This article is part of a series, GOLD LINE TRUTHS, created by Samantha Hawkins, a long-time public safety professional. Exacom and The Learning Center are pleased to give her a platform to share her experiences.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article and series are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities she represents.

Oh yes, you most certainly did read that title right! Titles do not make the dispatcher, and I have breaking BONUS news for you… It doesn’t make the leader either.

When I was about five years into my career with my former 911 center, I applied for one of four available slots for a Communications Training Officer (CTO) position. I remember feeling shaky all through the interview, but I was sure that my years of dutiful service and my demonstrated team player attitude was enough to speak volumes about my passion for the job. It turns out that while my passion was clearly evident, it did not speak loud enough to my ability to serve as a trainer. I did not get the position. My immediate instinct was to pull up Indeed.com and see what jobs were available within 10 miles of my home zip code. Instead, I decided to stay put and make the best of what I was doing where I was at. I had a hard and upfront conversation with myself that began with asking myself why I wanted to be a CTO in the first place. The answer was that I wanted to feel like I had some impact on new generations of emergency telecommunicators. I wanted the opportunity to empower trainees and recruits to be effective facilitators of good and to contribute new ideas and new inspiration to the work of our training division. After I finally got over the saltiness of being passed over for a CTO spot, I realized that I could still accomplish all of that right where I was. Without the specialty pay or the new uniform shirt. Without the position or the title.

The title didn’t determine my merit as a trainer or instructor. My attitude was what determined my merit.

Are you waiting until you get a certain position or title to start championing for change in your ECC? Do you often contemplate all the new ideas you would contribute if you only got a seat at the right table? Maybe you need to consider that being an agent of change or a champion of positivity for your agency can begin right now from where you’re at. It doesn’t start with your position; it starts with your purpose. When you determine within yourself what it is that is driving you, your purpose, your why, you will find that you start to feel true commitment to the job before you. Purpose is the windmill that can harness true passion, creativity, and persistence. Purpose will be what keeps you showing up after your bad days, and keeps you motivated about the mission of your organization even on your worst days. I found that my purpose was centered in the satisfaction of knowing that I was the reason that someone out there had a good day or a better day after talking to me on the phone or radio. My purpose was to inspire a smile on the faces of all those I interacted with, from my callers to my field responders to my coworkers too.

There is an excellent quote by inspirational speaker and author, Simon Senek that I just need to share on this:

“Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes.” WOW.

When you can tap into your purpose, you will find that you can do just about anything and change anything. You will find your voice and find your place in your center. That is the point when 911 is no longer just a job or career to you, it is your calling and your purpose! Finding your place in your center and taking ownership of your organization’s culture can begin with you calling for ways to improve morale, or proposing initiatives to recognize your team members more, or implementing team-building activities, or creating ways to help newer employees feel a stronger sense of belonging. Championing for better training in your agency can look like pushing for more opportunities for employees to attend conferences and workshops or lobbying to bring in guest instructors or host trainings or leading the charge in writing lesson plans or creating in-house courses. Leadership can happen informally and at any level or rank too. It can mean advocating for the needs of your shift to the supervisors or admin, or laying the groundwork for a peer support team, or coordinating a health and wellness committee at your center. Personally, I made the choice a few years ago to tap into my purpose and my passion to start using my talents for good. I was going to prove my worthiness and my value to myself by demonstrating what I had to offer to this industry.

Stepping Into the Public Eye

I began seeking out opportunities to strengthen myself as a trainer and further develop my confidence in instructing and public speaking. I created an hour-long lesson plan and PowerPoint for my first-ever presentation. I pitched my presentation to a “Call for Papers” for a popular virtual conference for 911 telecommunicators and was beyond pleased to be accepted. That conference was “Dare to Be Great 3” (hosted and produced by Within The Trenches founder Ricardo Martinez) and my original presentation was, “10 Things Your 911 Caller Wishes You Understood.” I began writing guest blogs on important topics that were relevant to our industry, such as overcoming bias in the workplace, enhancing your customer service skills with callers, and reclaiming your joy and passion in 911. I sought out opportunities to speak on these same topics on many podcasts as well and I accepted invitations to appear as part of other virtual and in-person conferences (regionally and nationally). At my center, I participated in more community events and assisted on Any chance I had to have a recruit sit and observe with me on the floor, I took it. I also decided that rather than wait for anyone to invest in my professional growth, I would take steps towards investing in my own development through training. Over the year that followed, I applied for continuing education scholarships to gain new certifications, attend conferences, and enroll in courses to advance my telecommunications skills. Education that I could bring back to my agency and apply towards bettering myself for the citizens I serve as well as for the staff I serve alongside of.

Invest in Yourself

CTO positions ultimately did open again and this time I arrived at my interview confident in my skills and assured of what I brought to the table. They say that you should dress for the job you want. Well, consider thissometimes before you ever get a position, a title, or a seat at the table, you need to project the right image for the job or role that you want. If you know your purpose, live your purpose! Create your own opportunities and build your own doors to walk through. You are the best investment you will ever make and the secret to building your brand is to bet on yourself, always. You will be amazed by what happens when you reframe your attitude to one of proactiveness in writing your own destiny and paving your path to greatness. Do you see yourself as a trainer or instructor? Then how are you turning even the smallest opportunities into teaching moments? Are you volunteering to offer mentorship to new trainees and recruits, or how are you contributing to making the work environment a more welcoming and hospitable one for recruits? Do you ever create quizzes for trainees or develop helpful training aids for them to help guide them in this new career? Do you see yourself as a supervisor, operations manager, or future Director? How are you demonstrating right now that you can manage yourself and effectively coordinate your own professional development before you even begin to strive for a position in managing others and overseeing their career development? How are you showing your capacity to lead and influence others right now, as a call taker, dispatcher, or CTO, regardless of your years of experience?

Believe in Yourself

No one owes it to you to just hand you a position or a title if you do not believe in yourself enough to work for what you want. The title may come after all, but you owe it to yourself to give yourself every chance to succeed and thrive with or without a title. In the end, I enjoyed proving that I was a capable trainer and instructor and building on my job knowledge, and I stopped working to earn a title and started working to prove something to myself. I believe that we all bear a little light within ourselves, and in the right environments, and around the right people, that light will burn its absolute brightest. Harnessing the power of knowing your purpose and turning your passion into tangible work ethic is a far bigger feat than simply earning a neat title below your name. It is finding the right rooms to fill with your light because it is is never too small to make a difference. So, stop wishing and hoping and wondering about all that you could do if you only were in this position or that position….and do something about your work environment and the culture now with what you have and where you are. You are more than any position, just like you are more than just a body filling a seat and holding up a headset, you are truly what makes or breaks your 911 center. Let your light shine!

About the Author

Samantha Hawkins

Samantha Hawkins is a seasoned professional in the field of public safety communications. Her career in this field began in 2015; since then, she has made significant contributions to the industry. Samantha is a certified PSAP Professional and Quality Assurance Evaluator, showcasing her field expertise. She is also highly experienced in training others for public safety communications, demonstrating her commitment to sharing her knowledge and skills with others.

Published On: July 27th, 2023Categories: Training, Staffing & RetentionTags:
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