Necessary Psychological Skills When Working in the Executive Protection Field

The "hard" skills necessary for an executive protection specialist (EPS) and/or personal protection specialist (PPS) are often perceived as being that of a policeman or (elite) soldier. Though there can be certain similarities i.e. the use of handguns, hand-to-hand combat and the ability to control a vehicle, most people having worked both in executive protection and either of the latter careers, will deny that the skills are parallel. They may look alike but the methodology of each skill differs from segment to segment.

However, the psychological skills needed are almost identical. Knowing basic psychological skills is essential in this line of business, as it is in law enforcement and military combat. Any person taking responsibility for another person's life will have to consider the adaptability of his/her psychological capabilities in a variety of situations. These will include but are not limited to; adaptability in awkward situations (state of mind going from humble to authoritative or vice versa), adaptability in different work atmospheres (Keeping body and mind relaxed when waiting for a client and suddenly change to a high stress level) and the ever so popular question of considering life-or-death situations (can I kill or will I freeze?).

Knowing, and openly accepting, your physical and psychological limits are a lifesaver. Not only will it save your own life, but it could very well save the lives of your teammates and your client.

Since training in this area is almost non-existing in the private sector, allow me to suggest a few easy-to-conduct training scenarios:

1. Take a student or new EPS/PPS to a party and assign him to a "VIP". It can be your own private party and the "VIP" can be whomever you choose, but be sure to let the "VIP" know that the EPS/PPS are there to look out for them. Depending on your assessment of the EPS the assignment can be a very attractive woman (possible problem: jealousy or multiple worshippers) or a man with a tendency towards drinking (possible problem: inappropriate and/or reckless behavior). Now observe the EPS/PPS throughout the night. If you deem it necessary, have someone help you creating a scene, so as to provoke the right behavior from your "VIP" and hopefully your EPS/PPS.

The direct goal of this scenario will be to find signs of insecurity and/or confusion in the moment where the EPS/PPS has to decide whether or not to intervene. The secondary goal could be to have the EPS/PPS make a written report, right after the debriefing, describing any flaws in his own emotional pattern. Thereby assessing his understanding of self-esteem and related cognitive abilities.

2. Working environment. Take a student or new EPS/PPS on a job with a low-level director/manager. Preferably on a 3-5 day assignment. Let him be a part of the entire planning and let him be part of the personal escort section (introduce him to the director/manager as a disciple if necessary). Now, at any and all meetings, this particular student should be put on post in front of doors, in hallways, offices etc. Let him experience the joys of waiting. Be sure that he gets all information last. Also make him change pace whenever possible. Soon after, observe how the "Relax-hurry" syndrome kicks in. Depending on the students ability to elevate and descend stress hormones he will feel tired after a while, almost leaning towards a depressive state of mind. If he has a low stress border, the before mentioned state of mind will be obvious. If not, it is barely visible. It would be beneficial to weigh the student before you start and right after you stop. People with poor stress control tend to loose more weight, even in a short period of time, than those with a better stress condition. Again let the student make a written report, right after the debriefing, of his physical and emotional wellbeing.

3. Dealing with life-or-death situations can be hard to do under training conditions in the private sector. The mentioned approach may or may not be applicable to your country or culture, but will fit into most cultures in the western world. If your staff already has experienced the mentioned situations, this approach is unnecessary and can trigger grim flashbacks. But it is still a realistic way of dealing with the students or new EPS/PPS who never have been in active combat or equally dangerous situations.

I suggest that you try to deal with this in five tempi:

a) Take any and all of your staff to an undertaker's office and let the undertaker explain their point of view. They normally have a rather pragmatic view on the corps as a holster in which we just reside until we pass away.

b) Thereafter you go to a hospital and visit the emergency room. Some hospitals have guided tours others do not. But the blood-n-guts approach is essential for anyone who later on will be responsible for saving another mans life.

c) If possible, visit a forensic examiner during working hours (some work 8/12-hour shift and can have a rather "cold" approach to things).

d) Take them hunting for deer or similar creatures and let them assist when you skin the prey.

e) Last; let people reflect a few days on what they have seen, before they write a report on their own view on life-or-death situations. They should now be motivated enough to fight back with all that they got, if attacked!

Always remember to let your students train under as realistic conditions as possible. If possible try to use fear induction in the training.

These descriptions may seem harsh and cold. And I admit that a certain percentage of the staff/students will quit when exposed to this kind of training. But I would not have personnel protect me, no matter how physically fit, if they never had been tested emotionally. Nor should you or your client!

Besides from the explained skills, any EPS/PPS should also develop good character judgment, direct/indirect attack recognition skills, be able to recognize manipulation and have an overall assertive approach to people. Not all can have a degree in psychology, but anyone working in the field of executive protection should have some sort of psychological training. This kind of training is part of a normal police academy education as well as part of the average army combat training and should, in my personal point of view, be compulsory in executive protection training.

Henrik Bramsborg is the managing director of Bramsborg Security & safety, a security company based in Denmark. Henrik is a stalking- and surveillance detection specialist and the author of several Danish books on security. Henrik is also an experienced instructor in personal protection, having trained NATO S-FOR forces, police officers, correctional facility officers and private bodyguards. He holds a management degree and is furthermore a certified motivation instructor.

Bramsborg Security & Safety,, have been quoted or profiled in several Danish media as the "Danish stalking experts".

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