World Humanitarian Day 2019: Developing Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security

Published: August 19, 2019 | By Frances Nobes

With a greater number of aid agencies now operating in higher-risk environments, safety and security risk management is arguably more important than ever. To ensure access to populations in need, and the safety of staff around the globe, aid agencies’ security teams must be confident, supported and adept. To mark World Humanitarian Day 2019, this EISF blog piece therefore focuses on the importance of effective leadership in humanitarian security risk management.

After attending the Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security (SLHS) course, Frances Nobes reflects on the lessons and skills she learnt from the course. Designed and facilitated by the IE Business School and EISF, the specialised programme aims to assist humanitarian security professionals in improving their management skills. 

Following EISF’s ‘At What Cost?’ campaign to improve the funding of safety and security in the aid sector, the need for aid agencies’ security departments to develop their business expertise is clear. This necessity is based on the fact that fundamental business skills, like budgeting and negotiating, are increasingly required of security managers. As well as this, there are a number of benefits – such as influence and access to more senior colleagues – that can be gained from security departments being more ‘business-savvy’. This blog gives an account of Frances’s experience of the SLHS course and explores some of the ways in which the programme has improved her ability to ‘do business’ in the aid sector.

By Frances Nobes, Security Operations and Research Analyst, World Vision International

In June 2019, I attended the Strategic Leadership for Humanitarian Security (SLHS) course designed and facilitated by the IE Business School and EISF. The programme, which was designed specifically for the humanitarian sector, is a five-day course that teaches security professionals about strategy, negotiations, financial accounting, and teamwork. Some of that may sound a little dreary, but even in the depths of accrual accounting and negotiation mapping, the lecturers managed to retain our interest.

By design, the course was valuable on three levels; personal, organisational, and sector-wide. Throughout the week, we talked about how we could take our learnings back to our organisations and apply them in our day-to-day lives. Unlike some other courses that I’m sure we’ve all attended, the practical applicability of each of the lessons is clear, and the course provides food-for-thought long after the final session of the week.

On a personal level, let’s face it, we all secretly enjoy the opportunity for some professional development, and the IE Business School course is ideal for it. Packed full of interesting content, the course would benefit both people looking to progress in their careers and those who are already managers. Being able to apply good business acumen within your team allows greater efficacy and efficiency, which benefits not only you and your team, but also your organisation as a whole.

Although I may have been a little hesitant about delving into the world of a mini-MBA, the lecturers helped us all to gain confidence in our business skills by teaching us some tools and processes such as double-entry accounting, which seemed daunting at first but were demystified brilliantly. As well as learning core business skills, one of the interesting things about the course is how much you also learn about yourself; your deal-breakers, communication style, personality traits that can make or break teams, personal motivators, and how you view goals.

On an organisational level, having a more efficient team is clearly beneficial for an organisation. Many of the valuable skills taught in the SLHS are forecasting tools, whether that’s setting a strategy, financial projections, or thinking about how to build and foster long-lasting teams. The training, therefore, encourages security teams to lift their eyes above the horizon of incidents and think more strategically and deliberately about business planning and strategy.

Showing business proficiency in these areas can help build the profile and professionalism of organisations’ security functions. Understanding business processes and language allows teams to be more influential and gain better access to the ears of those at the top of the organisation. This is vital in a time when security professionals across the sector are having to work harder to justify funding and prove relevancy in their organisations. As well as helping to improve attendees’ business proficiency, there are a number of useful learnings from the course that students can bring back for their organisations to utilise across different business functions.

At the sector level, after each section of the course, we were prompted to consider how what we had learnt could benefit the humanitarian space as a whole, or how we could use our newly-acquired skills to influence our broader environment. As well as this, the last day of the course is dedicated to discussing the application of the content to the humanitarian sector at large. Although this may seem ambiguous, the session focuses on the realities of the sector and seeks to identify achievable but aspirational goals to improve our collective presence and performance in the field of humanitarian security.

The overarching aim of the session – raising the profile and recognition of the professionalism of the field – undoubtedly benefits all those working in security. In addition, we discussed lots of specific considerations, from career progression through deliberate development programmes to how we can more effectively share our learnings and experiences with our counterparts in other organisations.

Although the price tag may seem a little high compared to usual security trainings, it is half that of a similar business course and I would highly recommend this course to anyone working in security management within the humanitarian sector who is, or is aiming to be, in a strategic leadership role. The cost of the course would easily be recouped through more efficient working practices as well as the more intangible returns that both the individual and the organisation gains from the course. Not only are the benefits of the course three-fold, but it is also an excellent opportunity to marry the two distinct but complementary disciplines of business and security as well as to enhance oneself, one’s organisation, and the field of humanitarian security as a whole.

If you are interested in registering or finding out more about the course, please visit the event page.