucial for EP agents to continuously learn and adapt to the customs and expectations of each principal they work with, as well as the unique requirements of individual households or offices.
Recently, I responded to a short-notice request to accompany a client to a high-profile African Nations summit. Primarily, I was requested for this task due to my credentials – or hard skills. However, to succeed in this role, I needed to demonstrate an understanding and appreciation for the host nation’s customs, protocols, and etiquette, all of which could be considered soft skills.
A combination of prior operating experience in the region, a network of contacts to tap into and the due diligence done in the lead-up to the event allowed me to adapt my posture to suit the specific needs of my principal and ensure smooth interactions with other dignitaries.
Soft Skills Continuous Development
By continuously learning from each task you’re assigned and adapting to every principal’s expectations, you’ll learn to tailor your services to provide exceptional protection while avoiding potential embarrassment or offence.
In conclusion, my experiences on the circuit have taught me repeatedly that soft skills play a pivotal role in our success and effectiveness. By honing communication skills, assertiveness, teamwork, attention to detail, and knowledge of etiquette and protocols, we can excel in our field and provide protective services to our clients that exceed their expectations.
The Soft Skills Advantage – The Secret to Success in Executive Protection
By Jon Moss