Roles and Responsibilities of the Non-Commissioned Officer Tactical to Strategic
By CWO Dan Moyer, Command Senior Enlisted Leader Allied Land Command
By virtue of rank all NCOs are leaders. There is no such thing as having ‘no leadership responsibility” based on the particular billet you are sitting in. Leadership is implied and inherent. You are in a hierarchical organization, which means that everyone with less rank than you is looking to you for leadership, and everyone of higher rank is expecting you to provide it. The NCO Corps is the Backbone of NATO, and of our respective militaries. We support our leadership and we support our subordinates.
Our roles and responsibilities will vary widely for many different reasons, depending on rank and the level at which we are leading. We must recognize this as we progress and adapt to our evolving roles. A tactical NCO in a strategic billet is irrelevant; a strategic NCO in a tactical billet is not effective.
In a nutshell, NCOs facilitate open and honest communications within the command, with a goal to ensure that the command excels in meeting the Commander’s vision, and achieving the mission. Below are a number of roles and responsibilities that I believe remain constant throughout all levels of NCO leadership, although the approaches that the leader takes may change at the various levels.
Preparing Soldiers for Military Operations
Preparing our Soldiers for military operations encompasses education, training, experience, and self-development. NCOs oversee and promote Professional Military Education, CSMs promote and nurture this system regularly and are in fact the "Custodians of the NCO Corps”. In the NATO context we are responsible for the Professional Development of all Soldiers and NCOs within the Alliance. We liaise with NATO and Non-NATO educational organizations in order to ensure that the training our NCOs receive is of the highest military quality and is consistent with Allied Command Operations standards.
In any Army, NCOs serve as the focal point for setting and maintaining Soldiers’ skills, fitness levels, and professionalism. Individual training and education is our bread and butter.
Enhance the Mental and Physical Well-Being of Soldiers
Leading people versus leading the institution. At the tactical level of operations we are involved in direct leadership on a daily basis, yet have minimal impact on the organization as a whole. As we move into the strategic level of operations the opposite is true, we guide and lead the institution but have much less daily interaction with the troops, although our actions have a great influence on them indirectly. NCOs serve as the principal advisor to Commanders and the Command Group on the formulation and implementation of proposed policy changes affecting personnel, with a particular focus on the well being of Soldiers, NCOs, civilian personnel, and their families. This includes providing feedback to the Commander on all matters affecting personnel including subordinated organizations and operations.
Maintenance of Standards of Performance of Soldiers and Equipment
Never pass a fault, NCOs are scanners and they check and correct constantly. As a leader, your subordinates scrutinize everything you do. As you walk through the unit lines, make no doubt that you are being observed. You are regularly a training event for the Soldiers and Officers of your unit. Never teach a bad lesson. Discipline is the cornerstone of a professional military. Taking care of people sometimes means tough love and discipline.
Be reasonable and be adaptive, standards can change but it must be done through the proper means. Always look for ways to improve the way our Soldiers fight, including their equipment and doctrine.
Plan and Lead Unit Activities
Use your initiative. NCOs plan and conduct all types of unit activities with and without officers
Every event has an OPI and should have an NCO counterpart. These activities could include but are not limited to ceremonial events, regimental schools, sports activities, and social events. It also includes individual training events that are conducted on a daily basis within the unit. These events are the building blocks of collective training and it is the NCOs that are responsible to ensure that their Soldiers have these basic skills.
As we move into the higher levels of command, the CSM assists the Chief of Staff, and the staff in general, in overseeing and planning command level activities. Once again being responsible for the traditional roles of the NCO.
Advise On and Implement the Commander’s Policies
One of the most important roles, and where a CSM has the most influence, is in his role as advisor to the Commander, and his function as part of the Command Team. The relationship that is developed between the CSM and the Commander, Deputy Commander, and Chief of Staff is inherent to the success of the organization. This relationship allows for direct access to these leaders and provides the opportunity of frank and open discussion on all matters relating to the Command.
When formulating your advice, base it on research and experience, not emotion. It certainly should not be personal opinion. One of our great strengths as a corps is a vast NCO Network. Develop and nurture your relationships with other NCOs in your unit, military, and NATO and seek advice from them as required.
The advice that we provide is exactly that, whether the Commander chooses to follow it or not is his decision. Remember, you are the advisor and not the decision maker. There may be other inputs, factors, and considerations involved that you are not aware of. Once a decision is made, it must be supported and implemented as if it was your own. The NCO then monitors organizational activities, and takes corrective actions to keep the organization within the boundaries of the commander's intent, or reports situations that require the attention of the officer leadership.
Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow
Prepare your replacement; it is one of our duties. And prepare yourself to move to the next level, that is how the military operates. CSMs and CSELs are the Custodians of the NCO Corps; invest in our Professional Military Education System. Support your subordinates’ participation in it, solicit the appropriate funding for it, and participate in it at every opportunity. Seek opportunities to improve the system. Education is always evolving, the target audience evolves, generational change is a factor, educational approaches change, the operating environment changes…. therefore our system must change to remain relevant and effective. The CSM and the NCO Corps at large must promote quality professional development, excellence, professionalism, teamwork and mentorship.
At the operational and strategic levels, we conduct liaison with Senior Military Representatives or their designated points of contact, on matters pertaining to Enlisted/OR personnel education and training initiatives and seek out developmental opportunities for our Soldiers.
In training officers, they are the generals of tomorrow, influence Junior Officers accordingly and build on that relationship over the years. That is how we build credibility within the Corps. Behind every officer that trusts the NCO Corps, there is a good NCO; behind every officer that has a maligned view of NCOs there is a bad NCO.
The roles and responsibilities of the NCO from tactical to strategic vary widely but at the same time can be very similar. In fact, it is not necessarily our functions that change but it is the levels at which we do them, and with whom we interact. At the strategic level, we no longer get asked, "What are you doing?”; rather we get asked, "What do you think?”. Be prepared for this. Know and understand your operating environment, the mission, and Commander’s intent.