JAME: The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

An Examination of the Relationship Between Leadership
Practices and Organizational Commitment in the Fire Service

William C. Lowe, Clayton County (GA) Fire Department
F. Barry Barnes, Nova Southeastern University


Executive Summary

This study examines the relationship between leadership practices and organizational commitment in the fire service. The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire developed by Porter, Steers, Mowday, and Boulian (1974) was used for establishing the self-reported organizational commitment levels of respondents. The Leadership Practices Inventory developed by Kouzes and Posner (1988) was used for establishing the perceived leadership practices of fire service supervisors. The respondents for the study were the fire officers and firefighters of a municipal southeastern United States fire department. Given recent current events, the need for committed and dedicated fire fighters is especially critical today.

An answer for the study's single research question of "what is the influence of perceived leadership practices on fire service subordinates' self-reported organizational commitment" was established. The results indicate a positive relationship between the leadership practices of Challenging the Process, Inspiring a Shared Vision, Enabling Others to Act, Modeling the Way, and Encouraging the Heart; and the organizational commitment levels of fire service personnel. Lessons for practicing managers conclude the paper.


Introduction

This study assesses the influence of the leadership practices of fire department officers upon the organizational commitment of subordinates using a psychological model of organizational commitment by Mowday, Steers, and Porter (1979) as a theoretical foundation. The research seeks to measure the levels of organizational commitment of firefighters as related to their personal perceptions of their officers' leadership styles. The proposition is that the quality of leadership practices improves organizational commitment levels increasing the performance of fire departments.

This study explores and applies the Theory of Organizational Commitment (Mowday, Steers, & Porter, 1979) to the fire service. The results of this research will be of interest to other emergency response organizations such as police and sheriff departments, ambulance services, hospitals, and public and private disaster response teams. The outcome of this research is to identify the specific leadership practices for improving the organizational commitment of the men and women who deliver community emergency services.

Background of the Problem

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports the United States has one of the highest fire death rates per capita in the industrialized world. Approximately 5,500 people die in fires in this country annually, including about 100 firefighters; and another 30,000 civilians are injured. Furthermore, direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $11.2 billion annually (1994).

Fire departments perform a vital role in protecting the lives of citizens, so fire officers need to understand the importance of employee commitment in order to increase fire service performance and productivity. Saving lives demands officers, who are responsible for directing public safety operations and ensuring emergency response personnel who have high commitment levels. With the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the need for committed fire service employees is especially critical today. This study will provide additional research for assisting fire chiefs and fire officers to better understand and successfully lead their subordinates.

Firefighters are professionally trained and state-certified emergency response personnel affiliated with either paid or volunteer fire departments. These men and women mitigate emergency incidents such as structure fires, airplane crashes, medical emergencies, acts of terrorism, and hazardous material incidents.

Fire officers are those fire department employees with formal authority placing them in positions of responsibility supervising the activities of subordinate firefighters. Fire officers generally have passed a formal assessment process to validate their knowledge, skills, and abilities in directing emergency operations.

The nation's fire service increasingly is acknowledging the importance of commitment by officers and firefighters. As Coleman and Granito (1988, p. 276) report, "In the future, adaptation, innovation, and commitment will become three important bywords among fire chiefs and those responsible for fire department personnel management." Leaders clearly have to understand and acknowledge the influence their leadership styles and resultant credibility have on their subordinates' commitment. Kouzes and Posner (1993) acknowledge high levels of credibility can increase people's willingness to exert themselves more on behalf of their respective organizational shared values and visions. Before discussing the methodology used in this current study, a brief review of the relevant literature follows.

Literature Review

Organizational Commitment

As with most service organizations, fire departments are heavily dependent on people to accomplish their public safety mission. The organizational commitment of the men and women staffing the nation's fire departments is related to the quality and quantity of service delivery. Former California State Fire Marshal Ronny Coleman (1998) reports "there seems to be an increase in the attitude of 'If you want me to do something for my community, you have to pay me for everything'" (36).

Numerous public administration researchers (e.g. Romzek, 1990; Perry & Wise, 1990; Dobel, 1990) have identified the necessity of studying the motivation of public sector employees. Their primary research suggests organizational commitment is a key to increase public service motivation, and they recommend more empirical studies of employee commitment are needed to understand its motivational foundation in public organizations.

The Volcker Commission (1989) suggests organizational commitment is a key to increasing public service motivation and recommends more empirical studies of employee commitment. Such studies are warranted for helping understand the motivational base of public sector employees. This study should help to understand the motivational base of firefighters as one example of a public sector organization.

Organizational commitment has been defined and operationalized using these preceding definitions over the years. The many different models focus on different aspects regarding the linkage between the individual and the organization. The following chronological literature review conducted for this research demonstrates the evolution of organizational commitment concepts.

Becker (1960) was the earliest commitment research found for this study. Becker proposes organizational commitment is built on the principle of consistent behavior: "Commitments come into being when a person, by making a side bet, links extraneous interests with a consistent line of activity" (p. 32). Side bets are defined as anything the employee would view as valuable or that he/she has made an investment such as time, effort, money, pension plans, work relationships, and organizational specific skills. Consequently when the employee discontinues the employer-employee relationship, these investments are lost.

Becker's theory views commitment as a behavioral approach that predisposes employees to consistently engage in those behaviors as a result of the accumulation of "side bets" that would be lost if the behaviors were discontinued (Meyer and Allen, 1984). Additionally, these investments or valuables would be lost if the employee severed their relationship with the organization. Thus the employee would have to consider the possible negative consequences of leaving and evaluate the potential rewards for continued service.

Etzioni (1961) suggests a commitment model focusing on employee compliance with organizational objectives. This commitment relationship is based on the argument that any actual or perceived authority or power organizations have over individuals is rooted in the nature of employee commitment in the organization. This means organizations have substantially less authority or power over employees who have lower levels of commitment. Etzioni (1961) concludes when employees have higher levels of commitment to organizational objectives, the organization will have more authority or power over these same employees.

Kanter (1968) was another commitment researcher who takes a different view arguing that different types of commitment result from the different behavioral requirements imposed on employees by the organization. Her model suggests three different forms of commitment: (1) continuance commitment; (2) cohesion commitment, and (3) control commitment.

Continuance commitment represents the member's dedication to the survival of the organization. It is caused by requiring members to make personal sacrifices to join or remain with an organization. Examples include a long certification/orientation process such as state mandated paramedic training exceeding 18 months in duration, or having members with significant tenure. Either circumstance tends to result with employees who feel they are physically and emotionally linked to their organization's survival (Kanter, 1968).

Cohesion commitment is identified as an attachment to social relationships in an organization brought on by such techniques as public renunciation of previous social ties or by engaging in ceremonies that enhance group cohesion (Kanter, 1968). Examples of cohesion commitment efforts within the fire service include the use of uniforms and badges, and employee recognition programs such as firefighter of the year and paramedic of the year. Many departments allow each individual fire station within a single fire department to design and wear "station patches." These patches usually portray some interesting characteristic unique to their response territory. For example, a fire station closest to a zoo might portray wild animals on their station patch. The objective of such efforts is to develop and increase cohesion commitment among group members.

Control commitment is identified by Kanter (1968) as a member's attachment to the organization's norms that shape behavior in desired directions. It exists when employees believe their organization's norms and values serve as a model for suitable behavior. Consequently, these suitable behaviors result in an atmosphere of "what is good for the organization is also good for me."

Kanter's model views her three commitment approaches as being highly interrelated. Thus organizations can use all three approaches simultaneously to influence higher levels of organizational commitment. In fact, the approaches are viewed as being mutually reinforcing as they jointly influence different aspects of the three commitment approaches.

Steers (1977) suggest there are antecedents (causes) and consequences (results) to organizational commitment. Steers conducted extensive research into the processes by which commitments are formed and identified potential antecedents such as personal characteristics including age, marital status, and education; role states such as role ambiguity, role conflict and role overload; job characteristics such as skill variety and job challenge; group/leader relations such as group cohesiveness and leader communication; and organizational characteristics such as size and centralization. Steers also reviewed the consequences of organizational commitment and how commitment influences vocational behaviors such as a desire to maintain their employment, and engage in appropriate attendance and job performance activities.

Aven (1988) concludes committed employees are more likely to engage in the following four behaviors more often and more consistently than are non-committed employees: (1) Committed employees have higher levels of participation; (2) Committed employees remain with the organization for longer periods and make more contributions for achieving organizational objectives; (3) Committed employees are more highly involved in their jobs, and (4) Committed employees exert considerably more effort on behalf of the organization. There is general agreement that organizational commitment by employees is a highly desirable psychological state (Aven, 1988).

While many previous commitment approaches have been one-dimensional, Meyer and Allen's (1990) model recognizes the values of different facets toward commitment and integrates them into a theoretical framework (Somers, 1987). Meyer and Allen's (1990) three-dimensional construct consists of the following components: (1) affective commitment reflects the emotional attachment to an organization when employees identify with an organization and enjoy the membership; (2) continuance commitment reflects the perceived costs-benefit evaluation of maintaining organizational membership; and (3) normative commitment reflects the feelings of obligation to remain with the organization.

Leadership Behaviors

In the early 1980s, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner conducted empirical research on how ordinary people routinely accomplished extraordinary things. Kouzes and Posner (1997) believed two outcomes would develop from their leadership research to disprove long standing opinions regarding leadership practices: (1) leaders are born and not made, and (2) only a selected few have extraordinary leadership abilities.

As a result of their research, Kouzes and Posner (1997) conclude leadership is simply a set of behaviors that supervisors and managers at all hierarchical levels and all levels of seniority, experience, and education can learn and apply. The expected outcome for all public, private, or non-profit organizations is the achievement of operational and strategic objectives with more committed employees. Getting extraordinary things in organizations by people and through people remains the objective and the challenge. Kouzes and Posner (1988) suggest the process of extraordinary achievements through ordinary people comes from following five leadership practices each containing two basic strategies summarized in Table 1 and discussed below.

Table 1. Kouzes and Posner's Ledership Practices and Behavior Strategies

Leadership Practices Behavior Strategies
Challenging the Process (a) search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve; and
(b) experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes
Inspiring a Shared Vision (a) envision an uplifting and ennobling future; and
(b) enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams
Enabling Others to Act (a) foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust, and
(b) strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support
Modeling the Way (a) set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values, and
b) achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment
Encouraging the Heart (a) recognize individual contributions to the success of every project and
(b) celebrate team accomplishments regularly

Challenging the Process

Challenging the Process consists of two components: (a) search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve; and (b) experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes. Kouzes and Posner's (1988) research found that most of their subjects talked about extraordinary leadership during times of revolution and not continuation. The search for challenging opportunities such as when new products or services are being developed, or new territories are being explored is when leadership prospers.

Experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes is the second commitment of the challenging the process practice. For organizations to achieve a climate of sustained competitive advantage, the individuals within the organizations must adopt experimentation with analyzed risk-taking. The overall objective is to maximize performance while carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of every risk (Kouzes & Posner, 1988).

Inspiring a Shared Vision

Inspiring a Shared Vision consists of two commitments: (a) envision an uplifting and ennobling future; and (b) enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams. Kouzes and Posner (1988) found leaders are not satisfied just continuing to produce and/or service the same constituencies, customers, and programs, they want to be innovative in developing new products and services, and reaching new markets, customers, and territories. Leaders view their future as constrained only by the scope of their imaginations. They use their imaginations to build intensity and determination in visualizing future opportunities and challenges.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) conclude leaders also possess the ability to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams. They communicate their visions with others because leaders seek company and not solace in doing things differently for the sake of progress and not boredom. Quite literally, leaders desire to involve and excite employees to join collaborative effort to achieve uniqueness and not complacency.

Enabling Others to Act

Enabling Others to Act consists of two commitments: (a) foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust, and (b) strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support (Kouzes & Posner, 1988). Leaders accomplish extraordinary events by ensuring all divisions, work units, and internal and external interests are involved in the process for developing cooperative goals.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) identify the second part for enabling others to act is the commitment of strengthening people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support. Extraordinary managers understand this principle; these managers seek to create and sustain an organizational culture where employees want to do their best because of internally imposed controls and not those that are externally directed. The method of accomplishing this outcome is managers who give their authority and responsibility to subordinates to become stronger and more capable (Kouzes & Posner, 1988).

Modeling the Way

Modeling the Way consists of two commitments: (a) set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values, and (b) achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment (Kouzes & Posner, 1988). Setting the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values is easy for many leaders because they accept the challenge of walking the talk. Employees utilize two senses for assessing their supervisors' commitment to organization processes: hearing and vision. First, employees listen to what their bosses say, and then they watch what they do. Only with their congruency between words and deeds will these leaders be judged to have credibility.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) conclude achieving small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment is the final commitment for modeling the way. Extraordinary leaders understand implementing change and achieving results is a slow, steady, consistent process. To talk only in terms of ten-year strategic objectives creates a situation where it is difficult to measure progress. Leaders know the value of incremental assignments to achieve progress for modeling the way.

Encouraging the Heart

Encouraging the Heart consists of two commitments: (a) recognize individual contributions to the success of every project; and (b) celebrate team accomplishments regularly (Kouzes and Posner, 1988). Annual performance evaluations are regrettably the only source of feedback for many employees. However, extraordinary leaders aggressively seek opportunities and options for formally acknowledging individual contributions throughout the project's lifecycle. Celebration and recognition are meaningful, individualized, and reflect the achievement of success or success contributions.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) conclude celebrating team accomplishments regularly demands highly published forums for partying about and yelling team achievements. The overall objective is to get everyone involved in the hard work to achieve the objectives, letting them plan the celebration, and then letting them celebrate. It is extremely important to celebrate using themes representing the obtainment of the key values, hard work, and dedication of those who contributed. Praising team accomplishments builds trust and commitment to teamwork.

Methodology

Research Question

This study addresses the following research question, "What is the influence of perceived leadership practices on fire service subordinates' self-reported organizational commitment?" Answering this research question is an essential first step for developing a strategy for increased effectiveness, efficiency, and enthusiasm to achieve organizational objectives of saving lives and property. The search for the answer to this research question will focus on those specific leadership behaviors most likely to result in increased organizational commitment by firefighters.

Research Design

This field study examined attitudes and behaviors of firefighters in their natural work environment. It was cross-sectional in nature since only one variable observation was collected per participant during the one-month data collection period. Because the researchers were interested in ascertaining the degree of organizational commitment of firefighters, the unit of analysis for this project was individual employees within a representative fire department. As an analytical study, the results can be extended to the population represented by the sample of this study.

This study sought to survey all 90 officers and firefighters, including the various ranks from fire chief to firefighter of a paid municipal fire department located in the southeastern United States. This organization was selected as a representative fire department and serves as a purposive sample.

Data Collection Instruments

The survey instrument utilized for this research contained the following three components

The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire

This subsection focuses on identifying and selecting a previously validated organizational commitment instrument. The selection of a previously validated commitment instrument for this research was intended to ensure data reliability and validity, as well as consistency with previous research. The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) developed by Mowday, Porter, and Steers (1979) was selected to measure organizational commitment because of its high levels of internal consistency reliability, test-retest reliability, convergent validity, discriminate validity, and predictive validity.

The Leadership Practices Inventory-Observer Form

The second component of the questionnaire set was the Leadership Practices Inventory: Observer (LPIO) instrument (See Appendix C). It consists of 30 descriptive statements allowing each respondent to rate their respective supervisor's leadership practices. A 10-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (almost never) to 10 (almost always) is used. The Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) was specifically developed by Kouzes and Posner (1988) for measuring managers' usage of the five practices of the Leadership Practices Model.

Personal Characteristic Questionnaire

The final component of the questionnaire set concerned the personal demographic characteristics of the respondents in order to summarize their aggregate characteristics for the sample population. This information was necessary for making statistical comparisons regarding organizational commitment levels and the personal characteristics of gender, rank, tenure, age, and education.

Analysis and Presentation of Findings

Sampling Technique

All 91 officers and firefighters of a typical paid municipal fire department located in the southeastern United States were identified as a purposive sample frame to be sampled. At the time of this study, three employees were on terminal leave pending retirement and six employees were recruits assigned to a 14-week training program. Of the remaining 82 employees, eight could not be surveyed because of emergency calls, training assignments, or vacations and one employee declined to participate in the survey, stating "if the survey is voluntary, I don't want to participate." The remaining 73 employees completed usable survey responses, effectively representing a census of the designated sample frame.

Demographic Profile

The demographic profile of the respondents with respect to departmental position, tenure, gender, age, and education level are as follows:

Table 2: Demographic Profile of Respondents

  N 73  
Variable   n %
Departmental Position Chief officer
Captain
Lieutenant
Sergeant
Firefighter
Other
5
4
10
17
36
1
6.8
5.5
13.7
23.3
49.3
1.4
Totals   73 100
Departmental Tenure in Years 0 - 5
6 - 10
11 - 15
15 - 20
20+
28
9
15
5
16
38.4
12.3
20.5
6.8
21.9
Totals   73 100
Gender Female
Male
4
69
5.5
94.5
Totals   73 100
Age 18 - 24
25 - 34
35 - 44
45 - 54
55+
3
28
26
15
1
4.1
38.4
35.6
20.5
1.4
Totals   73 100
Highest Education High School/GED
Some College
Associates degree
Bachelors degree
Graduate degree
24
32
7
8
2
32.9
43.8
9.6
11.0
2.7
Totals   73 100

Organizational Commitment with Departmental Position

The analysis of the data specific to the relationships between organizational commitment and the respondents' departmental position is summarized in Table 3.

The specific self-reported values for the four commitment categories are as follows: 19.2 percent of employees self-reported high levels of organizational commitment, 34.2 percent self-reported moderate levels of commitment, 39.7 percent self-reported low levels of commitment, and 6.8 percent reported negligible levels of commitment.

The relationships between organizational commitment and department position in this fire service population is as follows: Of the department's chief officers, 40 percent self-reported either moderate or high levels of organizational commitment while 60 percent self-reported either low or negligible levels of organizational commitment.

The position of captain is the management position most frequently interacting with the overwhelming percent of employees in the organization. The captains actually direct their respective shifts by supervising day-to-day activities. The department's four captains (100 percent) self-reported either moderate or high levels of organizational commitment to the department.

The position of lieutenant is the first line management position that supervises the personnel assigned to their fire station. Lieutenants ensure the station's emergency response equipment is ready to respond and, in cooperation with the department's training officer, ensure their personnel are properly trained. Lieutenants self-reported 60 percent have either moderate or high levels of organizational commitment and 40 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

The position of sergeant serves as the assistant fire station supervisor and also typically serves as the apparatus driver/operator for the various types of response equipment such as fire engines, ladder trucks, or rescue units. Sergeants self-reported 41 percent have either moderate or high levels of organizational commitment, and 58 percent have either negligible or low commitment levels.

The position of firefighter is the lowest ranking position within the fire service. Firefighters are typically assigned the tasks of performing the physical tasks associated with extinguishing fires or providing medical care to the sick and injured. Firefighters self-reported 56 percent have either moderate or high levels of organizational commitment, and 44 percent have either negligible or low levels of commitment.

Table 3: Organizational Commitment with Departmental Position

Organizational Commitment Negligible   Low   Moderate   Strong TOTALS (row)
Departmental Position n %   n %   n %   n % N %
Other 0 0.0   1 1.4   0 0.0   0 0.0 1 1.4
Firefighter 4 5.5   12 16.4   13 17.8   7 9.6 36 49.3
Sergeant 1 1.4   9 12.3   5 6.8   2 2.7 17 23.3
Lieutenant 0 0.0   4 5.5   4 5.5   2 2.7 10 13.7
Captain 0 0.0   0 0.0   2 2.7   2 22.7 4 5.5
Chief Officer 0 0.0   3 4.1   1 1.4   1 1.4 5 6.8
TOTALS (column) 5 6.8   29 39.7   25 34.2   14 19.2 73 100.0

Organizational Commitment with Departmental Tenure

The analysis of the data specific to the relationships between organizational commitment and the respondents' departmental tenure is summarized in Table 4.

The relationships between organizational commitment and department tenure in this fire service population is as follows: Of the department's most senior employees with 20 or greater years of service, 25 percent self-reported high levels, 37.5 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 37.5 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with 15-20 years of service, 60 percent self-reported moderate levels of organizational commitment while 40 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with 11-15 years of service, 20 percent self-reported high levels, 26.7 percent self-reported moderate levels, 46.7 percent self-reported low levels, and 6.7 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with 6-10 years of service, 11 percent self-reported high levels, 33.3 percent self-reported moderate levels, 44.4 percent self-reported low levels, and 11 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with 0-5 years of service, 21.4 percent self-reported high levels, 32.1 percent self-reported moderate levels, 35.7 percent self-reported low levels, and 10.7 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Table 4: Organizational Commitment with Departmental Tenure

Organizational Commitment Negligible   Low   Moderate   Strong TOTALS (row)
Departmental Tenure n %   n %   n %   n % N %
0 - 5 3 4.1   10 13.7   9 12.6   6 8.2 28 38.4
6 - 10 1 1.4   4 5.5   3 4.1   1 1.4 9 12.3
11 - 15 1 1.4   7 9.6   4 5.5   3 4.1 15 20.5
15 - 20 0 0.0   2 2.7   3 4.1   0 0.0 5 6.8
20+ 0 0.0   6 8.2   6 8.2   4 5.5 16 21.9
TOTALS (column) 5 6.8   29 39.7   25 34.2   14 19.2 73 100.0

Organizational Commitment with Gender

The analysis of the data specific to the relationships between organizational commitment and the respondents' gender is summarized in Table 5.

The relationships between organizational commitment and department tenure in this fire service population is as follows: Of the department's male employees, 18.8 percent self-reported high levels, 34.8 percent self-reported moderate levels, 42 percent self-reported low levels, and 4.3 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's female employees, 25 percent self-reported high levels, 25 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 50 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Table 5: Organizational Commitment with Gender

Organizational Commitment Negligible   Low   Moderate   Strong TOTALS (row)
Gender n %   n %   n %   n % N %
Female 2 2.7   0 0.0   1 1.4   1 1.4 4 5.5
Male 3 4.1   29 39.7   24 32.9   13 17.8 69 94.5
TOTALS (column) 5 6.8   29 39.7   25 34.2   14 19.2 73 100.0

Organizational Commitment with Age

The analysis of the data specific to the relationships between organizational commitment and the respondents' age is summarized in Table 6.

The relationships between organizational commitment and age in this fire service population is as follows: Of the department's employees between the ages of 18-24 years old, 33.3 percent self-reported high levels, 33.3 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 33.3 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees between the ages of 25-34 years old, 14.3 percent self-reported high levels, 32.1 percent self-reported moderate levels, 39.3 percent self-reported low levels, and 14.3 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees between the ages of 35-44 years old, 7.7 percent self-reported high levels, 38.5 percent self-reported moderate levels, 46.2 percent self-reported low levels, and 3.8 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees between the ages of 45-54 years old, 40 percent self-reported high levels, 26.7 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 33.3 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's sole employee over the age of 55, he/she self-reported a moderate level of organizational commitment or 100 percent.

Table 6: Organizational Commitment with Age

Organizational Commitment Negligible   Low   Moderate   Strong TOTALS (row)
Age n %   n %   n %   n % N %
18 - 24 0 0.0   1 1.4   1 1.4   1 1.4 3 4.1
25 - 34 4 5.5   11 15.1   9 12.3   4 5.5 28 38.4
35 - 44 1 1.4   12 16.4   10 13.7   3 4.1 26 35.6
45 - 54 0 0.0   5 6.8   4 5.5   6 8.2 15 20.5
55+ 0 0.0   0 0.0   1 1.4   0 0.0 1 1.4
TOTALS (column) 5 6.8   29 39.7   25 34.2   14 19.2 73 100.0

Organizational Commitment with Education

The analysis of the data specific to the relationships between organizational commitment and the respondents' education is summarized in Table 7.

The relationships between organizational commitment and education in this fire service population is as follows: Of the department's employees with high school/GED education, 29.2 percent self-reported high levels, 29.2 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 41.6 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with some college education, 12.5 percent self-reported high levels, 37.5 percent self-reported moderate levels, 40.6 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with associate degrees, 14.3 percent self-reported high levels, 28.6 percent self-reported moderate levels, and 57.1 percent self-reported low levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with bachelor degrees, 12.5 percent self-reported high levels, 50 percent self-reported moderate levels, 12.5 percent self-reported low levels, and 25 percent self-reported negligible levels of organizational commitment.

Of the department's employees with graduate degrees, 50 percent self-reported high levels, and 50 self-reported moderate levels of organizational commitment.

Table 7: Organizational Commitment with Education

Organizational Commitment Negligible   Low   Moderate   Strong TOTALS (row)
Education n %   n %   n %   n % N %
High School/GED 0 0.0   10 13.7   7 9.6   7 9.6 24 32.9
Some College 3 4.1   13 17.8   12 16.4   4 5.5 32 43.8
Associates Degree 0 0.0   4 5.5   2 2.7   1 1.4 7 9.6
Bachelors Degree 2 2.7   1 1.4   4 5.5   1 1.4 8 11.0
Graduate Degree 0 0.0   1 1.4   0 0.0   1 1.4 2 2.7
TOTALS (column) 5 6.8   29 39.7   25 34.2   14 19.2 73 100.0

Discussion

Leadership Practices and Organizational Commitment Relationship

The study sought to determine the existence of a relationship between the respondents' perceptions of their supervisors' leadership practices and their self-reported organizational commitment levels. Respondents rated their perceptions of their supervisors' leadership practices using the Leadership Practices Inventory developed by Kouzes and Posner (1988). Respondents' self-reported levels of organizational commitment were evaluated using the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) developed by Porter, Steers, Mowday, and Boulian (1974).

The findings of this research showed a positive relationship between the five leadership practices developed by Kouzes and Posner (1988) of challenging the process, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, modeling the way, and encouraging the heart. The study also identified that of the five leadership practices, Enabling Others to Act had the strongest positive relationship to the respondents' self-reported levels of organizational commitment. The weakest positive relationship of the respondents' self-reported levels of organizational commitment was correlated to the leadership practice of Inspiring a Shared Vision.

Demographic Characteristics and Organizational Commitment Relationship

The study sought to determine the existence of a relationship between the respondents' demographic characteristics of age, education, gender, rank, and tenure and their self-reported organizational commitment levels using the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) developed by Porter, Steers, Mowday, and Boulian (1974). The research results for the five demographic characteristics are as follows:

The demographic characteristic of age was found in this study to be positively related to organizational commitment. This research supports the previous research findings of Hunt, Chonko, and Wood (1985), and Pierce and Dunham (1987) who found age is positively related to organizational commitment. Meyer and Allen (1984) suggest older workers become more committed because of increased job satisfaction and having obtained better positions.

The demographic characteristic of gender was found in this study to be negatively related to organizational commitment. However, since there were only four female respondents, the study was not conclusive in determining the impact of gender. The literature regarding the correlation between gender and organizational commitment is inconsistent. Grusky (1966) suggests females become more committed because they had to overcome more barriers than males to gain membership in the organization. However, Fugate, Decker, and Brewer (1988), and Gable and Reed (1987) suggest females may exhibit lower levels of organizational commitment as evidenced by their higher dissatisfaction and turnover rates among their studies' female population.

The demographic characteristic of education was found in this study to be positively related to organizational commitment. This finding conflicts with numerous other studies that found education to be negatively related to organizational commitment (Angle & Perry, 1988; Glisson & Durick, 1988; Hunt, et al, 1985). Additionally, Mowday, et al (1982) found "this inverse relationship may result from the fact that more educated individuals have higher expectations that the organization may be unable to meet" (p.30). Furthermore, these higher educated individuals have potentially higher employment market value for acquiring career advancement opportunities. One possible explanation for this finding is the humanitarian nature of emergency service mission objectives for saving lives and protecting property.

The demographic characteristic of rank (job level) was found in this study to be positively related to organizational commitment. The literature regarding the correlation between rank and organizational commitment is fairly consistent. The literature tends to establish a positive correlation between tenure and organizational commitment. Grusky (1966) concludes managers tend to be more committed than non-managerial employees for reasons such as higher income. These higher income managerial positions are often an organizational reward providing the individual with more status, autonomy, and a higher quality worklife.

The demographic characteristic of tenure was found in this study to be positively related to organizational commitment. The literature regarding the correlation between tenure and organizational commitment is fairly consistent. The literature also notes a distinction between two different tenure definitions: positional and organizational. Positional tenure reflects the amount of time in a specific position, and organizational tenure reflects the total employment time with the organization. Mathieu and Zajac (1990) suggest organizational tenure is more related to commitment than position tenure, but both variables have only a minimally positive correlation to commitment.

Farkas and Tettick (1989) suggest the relationship between organizational commitment and tenure was likely to change with circumstances. For example, Igbaria and Greenhaus (1992) found committed employees are less likely to leave an organization than those who are less committed. Knoop (1995) in a study involving 171 nurse educators concluded nurses may be committed to their organization because they chose nursing as a profession, but the particular hospital where they are employed may not be as important as the profession itself.

Research Implications for Fire Service Officers

This cross-sectional research study established a relationship between employees' perceptions of their supervisors leadership practices and their self-reported organizational commitment. Specifically, the following five leadership practices developed by Kouzes and Posner (1988) are positively correlated to organizational commitment in this study's fire service population. Consequently, fire department officers can accomplish extraordinary achievements through ordinary people by using the following leadership practice strategies:

Challenging the Process

Challenging the Process consists of two components: (a) search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve; and (b) experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes. Kouzes and Posner's (1988) research found most of their subjects talked about extraordinary leadership during times of revolution and not continuation. The search for challenging opportunities such as when new products or services are being developed, or new territories are being explored is when leadership prospers. Mento, Steel, and Karsen (1987) empirically confirm attempts to achieve challenging objectives raise both individual and organizational motivational and performance levels.

Experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes is the second commitment of the challenging the process practice. For fire service organizations to achieve a climate of sustained competitive advantage, firefighters must adopt experimentation with analyzed risk-taking. The overall objective is to maximize performance while carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of every risk (Kouzes and Posner, 1988).

The research establishes the need for increasing programs and opportunities allowing firefighters more of the following activities for Challenging the Process as advocated by Kouzes and Posner (1988): 1) seek out challenging opportunities to test their skills and abilities, 2) try out new and innovative approaches to their work, 3) search outside their organization for innovative ways to improve what is done, 4) learn lessons when things do not go as expected, and 5) experiment and take calculated risks even when there is a chance of failure, and 6) take the initiative to overcome obstacles even when outcomes are uncertain.

Fire service leaders must understand the contribution toward firefighter development when firefighters are encouraged and rewarded for experimenting and taking calculated risks rather than doing tasks routinely. Leaders also readily acknowledge their responsibilities toward their subordinates' professional development by ensuring firefighters are delegated appropriate tasks according to their existing skills and abilities. Furthermore, leaders must provide the necessary amount of coaching and training while ensuring their firefighters have sufficient freedom for them to feel the assignment is actually theirs (Kouzes & Posner, 1988).

While it should be obvious there are associated risks in doing things differently, there are also tremendous opportunities. Fire service officers must do everything possible to embrace the spontaneity and engrain an organizational culture to being "change-ready." Haigh (1999) acknowledges the practical value of searching out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate, and improve; and experimenting, taking risks, and learning from the accompanying mistakes. Haigh alsodiscusses the value of sharing fire service experiences with older firefighters during informal sessions. One common theme generated from such sessions was a cautionary warning to "watch out for the routine. They pointed out that when we become complacent, we walk into situations without thinking and without proper sizeup."

Today's "Internet Time" is forcing older, successful organizations to become more responsive to market and customer demands, and traditional organizational structures are being challenged. The purpose of structures and policies is to reduce ambiguity and provide ready-made solutions and reporting lines. Such structures and policies can easily become rigid and invisible, often inhibiting innovation and flexibility. One consequence is diminished employees' opportunities to challenge the process.

The incident command system (ICS) utilized by fire departments for organizing emergency incident activities is an excellent example of a fire service application of minimizing structure allowing fire service personnel to challenge the process. Fire Chief Rubin (1997) suggests "the underlying reasons that the ICS should handle all types of alarms are ease of development, implementation, and use. If the system is too complicated, it will not be utilized" (p.30).

Inspiring a Shared Vision

Inspiring a Shared Vision consists of two commitments: (a) envision an uplifting and ennobling future, and (b) enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams. Kouzes and Posner (1988) found leaders are not satisfied just continuing to produce and/or service the same constituencies, customers, and programs. They want to be innovative in developing new products and services, and reaching new markets, customers, and territories. Fire officers should view their future as limited only by the scope of their imaginations. They should use their imaginations to build intensity and determination in visualizing future opportunities and challenges.

The research establishes the need for increasing programs and opportunities allowing firefighters more of the following activities for Inspiring a Shared Vision as advocated by Kouzes and Posner (1988): 1) discuss future fire service trends influencing how activities will be accomplished, 2) describing a futuristic image of the fire service, 3) appealing to others to share their visions of a futuristic fire service, 4) show others how their long-term interests can be best achieved by enlisting in a common vision, 5) being enthusiastic and positive about future possibilities, and 6) having a genuine conviction about the higher meaning and purpose of the fire service's mission of saving lives and protecting property.

Fire service leaders must possess the ability to enlist firefighters in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams. Furthermore, these leaders must communicate their visions with others because leaders seek company and not solace in doing things differently for the sake of progress and not boredom. Fire service leaders must involve and excite their subordinate firefighters to join the department's collaborative effort so necessary for achieving uniqueness rather than complacency.

Today's operating environment is chaotic where rigid structures are considerably less functional and effective. Consequently, there is an emphasis on creating organizations with a process orientation knowing the environment will constantly demand adaptation, responsiveness and innovation. Employees are encouraged to draw upon their experience and skills when confronting ever-changing customer and market demands rather than on conforming to policies, procedures or chains of command. Coleman (2000) laments "I don't know about you, but I'm really fed up with the contention that the fire service is rigid and inflexible. . . . If you've ever taken the time to study the history of the fire service, you would have noticed that we've made tremendous strides in how we combat fire over the last 300 years. You should have observed that the pace of change has never been more relentless than it is today" (p. 45).

Enabling Others to Act

Enabling Others to Act consists of two commitments: (a) foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust, and (b) strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support (Kouzes & Posner, 1988). Leaders accomplish extraordinary events by ensuring all divisions, work units, and internal and external interests are involved in the process for developing cooperative goals. The mandate is a fire department where organization cooperation rules, and divisional infighting is not acceptable. The objective is demanding products and services to achieve customers' satisfaction.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) identify the second part for enabling others to act is the commitment of strengthening people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support. Firefighters who feel strong, capable, and competent possess the prerequisite qualifications to accomplish assignments with limited instructions and little or no supervision/control measures. In today's competitive workplace, the routine monitoring of officers' activities is a non-value-added expense that wastes a fire department's limited resources, and conflicts with the leadership practice of enabling others to act.

This research study establishes the need for increasing programs and opportunities allowing firefighters more of the following activities Enabling Others to Act as advocated by Kouzes and Posner (1988): 1) support the decision subordinates make on their own, 2) allow people a great deal of freedom and discretion in performing their assigned task, 3) ensure firefighters grow in their jobs by learning new skills and developing themselves, 4) developing cooperative relationships among the people with whom they interact, 5) actively listen to diverse viewpoints, and 6) treat others with the utmost dignity and respect.

Extraordinary fire service leaders must understand the following principle: managers must seek to create and sustain an organizational culture where firefighters want to do their best because of internally self-imposed controls and not those that are externally directed. The method of accomplishing this outcome is through fire officers who give their authority and responsibility to subordinates to become stronger and more capable (Kouzes & Posner, 1988).

Within the fire service, there's an important axiom: If there are no mistakes, it is a mistake. Yet, one career-terminating event in many fire departments is to make a mistake and then acknowledge the mistake. The best learning often comes from the experience of making a mistake, and then adjusting future actions as the result of the learning process. Firefighter Michael Staley (1999) suggests "failure is a great teacher best met early in life. The earlier you learn to fail and overcome your halfway moments, the longer you and the people you lead will benefit" (p. 122).

Modeling the Way

Modeling the Way consists of two commitments: (a) set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values; and (b) achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment (Kouzes and Posner, 1988). Setting the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values is easy for many fire officers because they accept the challenge of walking the talk. Firefighters utilize two senses for assessing their supervisors' commitment to organization processes: listening and vision. First, employees listen to what their bosses say, and then they watch what they do. These employees are looking for congruency between their supervisors' words and deeds to judge their leadership credibility.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) conclude achieving small wins promote consistent progress and builds commitment as the final commitment for modeling the way. Extraordinary fire service leaders understand implementing change and achieving results is a slow, steady, consistent process. To talk only in terms of ten-year strategic objectives creates a situation where it is difficult to measure progress. Leaders know the value of incremental assignments to achieve progress for modeling the way.

The research establishes the need for increasing programs and opportunities allowing firefighters more of the following activities for Modeling the Way as advocated by Kouzes and Posner (1988): 1) setting high standards of personal behavior, 2) spending the necessary time and energy ensuring personnel are completing missions and tasks in accordance with previously agreed upon standards, 3) following through on commitments, 4) clear leadership philosophy, 5) establishing achievable goals with specific plans and measurable milestones for activities, and 6) make incremental progress on completing goals.

When times were less turbulent than today, fire departments could plan ahead five, ten or even twenty years. Fire department strategic plans could be created and usually remained viable throughout the entire relevant period. However, as the rate of change has escalated, strategic planning horizons have been dramatically reduced for both internal and external environments. Farmer (2000) suggests fire service managers must "plan for the expected, and for everyone not to always see things the same way you do" (p.36). The challenge is modeling the way by providing firefighters the necessary information and support for them to make informed decisions mandatory for sustained commitment and organizational success.

Encouraging the Heart

Encouraging the Heart consists of two commitments: (a) recognize individual contributions to the success of every project; and (b) celebrate team accomplishments regularly (Kouzes and Posner, 1988). Annual performance evaluations are regrettably the only source of feedback for many employees. However, extraordinary leaders aggressively seek opportunities and options for formally acknowledging the contributions of firefighters throughout the project's lifecycle. Celebration and recognition are meaningful, individualized, and reflect the achievement of success or success contributions.

Kouzes and Posner (1988) conclude celebrating team accomplishments regularly demands highly published forums for acknowledging team achievements. The overall objective of encouraging the heart is getting officers and firefighters working together to achieve objectives, letting them plan celebrations, and then letting them celebrate. It is extremely important to celebrate using themes representing the obtainment of key values, hard work, and dedication of those who contributed. Praising team accomplishments builds trust and commitment to teamwork.

This research study establishes the need for increasing programs and opportunities allowing firefighters more of the following activities for Encouraging the Heart as advocated by Kouzes and Posner (1988): 1) praising firefighters for a job well done, 2) making sure firefighters are aware of the confidence their superiors have in their abilities, 3) ensuring firefighters are creatively rewarded for operational successes, 4) publicly acknowledging the efforts of firefighters who exemplify shared values, 5) celebrating accomplishments regularly, and 6) appreciating and supporting team contributions.

The primary researcher's twenty-plus years of experience in the fire service supports the study's findings. There is a tremendous need within the fire service for making significantly greater efforts at recognizing and rewarding individual and team performance that achieves operational objectives. The performance recognition and rewards sought by firefighters should be combination of monetary and intrinsic in nature. Fire departments must ensure their performance and rewards processes establish a specific and predictable linkage between employees' behaviors and activities with the department's strategic and operational missions.

Organizationally speaking, informal learning is called enculturation or socialization. A critical component of socialization is establishing acceptable behavior standards and reinforcing those standards with a recognition and rewards system. For a team-oriented organization such as a fire department, one of the most important behaviors are employees abilities to work as a member of a team. Burris (2000) advocates one long-term benefit of employing team concepts within the fire service is "the opportunity for bringing together a broad range of ideas, perspectives, and expertise resulting in a better product" (p. 178). Achieving the outcome desired by Burris is easier if departmental recognition focuses on Encouraging the Heart of firefighters.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

The primary limitation of this study is its cross-sectional design. A longitudinal study design is useful when attempting to predict the evolution of organizational commitment cycles such as monitoring the impact of pay raises and promotional opportunities. A related limitation is the absence of personal interviews with the respondents. The consequence of this lack of first-hand knowledge limited the ability to fully understand the respondents' views of the variables. However, ensuring the research variables were accurately operationalized compensated for this.

Limitations of the research design included both the survey locations and the survey population. The sample size for this study was sufficient to provide a high confidence level of the population from which the sample was taken, but a larger sample size would have enhanced the result's application and confidence. A limitation over which this researcher had no control was personnel not surveyed due to vacations, previously scheduled off-site training, and illnesses. However, the enthusiasm and commitment of the department's fire chief was a significant factor in the high percentage of survey respondents and achieving 100 percent of useable responses.

An additional limitation was this research study only explored the relationship between perceived leadership practices and organizational commitment in a fire department only utilizing paid firefighters. Consequently, further research is recommended using organizations employing both volunteer and paid firefighters, exclusively volunteer departments, and private for-profit fire departments such as Rural-Metro Corporation.

Further studies regarding perceived leadership practices and organizational commitment in the fire service could focus on measurements of specific work groups such as fire department personnel assigned to individual fire stations. It is hoped this study broadened both the existing theoretical and practical knowledge and helps promote effective leadership and management in fire department organizations in the future.

Conclusion

This research project sought to add to the body of knowledge concerning organizational commitment within public safety organizations and specifically within the fire service. It has been established that high levels of organizational commitment may result in increased effectiveness of fire service personnel and their respective fire departments. High levels of organizational commitment are statically correlated to decreased levels of turnover and turnover intention behaviors, and more consistent to higher levels of individual, group, and organizational performance.

Fire chiefs and subordinate officers should be knowledgeable regarding the antecedents and consequences contributing to the organizational commitment of firefighters because organizational commitment impacts effectiveness, performance, and turnover. The business of providing emergency services is both demanding and challenging in today's dynamic workplace. The real and perceived leadership practices of fire officers directly influence the organizational commitment of firefighters.

Given today's more uncertain environment due to the threat of terrorist attacks, the need to recruit and retain committed fire service employees is more critical than ever. Hopefully, the lessons from this study can be used by fire service leaders to aid in developing greater employee commitment in these difficult times.

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About the Authors

Bill Lowe is a captain/shift commander with the Clayton County (GA) Fire Department where he has worked for 23 years. Bill has a DBA in Human Resource Management from Nova Southeastern University, is pursuing a second doctoral specialization in marketing, and is an adjunct professor of business and public administration at five universities. Bill is an adjunct faculty in the National Fire Academy's Management Science Program, and was selected by EMS Magazine as the 1998 "National Paramedic of the Year."

Barry Barnes is an associate professor of management at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where he has taught for four years. Barry has a Ph. D in Business from the University of Kansas and teaches doctoral-level human resource management, organizational behavior, and strategic management courses. Barry serves on numerous dissertation committees, and is a prolific presenter/publisher of applied organizational behavior and organizational development topics.