Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From Hire to Retire: 6 leadership traits of a training officer

Arjuna George   

Features Uncategorized Training Week firefighter training

Photo credit: Adobe Stock/Fokussiert

The role of the training officer is one of the most critical and influential roles within the fire service. Training is what bonds our fire departments; it is what draws in new talent and keeps veterans excited and engaged. The role is so essential that morale and the organization can crumble without a good training officer.

There are so many fantastic training officers I have had the pleasure to work under and work with, here is just a snapshot of six leadership traits that I feel make a solid and respected training officer.

Trait #1: Foundational leadership skills

In my opinion, a good training officer (T.O.) must also be a great leader. I feel it’s someone who leads by example and demonstrates a real passion for learning and personal development. Training officers that I see excel are those lifelong learners and visionaries. Leading by example is one of the most beneficial traits a T.O. can exhibit.


A key trait that is looked for in many training officers is their personality and how they interact with the entire organization. Are they caring? Are they humble and foster respect within all the ranks? With respect comes respectful dialogue and fair treatment to all. In an adult learning environment, there will always be times when the training officer must intervene, provide constructive and critical feedback, and hold their members accountable. These difficult conversations can happen while respecting one another using emotional intelligence skills. From my experience, firefighters want to know how they can improve; they don’t want just to hear, “good job.”

A training officer plays a key leadership role within our organizations. It’s essential to be patient with the members and have the skills and ability to understand how different people operate and learn. A department’s morale can be hinged on how effective and respectful the T.O. is.

You may not have considered resiliency an essential trait for a training officer, but more times than not, they are thrown a curve ball and need to change things on the fly. Learning how to adapt to rapid change and to be versatile will only prove beneficial.

Trait #2: Organized

Orchestrating a department’s training program can be complex and highly challenging to manage. Time management skills are a must for trainers. Knowing how long training will take, how much time needs to be earmarked for each subject and having tools and techniques to stay on course.

Great training officers are detail-oriented and strong organizers. With such diverse disciplines, finding time for all that we want to do can be challenging, let alone those topics we must do. A well managed efficient system that records all the training activities and lesson plans can help lesson the overwhelm. With technology replacing many old ways of doing things, knowing platforms like digital presentation programs, word processing and virtual conference software is more important than ever.

Trait #3: Engaged

One way to kill a fire department is to have a disengaged T.O. A masterful T.O. must be engaged internally and externally. Building relationships as a trainer opens new possibilities for collaborative richer training. Partners such as forestry, police services, search and rescue, and other public agencies bring fresh ideas, and broaden their skills immensely.

I believe T.O’s need to be engaged with the members on a closer personal level than most positions. It is helpful for the T.O. to know what the membership needs in training and work-life balance. In the volunteer and paid-on-call world, it’s easy to fill the calendar with training every day, but is that the healthiest option for all?

To be an effective T.O., it is essential that their fingers are on the department’s pulse; what’s working, what is not and what new operational guidelines need to be addressed. This key role plays an influential role in the organization overall operations.

With today’s ever-changing technology, training officers must keep up-to-date on what’s new regarding equipment and techniques, new guidelines to train to, and emerging hazards facing us. Engaged T.O’s don’t remain static; they continue to grow and often become subject matter experts.

Innovative drills help to keep members engaged, but at the same time, T.O’s don’t lose sight of most critical drills, the basics.

Trait #4: Coaching mindset

What is a coaching mindset?  Coaching’s foundation is built upon helping and supporting others to grow, excel, and overcome challenges. Great training officers, do that daily.

Training officers, especially in smaller fire services, are often trainers too. This requires a particular skillset. TO’s need to be great listeners. Having a coaching mindset allows firefighters to feel supported in their learning.

You may notice your firefighters excelling beyond your wildest dreams by having an open mind and asking questions. When firefighters feel safe to learn and fail, they will only become better, more efficient firefighters.

Trait #5: Delegate and share

For a T.O. to thrive, they can’t be an expert in everything and do it all. We all have amazing people in our organizations full of unique and special skills, it’s the T.O.’s job to find those, and support them.

Knowing your people personally, you will know who the experts in different disciplines are. Empower those folks to take ownership and run with it. Teambuilding exercises are a great way to collect intel on your members on who thrives doing what, and how you can use those in your training design.

I admire those hard-working trainers that provide so much value to the fire service, whether it be social media content or free resources.  If you want to stand out, become a trainer who shares, with no strings attached.

Trait #6: Presenter

If you desire to be a great training officer, you must also be a great presenter, educator, and communicator.

There are endless possibilities for training instructors, with access to new technology and innovative global idea-sharing.  Some of the best props and demonstrations I have experienced come from creative instructors who share their knowledge freely.

Making an impactful and educational training session sometimes requires double the amount of delivery time in just preparation. Building props, building your lesson plan, developing a slide presentation, and often rehearsing it mentally.

I have seen dozens more excellent traits in Training Officers and trainers, but hopefully, these six provided some food for thought to those currently training and aspiring to be one. Training firefighters is one of the most rewarding positions in the fire service. Take the role seriously, and you will rock it.

Arjuna George retired as a fire chief in November of 2021 after serving the department in Salt Spring Island, B.C., since 1997. He is now a fire service coach and consultant. Visit or email

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