Shawn Messinger

Shawn Messinger

Story Vault

By Shawn Messinger

In my travels around the United States teaching Emergency Police Dispatch (EPD) classes it never fails to amaze me how so many telecommunications professionals feel that they have no influence on the environment in which they work. Either directly with comments or indirectly by their attitudes, they take the position of no control. They believe that nothing they do or say will change the daily routine in the communications center or their profession as a whole.

Rather than addressing an issue, dispatchers toss it aside, suggesting: “that’s just how things are here,” or “it’s always been this way,” or my least favorite, “I’m just a dispatcher.” The reluctance to take action, or present ideas, not only keeps people from engaging in their jobs, but it also robs the agency of potentially valuable contributions. Sometimes, it takes someone who is not at the top to recognize an opportunity or a better way of doing things. The view from where dispatchers sit provides a perspective unique to management’s position. Good ideas shouldn’t be left to fade into oblivion.

Take this case, for example.

During a recent EPD certification course we discussed the lack of a policy for testing the TTY system, which became an issue when an individual with a hearing impairment called 9-1-1 using a TTY machine. No one at the center during the time of the call could remember how the system worked and the instructions had been long misplaced; the most senior calltaker on shift couldn’t remember a single other TTY call in the past 10 years. Dispatcher professionals, as we know, are resourceful. They like to help people. The dispatchers on duty worked as a team, pooled their knowledge, and figured out how to help the caller.

The problem had been solved, at least for the moment.

I asked if they had since put a TTY policy in place and whether they had updated others at the center about how it worked. Their answer was “no” and they made comments to the effect that they did not believe the “bosses” would get around to it.

I suggested they try “leading from the bottom,” which is a way nonsupervisory people could foster positive change within the communications center. I asked if anyone had tested the TTY system despite the lack of a policy and if policy for testing and use had been drafted for a supervisor to review. The answer to both questions was “no.”

I encouraged them to “lead from the bottom” and to test the TTY system as a general part of their work routine and to develop a sample policy. My suggestion was certainly not in support of insubordination or a disregard for the chain of command, but I do believe that waiting for “someone” to make a difference is the same as waiting for “no one.”

Consider the importance of action in this case. Dispatchers offer a public service that makes a difference in the communities they serve. If the TTY fails to work, the public service falls short of the agency’s honored commitment and the community’s expectations.

As the iconoclastic Donald H. McGannon said—“Leadership is an action, not a position,” —it’s up to the individual to make the difference. Leadership can come from any level in an organization, even the bottom.

How can you lead from the bottom?