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Selecting a wellness coordinator for your public safety agency

Hiring the right wellness coordinator for your agency is an investment in the health and resilience of your entire organization

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Selecting the right wellness coordinator for your agency is an investment in the health and resilience of your entire organization.

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If your public safety agency is considering a new wellness initiative, either building one from the ground up or modifying an existing program, there are numerous choices to be made. Selecting a wellness coordinator will likely be the most important decision you make as you get ready to launch your wellness program, so it’s helpful to have some guidance regarding what factors to consider as you evaluate candidates.

Following are some helpful tips on what to look for as you decide who is going to drive your wellness project forward.

What to look for in a wellness coordinator

You might be planning to pull an existing employee from your own department, or your plans may include bringing in an external candidate. Either way, it’s essential to find a wellness coordinator with the right blend of personality and skills to lead your program. Below are several qualities to look for in a wellness coordinator candidate:

  • A natural leader: Look at your organization (or possibly, outside your organization) so see if you can find someone who embodies the qualities you aim to cultivate in others. A natural leader — someone who has already established the trust and respect of team members — is a great candidate for a wellness coordinator.
  • A good communicator: Competent leaders tend to have natural communication skills. A good candidate will be adept at conveying messages without coming off as arrogant or manipulative. The person should be a good listener, and also should not be afraid to speak in front of an audience.
  • A well-organized person: Obviously, a wellness coordinator needs to have the organizational skills to be able to plan and execute a project from beginning to end. The ability to multitask is also important. Some other important areas include the ability to meet deadlines and a keen attention to details.
  • A passion for wellness: While you don’t necessarily need a bodybuilder or marathon runner to manage your wellness program, choosing someone who is already deeply involved in wellness-related activities such as fitness and nutrition is a huge plus. An ideal candidate will also be an active proponent of mental wellness, able to actively fight the stigma surrounding mental health issues in public safety. Finally, you’ll want someone who is positive and who can promote positivity in others.
  • A trained/credentialed person: This is more a “nice to have” as opposed to an absolute must. It’s helpful if the person you’re considering has training or even a degree in a field related to community health, health and wellness or possibly sports and health sciences. Someone with project management experience or PMI-ACP certification might also be a good fit. (A bonus would be if the candidate is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the Wellness Council of America, and/or the National Wellness Institute.)
  • A true first responder: There is something about first responders that sets them apart from others. For some, it’s a sense of altruism; for others, it’s a desire to serve others. As you zero in on the person to lead your initiative, make sure the candidate is a good cultural fit for both your department and your ideal program.
Mike Lawson leads the charge in bolstering officer support, outlining initiatives for peer support, resilience groups, wellness hours and mental health check-ins

Responsibilities of a wellness coordinator

Wellness coordinators are responsible for managing a variety of health and wellness initiatives, including designing, implementing and evaluating programs aimed at enhancing physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellness among their peers. Additionally, they collaborate with team members to foster a supportive environment conducive to personal development and healthy choices. More specifically, you should expect your wellness coordinator to:

  • Establish a peer support program (or take over an existing one). This should mean getting both the coordinator and other peer support team members trained and certified. Note that wellness programs and peer support teams are often run by different people within a department.
  • Conceive and plan activities and initiatives across the agency to promote various aspects of wellness: fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental well-being and work-life balance.
  • Maintain a list of helpful resources and referral options available to employees and their families.
  • Communicate wellness-related news and events to the department and community.
  • Coordinate wellness-focused training activities for department employees.
  • Evaluate therapists selected to work with the department, verifying their qualifications, expertise, and cultural sensitivity.
  • Manage implementation (or maintenance) of a chaplain program.

The person you choose to lead your wellness program should be someone your employees will respect regardless of position or title. They need a knowledge of first responder culture and possess the ability to cultivate positive connections with team members. Building trust and maintaining confidentiality are also crucial aspects of this role.

Is your department considering adding a wellness dog to its ranks? Check out how Murphy, Chula Vista (Calif.) PD’s first official wellness dog, is making his mark at the department by boosting officers’ morale and mental health.

Where to find your wellness coordinator

There are a number of factors that will influence where you find your ideal wellness coordinator. Agency size is a big one, as is the amount of funding and other “weight” your department plans to put behind the program you’re hoping to build.

Here are some possibilities to consider:

Current employee: In smaller agencies (or those just starting their wellness journey) picking an existing employee to oversee the program may be the best approach. Consideration should be given to whether the wellness coordinator volunteers or is assigned to the role. While an existing employee may be familiar with your agency’s culture and personnel, they may lack direct experience in managing wellness initiatives, which can create challenges.

New hire: Larger agencies (or those aiming to elevate existing programs) often opt to hire a dedicated employee to serve as wellness coordinator. This individual typically brings formal training and experience in wellness management but may require time to get to know your personnel and acclimate to your agency’s culture and dynamics.

Institutional/hybrid: Some agencies may decide on an established wellness program offered by an external organization, such as a state or county government or large health insurance provider. In such cases, an in-house liaison is necessary to interface with the external wellness coordinator, effectively assuming the role of a wellness coordinator within the agency.

It’s important to acknowledge that the “right person” right now may not be the “right person” forever. As your agency grows and evolves, so will its wellness needs. If you have someone currently in place as a wellness coordinator and aren’t 100% certain that they will be a good fit for the new iteration of your wellness program, it might be time to start fresh with new blood.

Also, if your department is growing, you might find it necessary to take the position of wellness coordinator from a part-time to a full-time job. If the person you choose isn’t willing to give up other duties to focus on wellness, you probably should look for someone else to run the show.

Other things to think about

Remember the old saying: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Any agency wellness initiative is a constant work in progress. Some things will work, while others don’t. This may hold true for program goals, specific initiatives … and the wellness coordinator.

Selecting the right person to coordinate your wellness program is crucial for any public safety agency embarking on a wellness initiative. By prioritizing qualities such as leadership, communication, organization, and a genuine passion for wellness, you can help ensure you have the right person driving your program forward. Additionally, remaining flexible in the selection process — understanding that the role may evolve with the program — is key to the ongoing success of the wellness program. Ultimately, selecting the right wellness coordinator for your agency is an investment in the health and resilience of your entire organization.

NEXT: Mental wellness is crucial for effective public safety work. In this video, Gordon Graham, Lexipol co-founder and risk management expert, explains the four dimensions of mental wellness: mental, emotional, social and psychological.

These dimensions impact how we think, manage emotions, connect with others and make decisions. Watch the video to learn how to promote mental wellness within your team and enhance overall resilience.

Lexipol’s Content Development staff consists of current and former public safety professionals including lawyers and others who have served as chief, deputy chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, officer, deputy, jail manager, PREA auditor, prosecutor, agency counsel, civil litigator, writer, subject matter expert instructor within public safety agencies, as well as college and university adjunct professor. Learn more about Lexipol’s public safety solutions.