20 ways to develop

What does it mean for you as an individual to take responsibility for your own learning and development?

In the simplest of terms, it means that you accept that your learning and development is up to you and no one else, and on that basis, you take action!

You should not expect or wait for someone else, such as your line manager, to make it happen for you. It is your job, your career, your life, and it is up to you to be proactive about your own learning and development.


When is the right time to start your development?


Your development is continuous; you do not need to have started a new role to consider your development needs. In fact, identifying development in your current role will enhance your existing skills, knowledge and experience.

Also, addressing your development needs prior to applying for new roles will make you more likely to succeed once you are in a role.

Sometimes, taking a sideways career move will help you develop your skills, knowledge and expertise, providing you with a set of transferable skills and learning agility, ready for future career opportunities.


Why should you develop yourself?

There are so many reasons why development can benefit you both personally and professionally, including:

  • Gaining a new skill or qualification
  • Taking on a greater variety of work
  • Improving your ability to implement and realise your specific goals
  • Increasing your ability to respond effectively to change
  • Improving your confidence and self-esteem
  • Opportunity for career progression
  • Refreshing knowledge
  • Keeping in touch with new development in a specific field


Research by Cranfield University found that training and development improves staff retention rates (thus reducing recruitment spend and expertise loss) and staff motivation.


There are also numerous benefits to your service and the sector, including:

  • Improved ability to implement and realise specific goals outlined in the service plan/strategy
  • Increased ability of individuals and workforce to respond effectively to change
  • Increased efficiency/productivity
  • Enhanced mobility of workforce
  • Retention of employees: colleagues feel valued
  • Improved motivation


For more information on how to plan your development, please refer to the ‘NFCC guide to development planning’. 


How to support your development

There are a variety of ways you can develop yourself; it is best to use the approach that best suits your learning preferences and other commitments.

For example, thinking about how you prefer to learn could help you select one or a blend of learning options that address your individual development needs.


The table below lists 20 development approaches, together with their respective benefits, but there are plenty of other options.


Development approach What it is Benefits
Coaching A short-term process that leads to self-development and awareness, in which a coach supports you in achieving a specific personal or professional goal.

Coaches use a variety of different tools and techniques and offer opportunities to challenge you to find your own answers.

Coaching involves helping you access what you already know by using a variety of techniques, enabling you to think in a different way.

Helps you find answers and explore different approaches, styles, behaviours and responses to situations

Solutions are based on your own values, preferences and perspectives

Mentoring A longer-term process for the informal sharing of knowledge, networks and resources, offering direction and specific support relevant to your work, career or professional development. A mentor is usually perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom or experience, offering this support as an experienced and trusted adviser. They may also be recognised as an expert in their field. Helps you become competent in your existing role

Helps you develop skills, knowledge, and understanding to progress in your career

Helps you to think through aspects of your work and find a way forward

360-degree feedback This is a feedback and development process where your manager, peers, and stakeholders evaluate you. You receive constructive and personalised feedback and reports that describe both how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. Helps you understand your strengths and development areas

Provides multiple sources and perspectives for your development

Provides guidance on ways to improve

Can link into your development plan

Qualifications/studying You could consider a qualification to enhance your technical, professional, leadership, or personal effectiveness skills.

Qualifications could range from functional skills (practical skills such as maths and English), vocational (job related) or higher education qualifications.

Some qualifications may be available through your service, but please discuss any costs involved with your line manager and HR/L&D before progressing.

Expanding your skill set

Broaden your CV and career opportunities

Improve your chances of career progression

Evidence to support the knowledge, skills and behaviours you have learnt

Research Researching a particular topic can provide you with the knowledge you require to improve and develop. Using this knowledge and applying it in the workplace can have a positive impact on your development and performance. Can be completed at a time and pace appropriate for you

Increase your knowledge

Improve your performance

Can be free or low cost

Webinars Webinars are events, video presentations, workshops, seminars, training sessions or classroom lectures hosted and delivered online using webinar software. They are a two-way form of communication where the attendees and presenters give, receive and share information in real time. Development accessible at a time and place suitable for you

You choose the topic

External perspectives on development topics

Free or low cost

Podcasts A podcast is an audio programme that you can listen to on your smartphone, laptop or other mobile device. Podcasts are available on a variety of topics, and many are free to download.

To get started, try searching ‘Leadership Podcasts’ on Google or access search sites such as PodSearch.

Development accessible at a time and place suitable for you

You choose the topic

External perspectives on development topics

Free or low cost

Development videos Sites such as TED Talks provide free influential videos from expert speakers on education, business, science, tech and creativity. Development accessible at a time and place suitable for you

You choose the topic

External perspectives on development topics

Free or low cost

Skills analysis This is a useful development tool to analyse your current skills against the required skills for your current or future role. It will help you see where you have knowledge or skills gaps and identify the development you need to bridge those gaps.

You could start by assessing yourself against each of the elements in the role map/role profile/job description/NFCC leadership framework. It could also be a good idea to ask your line manager to support you and to get an objective perspective.

Identifies your specific skills/knowledge gaps

Allows you to build a unique development plan

Targeted development

Honest appraisal of current level of skills and knowledge

Formal training/development workshops A face-to-face or virtual workshop or training event, hosted by a trainer, facilitator or instructor. It will probably have agreed learning objectives and clear learner outcomes. Group learning and discussions

Sharing of ideas and best practices

Opportunity to try new skills in a safe environment

Dedicated time away from the workplace

Observe a role model Think about a specific development need, and then look for a colleague who you admire in this area. Ask if you can observe them ‘in action’, and allow time for a debrief to ask any questions. They may also be able to support you by identifying some development actions. Allows you to observe someone who demonstrates the characteristics you most admire

Feeds in to specific and targeted development

Job shadowing This involves spending time observing and potentially supporting a colleague as they work.

It can last from a few hours to several weeks, and it gives you opportunities to ask questions throughout the experience.

You can observe how the employee does the job, the key deliverables expected from the job, and the employees the job holder interacts with.

A useful way to learn about a particular role

Gain a better understanding of a particular role/career path

You get to see and understand the nuances of a particular job

You can learn about the characteristics of the job, including related competencies, skills and behaviours

Project work/workplace projects This could involve working on a project as part of, or in addition to, your day-to-day role. It might require you to contribute in your area of expertise and thus influence change and improvements. Provides a wider perspective on the roles and responsibilities of others and their departments

Opportunity to network and raise your profile across the service

Provides valuable experience to put skills and knowledge into practice

Secondments secondment is a temporary transfer to another role, business area, organisation or fire and rescue service away from your primary job. It is more formal than a job rotation and gives you first-hand experience of another role. Allows you to develop skills outside of your usual role

Provides networking opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable

Opportunity to explore new career possibilities and gain experience while remaining in secure employment

Learn new skills and boost confidence

Enhance your CV

Attend/observe meetings Look for meetings taking place in your department/organisation that it would benefit you to attend/observe. Approach the chairperson with a set of clear objectives that you would like to achieve. Agree beforehand the role you will play (such as contributor or observer). You may also find that the meeting attendees would like your feedback and observations either during or after the meeting.

If you are unsure of which meetings are scheduled, you could speak to your line manager and ask them to attend with you.

Improves your organisational knowledge

Provides a broader perspective

Opportunity to network and raise your profile across the service

Networking In business terms, networking is the process of speaking to professional contacts and sharing information with them. Networking can happen internally within your service or externally through professional groups, partners, local organisations, etc. Opportunity to meet and engage with others

Builds and develops relationships

Sharing of best practice

Hear about industry best practices

Opportunity to look for a mentor

Appraisal Your appraisal conversations may cover performance and development. They are a good opportunity to discuss development needs in your current or future roles. Support from your line manager in identifying development needs

A common output is a personal development plan

Act as a buddy/coach/mentor Supporting someone else’s development has various benefits for both parties. Your organisation may have formal schemes, or you could do this on an informal basis. There are relevant courses and development materials to support you. Supports and develops others

Develops your own skills

Provides valuable experience to support your future career

Peer support Similar to the ‘buddy’ role above, sharing your skills, knowledge and expertise to support a peer with a task or in their development has mutual benefits. Supports and develops others

Develops your own skills

Could improve team performance

Learning/development pathways








Your organisation may have clearly defined learning or development pathways. These set out the suggested route for your development, quite often linking to career progression and potential future roles. Learning or development pathways will usually include mandatory and optional development. Control your development at a pace suitable for you

Provide clear directions to your goals

Help you create and complete your development plan


Some of the activities above, such as coaching and mentoring, may be available through your service. Please discuss them with your line manager and HR/L&D and visit the NFCC website to find out more.


Common challenges and potential solutions 

‘I’ve been waiting for my line manager to tell me what I need to develop.’

Instead of waiting, take the initiative and create your own development plan.

‘The training programmes don’t seem to cover what I need to learn.’

Consider alternative ways to address your individual development needs (see the table above for some suggestions).


‘I’m too busy focusing on achieving my performance goals, without taking the time to think about anything else.’

Instead of being completely focused on getting the job done, look for ways to learn something new while pursuing your goals.


‘I feel like I don’t know where to start.’

Do not let this stand in your way! Try to do something different, outside your daily routine: read books on a range of topics that interest you, join a group that will expand your view of your profession or have coffee with a colleague who could give you some top tips (see the table above for some suggestions).


‘I don’t have time to invest in my own learning and development.’

Do not buy into this myth! In reality, you do not have time to NOT invest in your learning and development! Invest widely by using your work experience as your best classroom. Learn to reflect on your experience and use the lessons you gain to improve, grow and develop.


‘I didn’t complete my last development plan.’

Pick up that development plan again and tailor it to your needs today. Partner with someone else, make a pact to support each other as you learn and ask them to help you follow through.


‘All the training feels like it’s too generic; it doesn’t relate to me.’

Consider selecting a development approach that would be relevant and specific to you (see the table above for some suggestions).


‘I don’t want to go for promotion, so how can I develop?’

All of us, regardless of career ambition or role, can develop in our current role, even if we are not interested in promotion. Development is continuous, so identifying development in your current role will enhance your existing skills, knowledge and experience.


A final word…

The bottom line is that your development comes down to what you do with your opportunities and abilities. And, not surprisingly, people who take responsibility for their own learning and development tend to learn more from their experiences.