These days, it seems that anybody who has partaken in a two-week course in a classroom or disused car park is calling themselves a CPO, an executive protection professional, or an EP specialist.
I receive resumes daily. And sadly, the information there usually focuses on hard skills rather than soft skills. Furthermore, plenty of irrelevance focusing on firearms courses and martial arts experience. But, do not mistake me: An operative that can handle themselves is of paramount importance, as is physical fitness.
However, an MMA and weapons enthusiast is more of a deterrent for many potential employers. That’s because it deems the prospective employee more inclined to be offensive rather than defensive.
Defensive behavior can break a negative cycle/situation if composure and levelheadedness are maintained. Conversely, a person’s offensive behavior is the source of a negative cycle that involves stress, tension, and agitation between both parties.
The truth is, any time a principal actually needs sheer muscle (a people mover) means that someone wasn’t using their brain in the first instance. And that someone could be you if you only think that this industry is about weight-lifting, sheer size, and carrying a firearm.
Preparing for Every Possible Scenario
A successful executive protection professional/operative will spend most of their time and effort anticipating potential problems rather than looking for them or causing them.
The operative manages to keep the individual protected, whether a high-profile client or the lead singer of a band, out of harm’s way by preparing for every possible scenario.
The time spent working out at the gym is of no value if an executive protection professional/operative does not understand the importance of these essential soft skills and mandatory personal traits.
- Ability to avoid and deflect confrontation. If your energy and focus are on a physical confrontation with a threat, your principal will potentially appear unprotected from others.
- Advance work, knowing the location the principal is visiting, identifying emergency exits, knowing the venue/location security director or manager, planning the route.
- The ability to follow directions clearly and to communicate articulately, politely, and expressly.
- Detail-oriented, always planning and thinking ahead of time.
- Ability to “blend” in with others, thereby drawing less attention to yourself and less notice to your principal.
- Meaning, don’t share ANY personal information regarding your client with anyone. That includes photos in their cars that you don’t own or on a private jet of which you won’t be getting any sleep most of the journey. It is not impressive.
Bouncer vs. EP Approach
In 18 years of work, I have only needed to put my hands on a threat once. It’s the bouncer approach versus the executive protection approach. The bouncer approach means using your body in the first instance and your head second.
In executive protection, you do 98% with your head and your mouth. Personality, professionalism, and discretion are what this is all about.
Protective security is a defensive job. Therefore, operators must assess potential threats and extract the principal from any situation they deem dangerous.
They start by doing their research. Operators check out the location that they’re visiting and learn what the principal plans to do there. Is it a business trip or a family vacation where privacy is of utmost importance, for example?
What defines an executive protection professional?
- Always be punctual (at least 15 to 30 minutes early).
- Be immaculately and appropriately dressed (This is key. For example, I have witnessed operators in this region wearing suits in 50-degree heat, including ties and sunglasses. Despite operating at night during a festival, it just does not look good.).
- Fully understand and can implement “situational awareness.”
- Do not out-dress the principal.
- Always maintain the highest standards of personal hygiene.
- Be tactful and diplomatic.
- Maintain a calm and confident temperament.
- Remember, you are an executive protection professional/operative, not a servant (but this does not mean you should not carry a bag or umbrella if the situation permits you to do so).
- Blend in and be anonymous (depending on the task).
- If you think you have said the wrong thing, you have.
- Give the principal space whenever possible (operate without intrusion always).
- Speak when spoken to unless you need to communicate a necessary command to the principal.
- Silence is golden (know when to keep your mouth shut).
- Don’t lie, be honest, and don’t waffle.
- Remember that idle conversations are a no-go.
- Don’t ‘listen’ to private conversations.
- Practice a no news is good news approach.
- Be prepared, or you must be ready to fail always (advanced planning is vital).
- Be forward-thinking – one step ahead of the game constantly.
- Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted time (guaranteed).
- Always be prepared to communicate, negotiate and compromise.
- Practice empathetic assertiveness always.
- If the principal leaves late, they arrive late (a vital factor to note: who must know about this?).
- Be assertive and decisive.
- Be prepared to justify decisions regularly and be ready to document all of them.
- No crude jokes or inappropriate humor.
- Do not lose your temper as you instantly lose the argument every time.
- Avoid the over-familiarity trap (this occurs too frequently).
- Always maintain a professional relationship with the principal.
- Strong IT skills (Any executive protection professional/operative will be documenting his day in the form of reports and expenses. The principal and their management may request these from you).
- Don’t drink alcohol on duty (this occurs within the over-familiarity trap usually).
Meaning ― The perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status after some variable has changed, such as time or predetermined event.
PERCEPTION, COMPREHENSION, PROJECTION.
Suppose you master these areas of situational awareness. Then you ― as an executive protection professional ― will have the skills necessary to truly make the phrases become skills, and the skills become actionable.
To be able to perceive the status, attributes, and dynamics of a situation relevant to the elements in an environment, in the most basic of ways. In layman’s terms, this is where the process of monitoring, cue detection, and simple recognition of situational elements like people, locations, conditions, and actions come into play.
Furthermore, you have to perceive a threat by monitoring your surroundings and observing your environment. As a result, you develop your skills of cue detection or action that someone may take to deter your attention. Also, your recognition of that cue and what that cue is telling you about the elements you are surrounded by at that time.
This involves the process of pattern recognition, interpretation, and evaluation. So, taking this and integrating it with perception, you will now learn to interpret and comprehend the information you’re seeing and understand how it affects your objectives. So, consequently, now you have perceived a potential issue or threat, or have you?
Recognizing a pattern being displayed (an angry individual when everyone else is happy) and interpreting that action and evaluating how the said individual is acting.
The highest level and probably the one that most operators try to perform daily. It involves the ability to project the future actions of the elements in the environment.
This would be people, places, and things. And this can only take place if your understanding of both perception and projection are understood.
Projection takes a lot of practice. In fact, it entails extrapolating information forward in time to determine the outcome or its effect on your environment operationally. Projection is mission-critical to us in this industry, your principal, and the team. If you project wrong, you could cause a great deal of chaos to all involved.
This is a critical skill, and you must practice it daily.
Situational awareness is merely a phrase without the proper foundation and the unmitigated understanding of the foundation make-up of those terms. Awareness is a choice. You have to choose to pay attention. Being able to distinguish what is normal from abnormal is NOT inherent. It takes practice as it relates to executive protection.
As you learn these techniques, try not to rely on the concentric rings of protection and only then assess a given situation. I mean, don’t rely on concentric circles of security because it can lull you into a false sense of awareness, therefore lowering your effectiveness.
Suppose we relied on venue security or club security 100%. In that case, we are relying more on their effectiveness than our own. And that would be a mistake. Not because they are necessarily lousy staff members, but they are not trained professionals, as many of us have come to find out.
As you adapt your skills, treat every disturbance as a potential threat. That is, until you are comfortable with your information assessment intake and the information you gather from them.
In conclusion, if some event draws your attention, make a quick assessment to include all of these steps quickly. Then, assess the rest of your environment to see what ― IF anything ― you are missing.
As some industry leaders have shown and continue to prove with their mastery of these skills, their appearance in specific environments is just soft skills they mastered over time. However, in the times that we live in today and the threats we all face as operatives, we cannot afford to be complacent.
So, if you hear these terms used again by an executive protection professional/specialist, hopefully, they will also understand how vital the foundations of these words are. Otherwise, situational awareness is just a phrase without practice and useless without understanding.