Being an outward facing Liaison Officer (LO) is high tempo, reactive and enables the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to achieve an appreciable effect in support of, and collaboration with, an external agency.
LOs embedded in a partner organisation aid commanders in their planning, and facilitate communication between the commander and that organisation; like the Rural Fire Service during the high-risk weather season or a government health service during a pandemic. Their placement gives the commander the freedom of action to focus on providing orders, intent and guidance to their subordinates.
Below is a diagram which I think captures the relationship structure between an external organisation, an LO and the commander:
Blue: signifies information communicated by an organisation. The LO then interprets the information, provides an initial assessment of what the ADF can do for the request and monitors the progress of the ADF response on behalf of the organisation once delivered to the commander.
Green: demonstrates information from the commander in the form of a situation report (SITREP). The LO then interprets this and provides advice and SITREPs to the organisation.
Red: denotes the continuous feedback loop between the commander and the LO on useful information, informal liaison and requests for information.
A competent LO should demonstrate enthusiasm, an adaptive mindset, understand capability and be willing to learn. These key skills can facilitate the success of two organisations working harmoniously in a rapidly changing environment.
A healthy level of enthusiasm is vital. Often, LOs are required to work long hours, capture a considerable amount of information, and articulate this between two organisations which may have unique ‘organisational languages’ and are managing independently large workloads.
When liaising with an external agency, it is important to remember – you are the face of the ADF. Your actions and enthusiasm provide assurance that you are best placed to answer any questions they may have about our capability.
Enthusiasm nurtures a strong relationship; strong relationships lead to the development of common processes and to the swift triage of requests for support or information.
An adaptive mindset
Often the goalposts continue to shift while on operations. In order to support an organisation requiring ADF support, you must adapt to the changing nature of requests and clearly form courses of action for managing complex tasks. Through setting reasonable expectations and by creating a clear path when channeling requests, tasks can be managed efficiently.
It’s expected that any junior officer tasked with an LO role has read widely. It is important to read within the corps, through to wider Army and greater ADF capability. An ability to quickly retrieve knowledge of ADF capability will serve you well; like knowing the effect a weapon system has in battle, it is important to know the effect military capability can provide during a bushfire or pandemic.
Good professional military education (PME) can be easily found outside a Unit and Sub-Unit’s prescribed reading on websites like The Cove, Grounded Curiosity, The Interpreter, and The Strategist. PME on current ADF capability is as important as reading books about historical battles and war fighting.
Specific to being an LO, the US Center for Army Lessons Learned Commander and Staff Guide to Liaison Functions is a good resource.
Willingness to learn
A genuine interest and willingness to learn about an organisation’s world will pay large dividends. When supporting an organisation, asking questions about how they work can help you can better understand their unique language.
Much like the ADF uses acronyms for brevity, so do many other groups. Once you learn the way plans are shaped and communicated, it is simple to transfer this to an output that the ADF can execute.
Agencies, like the ADF, work within policy, procedures and guidelines. It is important to learn as much as you can about the practical application of these documents. This helps understand the limitations imposed upon the organisation’s work so you can comprehend where the ADF can support by handling tasks that reside outside the bounds of an organisation’s responsibility.
The ADF relies on commanders to lead soldiers to support the mission. A commander relies on a LO to provide sound, reasonable and clear communications for them to make informed decisions to craft their plans.
About the Author: Lieutenant Emma Watson is the Adjutant at 11th Engineer Regiment. You can follow her on Twitter.