We had the pleasure to catch up with Sally Steward, author of Emergency Service Volunteers: How To Get Them and Keep Them and Leadership Lessons from Behind The Front Line, and spoke about leadership, her background and her upcoming trip to the USA to speak at the TEEX Leadership Symposium.


Flashover: For the people who don’t know much about you, could you tell us a bit about yourself, what your background is and how you ended up in a position writing about leadership in emergency services?

Sally Steward
Sally Steward

Sally: I come from a military family and my mother was in the Civil Defense, which is what we now know as the SES. I remember from a young age the importance of looking after your community and a culture of doing what you can to make a difference.  I’ve volunteered overseas where I lead teams to assist local villages and schools in Fiji and most recently the Children’s Welfare Centre in Nepal.  However it wasn’t until I joined as a Volunteer Firefighter and Volunteer Community Educator seven years ago that I really felt I could make a positive impact.

I’m a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming with a background in leadership development as a coach and consultant.  What I noticed, once joining as a volunteer in emergency services, is there are many people leading teams of volunteers who are passionate and skilled in what they do – however, don’t necessarily have the experience of leading people. I noticed quickly that this was having a huge impact on the constant high turnover of volunteers. Unfortunately, this impacted me directly in my role as an emergency service volunteer and was not a pleasant experience.  Rather than just complain about it I decided to write my first book, Emergency Service Volunteers: How To Get Them and Keep Them!

Working in emergency services means I am privileged to hear some amazing stories from some very inspirational people. People who have been really challenged in their leadership roles and overcome hurdles while learning valuable lessons along with way.  Some of these courageous and powerful stories feature in my second book, Leadership Lessons From Behind the Front Line.  The book is really a credit to emergency service personnel all over the world.

We’ve seen your articles doing the rounds on the internet, namely the “top 10 reasons that volunteers leave” and we understand you have a book coming out, what was it like moving from articles to a printed book?

SallyWriting for me is sharing information to learn new strategies with a focus on neuroscience and human behaviour. My heart is with emergency services, it is such a dynamic and passionate environment to work in.  Research plays a big part of my writing whether it is a small snippet of information, a blog or a book. Writing a book is quite a project; the drafting, writing, editing, designing and printing is a repetitious and time consuming process however an extremely rewarding one once you see the end result. The contributors who provided their stories in Leadership Lessons Behind The Front Line are exceptional people who very generously shared their personal challenges over the last couple of years.  I am very grateful for their honesty and sharing of their experiences.  We can all learn from each other no matter what field of emergency services we work or volunteer with.

Sally Steward's books ready for delivery
Sally Steward’s books ready for delivery

Flashover: What was involved in publishing the book? How did you gain access to the various emergency services and how long has it taken to piece it all together?

SallyLeadership is about building relationships and valuing those relationships, this is something I do quite well. I work closely with many different emergency service agencies and they all have their own challenges.  However, opportunity is always there to learn from other people. I value and respect all people, their experiences, skills and beliefs. I really do like a good chat and am often caught up in people’s stories, so I thought why not put some of these stories into a book!  If I can learn from other people’s experiences and challenges, why not share it so others can too. It’s interesting because all the agencies have the same challenges but feel as though they are alone and a bit confused with what to do.

It’s interesting because all the agencies have the same challenges but feel as though they are alone and a bit confused with what to do.

Flashover: Did you notice any differences when interacting with emergency responders? Were the leadership values, teachings or experiences different between agencies?

SallyEmergency services have their own technical areas of specialty however when it comes to human behaviour and leadership the same challenges seem to be global.  I travel nationally and internationally speaking at conferences and conducting workshops on leadership, mentoring, and recruitment and retention.  It’s interesting because all the agencies have the same challenges but feel as though they are alone and a bit confused with what to do.  People all have basic human needs and when we look at this more closely it begins to unravel the challenges of leadership.

Who is your book aimed at? Is it people already in leadership positions or for people who are looking to move towards these types of roles?

SallyAbsolutely anyone, although it does have a focus on emergency services.  There are leadership lessons woven through the book which anyone can relate to – however, those in emergency services will likely live through some of those experiences with inside knowledge.  I’m inspired by all the stories which come from volunteer firefighters, United Nations, Australian Navy, Police, SES, Fire and Rescue, Ambulance, Air Operations, Nepal Children’s Welfare Centre and much more.

Leadership. Lessons from behind the front line.
Leadership. Lessons from behind the front line.

Flashover: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge people face when moving into a position of leadership?

SallyIn my opinion, it is appreciating that everyone’s model of the world is different and we must respect that even if their beliefs and values are at polar opposites to our own; it is still to be respected. I often see avoidance as an issue. Leaders not anticipating problems while they are minor and then they snowball.  Dealing with difficult situations can be uncomfortable but hoping they will go away rarely works, it usually escalates.

We hear you’re heading to Texas to speak at the TEEX Leadership Development Symposium, that’s fantastic! What can people can expect to hear from you there?

SallyYes I’m madly typing right now while sitting in the departure lounge at Sydney International Airport. The theme of the TEEX Leadership Symposium is STAND UP.  It is about stepping up as a leader and doing what is right.  I’m providing two presentations on Transforming Culture to Support Volunteer Leaders.  Attending and presenting this conference in Dallas, Texas has been a dream of mine for the last couple of years so I am very excited to have been asked.

Where can people get a copy of your book? What formats are available?

SallyBoth books, Emergency Service Volunteers: How To Get Them and Keep Them (paperback) and Leadership Lessons from Behind The Front Line (hardback) are available as an eBook (digital) or hard copy. Many agencies have been purchasing them in bulk for their team, it’s been amazing.

To find out out more, have a [look at our website] or our [facebook page].

Thanks very much for taking the time out to speak with us and we wish you all the best with the new book. Good luck in the states!

SallyIt was a pleasure, looking forward to chatting again soon.  Better go, they are calling my flight!


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