It’s been two years since the NFCC Leadership Qualities (LQs) landed on our desks. How have they been received? Are they useful? With everything else going on at the moment, do they matter?

The Leadership Qualities

Personal Impact; Outstanding Leadership; Service Delivery; Organisational Effectiveness.

Each of these LQs contains statements which describe core behaviours.

As we know, this is a framework for how leadership needs to look for the FRS to evolve and succeed. The LQs support the NFCC National People Strategy, which offers an encouraging vision for the future for the Service. Some FRS’s are already in the process of implementing this framework;  however, as the processes underpinned by the previously used competency framework (the PQAs) were built up over decades, this transition isn’t going to happen overnight. Although many in the FRS are in agreement about the overdue retirement of the PQAs, familiarisation with their replacement is still in its infancy.

So, what does all this mean to you? Well, that depends on where you sit. Whether you are a Firefighter hopeful, a candidate for promotion, an appraiser or appraisee, a trainer or trainee, a line manager, an HR professional, or wear several ‘hats’, now is the time to know more about the LQs. Behavioural performance frameworks are the backbone of recruitment, promotion and appraisal activity, so if they aren’t reflecting what the FRS needs today, it’s harder for everyone to do a good job and the organisation to develop according to its vision.

At VCA Ltd we are in the unique position of having spent the last 18 months using the LQ framework to design a new online promotion system for assessing firefighters from Crew to Area Manager (the “Career Progression Gateway”). We’re well-placed to contribute to the conversation about what works; key behind-the-scenes factors; and what Services and individuals alike can do to use, and benefit, from them.

  • The LQs are concise and streamlined. This means the framework is much easier for personnel on both sides of an assessment to get their head around. The LQs map onto the six key areas for improved performance of the People Strategy, so there’s a good level of consistency. For instance, in the strategy ‘Continue to support the Health and Well-being of all our people’ links to LQ definitions such as ‘I create a culture where individual and team wellbeing is a priority and have systems and processes in place to make sure the teams in my area are coping’. This helps users see the logic behind the framework, which in turn makes it easier to use.
  • The framework supports change on a practical level. For instance, the increased emphasis on using the skills within teams for development, through coaching and mentoring; the crucial role of partnerships, collaborative working and widely shared best practices; the recognition of the importance of mental health and well-being; the acknowledgement of business-like and resource-savvy approaches. These are highly implementable on an individual and organisational level.
  • The framework has a strong focus on Service Delivery. It clarifies what is expected, from systematic risk evaluation to anticipating service delivery needs, and puts the ‘customer’ centre-stage.
  • The definitions are cumulative, so it is clear how the behavioural expectations evolve to make it clear, from a career development perspective, what individuals need to do to step up to the next level.
  • The designers of the framework are supportive of it being used flexibly. Variations can be adopted to suit each organisation, and HR/OD teams can adapt the guidance to fit with their own methods.
  • Having only four leadership qualities simplifies the framework, but also means each one has quite a lot of ground to cover. HR teams will need to make sure assessors have enough experience to differentiate between the multiple elements per definition when they are evaluating performance.
  • Promotion processes are nerve-wracking, and candidates will be keen to prepare. The good news is that the LQ framework is a manageable length. However, some statements may seem somewhat open to interpretation which may not suit individuals who prefer to work within a more prescriptive framework.
  • For some HR/OD teams, flexibility in using the framework will be a refreshing change. Others may prefer clearer guidance, depending on the team’s experience in developing assessment & appraisal solutions.
  • Some concepts lend themselves more to on-going appraisal activity than to time-limited selection related assessments, which does need to be considered in how the framework is used.
  • Under the PQAs, ‘Commitment to Diversity & Integrity’ was a distinct PQA, whereas references to fairness and equality within the LQ framework are subtler. Related behaviours are embedded across the four LQs; time will tell if this is direct enough for evaluation purposes.

In order to progress the People Strategy agenda, it’s time for organisations to implement the Leadership Qualities to assess Firefighters for recruitment, promotion and internal appraisals. With many FRS already taking positive steps, what can the remaining FRS’s do, without being overwhelmed in the process? Here are some ideas:

  • Find out what your FRS colleagues in other Services are doing. Sharing best practice and looking at methods being used elsewhere is encouraged now more than ever (and features strongly in the LQs). HR teams can lead by example.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. The Career progression Gateway (CPG) has transformed promotional processes for several FRS already; it’s an easy to administer, surprisingly cost-effective, valid (with good performance related to adverse impact issues) and innovative way of assessing candidates against the LQs. Importantly, it has been received with enthusiasm by candidates and HR teams alike. It might be worth a look.
  • Stay up to date. For instance, VCA Ltd have an Assessment Forum for FRS HR professionals where we share latest news on topics from exercise design to adverse impact, and encourage FRS to get involved in shaping the services they need. Contact us to join.
  • Line managers can bring the LQs to life by initiating team discussions around what they are, how they might be demonstrated, and how to observe them in others. Aiming to familiarise your teams with the concepts will also increase your own understanding. Whether the LQs become relevant to those your support via a training, appraisal or assessment context, they will be glad you raised this important topic.
  • As part of the CPG we run interactive ‘zoom’ familiarisation sessions with candidates, covering what to expect from the assessment and a discussion about the LQs. These are incredibly well- received and powerful, and we’d recommend FRS’s adopt something similar for use with their own assessment processes, if they aren’t already.


In 2019 the HMICFRS FRS Inspections summary of findings reflected that there are ‘local variations in almost every aspect of what each fire and rescue service does’. The leadership framework delivers a contemporary national standard through which FRS’s can seek consistency, and greater parity in assessment processes for recruitment and promotion would greatly contribute to this aim.

So yes, the Leadership Qualities do matter. They will support the NFCC’s vision for an improved, efficient, responsive organisation, for the benefit of both its workforce and communities. Recent challenging circumstances have proved that the FRS does have the capability to adapt, embrace and innovate, and the Leadership Qualities can help it continue to do so.

*Supported by the findings of key reports such as the HMRICFRS inspection, Sir Ken Knight ‘Facing the Future’ and Adrian Thomas ‘Independent Review of Conditions and Service for Fire and Rescue Staff in England’.