The Secrets Of Building A Successful Security Team

By Jennifer Muldoon.

Historically, the security industry may well have been looked at as ‘guards on gates’ and a ‘rough and ready’ industry with minimal education standards and business acumen, rather than offering rewarding and promising opportunities. But these days, strong people skills and emotional intelligence are required to build a successful security team. Being thrown into the deep end of a team that lacks direction requires significant time, patience and a willingness to listen to the needs of every single member of the security team. It is also important to take things slowly and get to know staff and their circumstances.

As a 20-year-old constable at Redfern Police station, I was told by the Crown Sargeant: “When we go into [the suspect’s address] I want you to look around, talk to everyone and ask a lot of questions.” After following instructions, I later asked if this was the key to conducting a good investigation. He said, “No, women always remember the most insignificant things.” That stuck, as being female in a predominately male industry does have some advantages. The importance of remembering something such as a staff member’s child or partner’s name, goes a long way to building closer working relationships by showing an interest in their personal situation, without being intrusive.

Another key to successful leadership is grasping the role that the staff play and understanding staff conditions, shifts, posts and standard operating procedures. Spending a late shift with staff not only enlightens the manager, but it also highlights that you are not just an administrator and that you are genuinely interested in and care about the role.

To be an effective team, staff members need to understand the direction of the business and what the common business-wide goal is.

When employees first start in their careers, they rarely look strategically, and mainly totally focus on themselves and the technical aspects of their job. It is important to nurture this stage and seize the opportunity to take them on the journey of what the future can look like if the team works together.

As the new Head of Security at Sydney Opera House, with 48 staff in total plus contracted security officers, I assumed that initially 20% of my workforce would accept me immediately, 70% would give me time to prove myself and then support me, and 10% would never accept me regardless of what the team achieves. It is very important to allow this phase to transition and not form opinions until the dust settles. This will take at least three months and in this time it is important to engage with staff, learn about their jobs and be open and honest about what you want to know. Interview each staff member and, instinctively, you will know which category they will sit in. Look at your staff skills set and find out what ‘pushes their buttons’: Are they introverts or extroverts? What training would they love or hate? Try to tailor your training plans around the individual rather than the group.

Building trust and loyalty is a major key in the success of security teams. Camaraderie is a very significant part of the security culture and needs to be nurtured to foster close working relationships.

Trust: Trust is all about getting to know people, delivering on your promises and allowing the people who report directly to you, some autonomy to make decisions. A common theme that was present in my staff is that you never questioned management, and you never made decisions. Guiding middle managers to not be afraid to use initiative and make decisions is worth the effort. Often mistakes will be made along the way, but this is a very effective learning tool and empowers them to be better leaders. Giving feedback on where they went wrong and how to fix problems builds confidence in both themselves and their opinions of you as a leader. Security managers often have a ‘chain of command’ style with restricted communication and little potential for flexibility. Listen to suggestions; challenge the past decisions of management and make changes slowly.

Communication: Being approachable on a social and professional level is crucial to engage the teams, because open communication boosts their trust and builds effective relationships. Conduct regular team meetings and share information, explain that on occasions there will be confidential matters that you can’t include them in.

Reward: Rewarding staff can be achieved through a variety of mediums. Monetary reward is often the first thing that springs to mind. This, however, may not always be possible. Therefore, it is important to consider other types of rewards such as offering staff the opportunity to participate in training courses, run information days and the opportunity to relieve other people in higher duties. Even the opportunity to participate in initiatives such as ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ days or job sharing in other business units can be useful incentives and rewards. Asking staff what is important and delivering on small promises often has the greatest impact in making staff feel engaged and part of a team.

Change: Change can be extremely difficult especially when you have such a diverse demographic. Explaining the need for change in plain English is the first step. Sell the positives of the change and point out the impacts on the individual. A lot of fear is about job security and the unknown. Once reassurance has been communicated, the resistance to change is often broken down. As the cost of security is often high, with little return, the most important thing to do is ensure that you remain relevant to the business. If you show flexibility and initiative in your decision making and engage with senior management on the benefits of a positive security culture, this has a ripple effect on staff. They feel needed and wanted, and an important part of the organisation.

A security manager needs to form relationships across the business, be committed to business priorities and realise the goals of what other employees are trying to achieve. The security manager then needs to sell this to their team, including those who might have traditional views about how to provide a secure environment. So use your breadth of security concepts and give your team brilliant communication tools. This way your strategy can be implemented, not cause offence and ultimately satisfy the priorities of the business.


Jennifer Muldoon is a security and brand protection specialist and has extensive experience in large scale, global corporate and sporting events. With over fifteen years in security investigation and management and thirteen years in law enforcement, Jennifer has developed and managed security strategies for multinational corporations including Australia’s largest airline. Jennifer has held the position of Head of Security, Emergency Planning & Response for Sydney Opera House for the past eighteen months and is responsible for the security strategy, emergency planning, emergency response and business continuity portfolios for Sydney Opera House. Jennifer can be contacted on