How the right training can fast track your public safety career

Advance your career and better serve your community by leveraging the right training and certification programs


Tangela Gibson, CPE, is professional standards coordinator, Augusta 911.
Tangela Gibson, CPE, is professional standards coordinator, Augusta 911.

By Tangela Gibson, CPE

When I began my career in public safety as a front-line dispatcher in 2001, I quickly realized that my job was no longer just a “job.” It was a career that provided the opportunity to help my fellow citizens in the Augusta community. I set my sights on moving into a leadership position, where I could make an even greater impact, and began to work toward that goal.

When I moved into the sergeant role a few years later, I had my first taste of leadership. The traditional challenges that can take place when moving from colleague to boss became apparent, and I began looking into training programs to help me gain a better understanding of leadership. This was my first step in building my professional training toolkit.

Regardless of the stage your career is in, the right training programs, coupled with a growth mindset, can arm you with invaluable tools to advancement, personally and professionally.

Outline your career goals

The better you know your professional self, the better you can pinpoint your need for additional education and training programs. There are several questions you can ask yourself:

  • What do you enjoy most about your work?
  • What skills do you have now?
  • What skills will you need to acquire in order to advance to the next stage of your career?

In addition to exploring these questions on your own, work with your supervisor to express your career goals and gain a strong understanding of your strengths and weaknesses to create a professional development plan.

The first time I applied for my current role as a professional standards coordinator, I did not get it. My director wisely told me that it wasn’t what I did not have, but what the other person did have – the previously acquired skills to do the job. He did not need to be trained right off the bat, as he already had the skills needed to successfully perform the role. My director was right. This experience laid the foundation for me to seek out additional opportunities to learn new skills to put me on my desired career path.

Identify public safety resources and training programs

Once you have pinpointed areas of opportunity for growth, skills development and diversification, it is important to identify the proper resources and training programs. While seeking out these opportunities may feel overwhelming, we are fortunate that many law enforcement, EMS, fire and public safety organizations make it simple for us to grow our knowledge base and acquire new skills.

  • The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) offers several certification courses online to help public safety communications professionals gain new skills. The Certified Public-Safety Executive Program was instrumental in changing the way I performed in a leadership role.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) provides several opportunities for low cost and free training, including its National Incident Management System.
  • PowerDMS, a software company that services many law enforcement agencies, also offers a Certified Professional Program. If your agency uses PowerDMS’s policy management system, the program is an ideal way to learn the inner workings of the system to better manage it and help drive your agency toward CALEA accreditation and greater accountability, and to improve the safety of your community.
  • Whether it is CALEA, NENA, Police1, FireRescue1, EMS1, Gov1 or a host of others, many industry players are often hosting webinars at no cost, providing public safety professionals with additional skills to do their jobs better. Be sure to sign up for the appropriate publications and newsletters to easily be in the loop with these resources.

Adopt a growth mindset

As we can all attest, the public safety field is changing every day. Having a growth mindset that supports continuous learning and development, as opposed to a fixed mindset of comfort and stagnation, will be crucial to career success.

Remain coachable and willing to learn from your partner or your supervisors. Take the initiative to challenge yourself and continue to move your feet toward your career goals. While things may not be perfect, the steps you take to grow your career in public safety will transcend your professional work and make you a stronger, more well-rounded person in the future.

Adapting a growth mindset also means challenging yourself to learn new things. Consider taking classes or training on topics you know nothing about, so you can grow and learn. Even if it’s something you don’t end up using, your training and education will be well-rounded.

Enhancing your public safety career with education

The field of public safety is incredibly broad and diverse, and the opportunities for learning are immense. Education is the most important tool you can have in your professional toolkit to guide your career, while also making the greatest impact on what we all care most about – the people and the communities in which we work.

Read next: How to be the architect of your leadership career

About the author

Tangela Gibson, CPE, is professional standards coordinator, Augusta 911.

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