How Government Leaders Can Stay Ahead of Security Threats

government leaders security threats

Since 9-11, there have been 156 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, according to data from And though our country is safer today due to enhanced security measures, new threats arise every day.

Rapidly evolving technology only underscores this critical need to stay ahead of the curve. Gartner estimates cyber security spending will top $113 billion by 2020, and that number will continue to climb.

But, ‘staying ahead of the curve’ is a big challenge when dealing with safety and security in an unpredictable environment. And few people understand this better than Mike O’Neil, a 22- year veteran of the New York City Police Department and the first Commanding Officer of the NYPD Counterterrorism Division.

Today, Mike serves as CEO of MSA Security, providing security, intelligence, training, and investigative services to both public and private organizations.

“Our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business,” says O’Neil. “The world would be a better place if it didn’t need companies like MSA.”

Mike’s advice is for leaders to practice “constant forward thinking and anticipation of future threats. We remain nimble and adaptable. Several years ago, MSA became the first EDC company to train our bomb dogs on homemade explosives such as TATP and HMTD. Now we see this is the most prominent explosive threat we face today.”

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t often take these proactive steps to prepare for security threats. Instead, they react after a safety or security incident shakes them out of complacency.

Today’s global economy makes keeping up with the pace of change increasingly difficult. And leaders must stay vigilant as new, unexpected threats to our local and national security appear nearly every day.

So, how can government leaders stay ahead of the curve in today’s volatile and uncertain operating environment?

Here are a few ways to stay prepared:

1. Stay humble. Most important for government leaders is to put your ego in check. If you aren’t the expert, listen, ask questions, and understand what the experts are saying before you make any decisions. Otherwise, you may do more harm than good.

2. Think long term. Our society often plans in the short term, but it will be our downfall unless we change our thinking. People who play the long game win. They may lose a battle here and there, but in the long-term, they win the war. Chess is a great example of this. If you play a reactive or short-term strategy, your opponent with a long-term strategy will win every time. The cost for us not playing the long game in safety and security could be catastrophic.

3. Take training seriously. If you’re in government service, safety and security training is often required or at least offered. Once you know where you are on the curve, get some training on how to deal with these safety and security issues to get yourself ahead of the curve. Don’t assume your level in the organization (high or low) will save you from dealing with these sorts of situations. Whether you’re a janitor or the President; if you work in public service, the safety and security of the country and its people are in some way part of your job. Also, don’t assume just because you’ve had the training you are done. Get a refresher at least once a year.

4. Make connections. Get to know folks like Mike who is an expert in safety and security. These are good people to be able to call on when you or someone you know has a problem. Also, don’t only call on these folks when you have a problem. Be proactive, reach out, and get updates on the field.

5. Build a team you trust. Being surrounded by people you can trust seems like common sense, but it’s much harder in a government agency where you don’t always have the ability to pick your team. So, you will need to either figure out how and when you can trust those around you, or figure out how to clean house.

6. Promote dissenting opinions. It’s ridiculous the number of leaders who I see in public service that chastise people for disagreeing with them. You want to hire smart people you trust and have them disagree with you. Having a bunch of yes-men agreeing with your every word is a recipe for disaster. You will make better decisions if you have people who aren’t afraid to tell you when you are making a mistake. Don’t be the Emperor Who Had No Clothes.

When dealing with issues of local and national security, “it’s critical to stay ahead of the latest threats with an intelligence program,” says Mike. “Be proactive, not reactive.”

While leaders can’t always anticipate what’s next, they can stay informed, help their organizations build strategies that will address a future need, and prepare their teams with proper training as threats evolve.