SNCO/WO & Comissioned Officers - Relationship of Authority, and place in the big picture

Some of the comments in the “SNCOs Daughter” thread brought up the relationship of authority between SNCO/WO and junior Commissioned Officers.

I thought it might make for some sort of short discussion (short? On these fora? :stuck_out_tongue: ).
It might also help to enlighten a few people.

The whole WO/SNCO ‘authority’ thing is a far more delicate balance for us than for the RAF.

As was pointed out in the other thread, an RAF (or any of the services) SNCO/WO (with exceptions like Aircrew, air traffic) will have generally served a lot longer than the average junior officer.
This is why an RAF WO can far more easily ‘advise’ a Fg Off or Flt Lt of, for example a uniform issue, than would be fair in the equivalent relationship in the ATC.

In particular of course a SWO acts on the authority of the Station Commander.

We have a similar position for the WWO. Unless the WWO was being a total tool then anyone arguing the point would/should ultimately end up arguing it with OC Wing; for that is whom the WWO is acting on behalf of.
You’d also expect that a WWO would have some years service under his or her belt which would make carrying out such a role more acceptable.

The problem is with the new, often young SNCO who sees their role as including the ability to ‘put Officers back in their box’.

We’ve no doubt all heard ‘big man’ chatter from time to time. “…yeah, so I told him ‘with respect Sir, get the HELL off my parade square’ he went off in a huff. lol…”, or “…I told her, her shirt looked like a sack of SPUDS, and not to stand in front of my cadets until she can dress herself properly…”.

Very clearly that’s an ill-advised manner to take with a ‘Junior Officer’ who may well be ex regular, and/or may well have been serving whilst the SNCO was still in nappies.

Whilst I’m sure this sort of attitude is not only restricted to the younger SNCO it has certainly been more common place in my experience.

I wonder how much of this is unintentionally ‘taught’ at ATF?

Mitch enjoyed indulging in a bit of officer banter. It’s part of what made his lessons as entertaining as they were. But then, he’s served for long enough to be able to know his authority and when it’s appropriate to ‘advise’ an Officer.

I suspect that some new, young, Sgts going through SSIC may not see the distinction and simply emulate what they’ve heard Mitch talk about.

Should the role of the SNCO and their place in the chain of command be something which is more clearly taught at ATF?

Is this already perhaps the case? It’s been a while since I was on SSIC.

I do recall on my various courses that the message could be a little mixed.
Sometimes the underlying feeling appeared to be ‘You’re ATC. You’re the lowest of the low. You’re lower than an SAC’. At other times is was more like ‘When you’re teaching drill that’s your parade square. Don’t let officers do whatever they like’.

This also makes me think about our place in the bigger picture of the RAF.
The main problems that I see commonly amongst (mostly newer) staff tend to fall into one of two categories:

  1. Those who consider themselves to be more entitled than they are.

These are types which ATF obviously try to avoid creating by reminding us that we’re ‘only ATC’.
I believe them to be in the minority.

  1. Those who are far too subservient, considering that any RAF person on a station is more important than they are.
    These seem to be far too common.

In my experience the best way way to deal with regulars is to talk to them like people.
Neither attempt to lord it over any nor bow down before them - simply talk to them. Give them the respect that their rank and service has earned but don’t treat them like some sort of deity. Nor attempt to come across as though you know their job as well as they do (unless you do).

There have been a few occasions where RAF guys have just assumed that I (and a number of other people I know) have been RAF or ex RAF. I’m not. It can only be because we talk to them on a level that they’re used to.

It seems like those who are most often easily recognised as “cadet instructors” are the ones who don’t have the confidence to just get on with things and somehow manage to come across as being a bit star-struck; or are just obviously spouting off about things they don’t really understand.

This has been a long run through things as they come into my head.

Thoughts?

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I have absolutely no problem pulling up an officer for any failing. BUT it will always be done professionally, courteously, in the correct context and at the appropriate time & place.

Anyone who “goes off on one”, be they commissioned or not, doesn’t deserve any attention or respect IMHO.

The problem in the ACO from what I’ve seen over the last few years is there is a not insignificant number of “officers” who see themselves as better than the Adult SNCOs. Possibly they think this because they hold a commission, but it seems to be younger/newer members of the ACO.

Two excellent posts. I feel the culprits are usually those very young SNCOs who have suddenly found authority, and are determind to use it whether correct or not.

I know some fanstastic and not so fantastic SNCOs, but as you say the difference between regular and ACO is quite marked and maybe not that understood. I would not accept some throbber acting like he owns the place as an officer or NCO, and would expect all staff to treat each other with basic respect and courtesy as Sirvicalsmeer above says.

I have a junior officer ex-regular senior officer on my books, and I’d love to see some of these people pull him up for something!

I fully agree with all comments above.

I would like to point out that to become an ATC WO take a good number of years. To become a Flt Lt RAFVR(T) it can be achieved in 6 months to 1 year. Thats a significant difference between the RAF and the ATC. If anything this winds me up even more as a WO ATC does have experience. This was primely refuting to in my previous post.

When it comes to Junior SNCO I full agree this is a different ball game. I have even been on the receiving end of one while wearing MTP pre-ATC being able to, just pointed at rank and beret badge in silence.

All to often the in the ACO I see or hear and officer with the “I’m an officer” attitude to an NCO acting appropriately. It winds me up quite a bit.

An excellent topic, thanks and I hope we get some good discussion. I won’t even attempt to comment on every point, but a few of my thoughts on some of the things you raise.

For starters, you make an interesting point about the WO/SNCO authority ’balance’ and perhaps we allow it to be delicate; it shouldn’t be. Provided everyone understands what the relationship is, the perceived delicacy of it becomes irrelevant. WOs and SNCOs need to understand there is a correct way to ‘have a quiet word’ with an errant officer and likewise, officers should understand that if they err, then they may well be picked up for it by anyone. Indeed, even an LAC should be able to advise an officer, if said officer were a bag of spanners and, of course, the LAC was well presented. It’s the way it’s done that’s key. In my time, I have ‘picked up’ an Air Cdre for being improperly dressed; he harrumphed a bit, but corrected himself. But I didn’t shout across the road, or embarrass him (at least not publicly), after saluting him, I simply said, ‘Sir, could you please sort out your GPJ, it’s not a good example to the Jnr Offs and airmen’.

Moving on. There will always be banter between and about officers at ATF and across the Organisation, I genuinely surprised an SNCO once when I told him that the officer corps engage in equally belittling banter about the SNCOs and WOs! It’s what we do and it’s part of the ethos of the military, and in general it’s taken in the good humour that it’s delivered. Are we therefore advising our new SNCOs incorrectly at ATF if they think that banter is in some way the norm and the bragging ‘big man’ comments are really the way that things should be? You asked whether the role of the SNCO and their place in the chain of command is something that should be more clearly taught at ATF and perhaps it should, but equally, is this an area where the WWO should feature? He should be setting the standards for his SNCOs and peers and he should advise on what should be the accepted norm, does this happen across the Organisation? This guidance is probably more relevant for the ex cadets who will have no previous military experience to fall back on, but I would be interested to know whether WWOs have ‘fireside chats’ with their shiny new SNCOs to brief them on expectations.

Finally, you make some good points on the attitude of people towards us and our thoughts of ourselves. I think your absolutely right in your analysis of how to deal with Regulars; they are no different to us at the end of the day and will be more than happy to engage in conversation with us. What they don’t like are people throwing their rank around, braggarts, bullshine merchants and the W words! Does this last comment of mine focus on our credibility as officers, WOs or SNCOs? Yes, I think it does. As you say, a lot of our people ‘don’t have the confidence to just get on with things and somehow manage to come across as being a bit star-struck, or just obviously spouting off about things they don’t really understand’. Be properly confident in what you are and be credible in your rank. If you are not both of these, that’s when our Regular colleagues can and do raise the ‘You’re the lowest of the low’ flag.

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Quite.

The braggers/walts/big heads do seem to be in the minority.
They’re definitely there, I’ve seen more than a few, but far more common are the subservient types.

I do think that in attempting to avoid waltism, ATF have managed to encourage an unprofessional level of subservience.

The problems don’t just apply to SNCOs and as has been mentioned above I’ve seen Officers fall into both those categories as well.
Now that I think of it, I can recall quite a few young officers with ideas above their station also.
Perhaps that is primarily a fault of youth, rather than a specific ‘SNCO with big ideas’ problem… I’ll have to think about how I perceive the split to be…though I still think I’ve seen more cocky SNCOs than cocky Jnr Officers.

You say that, but personally I don’t think it takes enough.
I make no pretense that I think that ATC have set the bar far too low when it comes to SNCO/WO promotions.
I’ve seen a good number of WO (ATC), promoted under the old system and the current, who really aren’t up to the job and don’t carry the rank at all.
Again, the same two problems apply.
I’ve come across the ‘I’m a WO, you’re a FS. Clearly I must know better than you do!’ camp; as well as the ‘wouldn’t guess in million years that they’re a WO without the rank slide, because the don’t have a clue’ brigade.

Though, my thoughts on the promotion situation, and especially how it relates to that of our Sea Cadet colleagues (who I think have got it almost spot-on), is enough for a whole new topic on it’s own.

I’ve always said that the one thing I detest most is the subservient attitude.
It just makes me want to grab someone and say "For crying out loud! Grow a pair and stop acting like you’ve just met Eric Clapton!"
The walts are easily put away, but it’s the over-humble, ‘I’m only ATC’ approach which I think does us most harm in the eyes of the RAF.

What I find most interesting though is that in the past where dealing with the RAF in a normal manner (as I described earlier) has brought me responses such as ‘You’re obviously ex RAF then?..’, or ‘Oh, you’re ATC? You seem normal!..’ (both actual quotes), it’s that very manner which has actually attracted negative attention from some senior officers in the Wing.

Where we’ve had regular RAF SNCOs and Officers commend us for some things, we’ve had our own Sqn Ldrs issue a ‘verbal debrief’ for the same, because they felt that we acted above our station.

This is perhaps where I’ve had most rubs with people. I value my credibility in relating to RAF personnel far above simply appeasing certain small minds in the ATC.
This is a hobby, but I’d far rather come across as someone professional who knows what they’re doing, than as some clueless ‘only a cadet instructor’.

It seems pretty clear to me that there are a great number of people who have been with the ATC for some time and who think they know how things work, but who are obviously WAY out of touch with the modern RAF.

Perhaps that is as big of a problem to the ATC as anything…
It’s half the battle to get SNCOs acting like normal people around the RAF; a whole extra way to go to stop our officers from trying to ‘wind them in’ for it.

This does appear to be in certain positions though. I know loads of good officers with whom I get along fantastically, but until recently, few of them seemed to be in positions of high authority.

Do they perhaps find the pettiness in the ATC to be too much and thus not many of them want to climb the ladder?

We could ask “is the ATC that far out of touch with the modern RAF?”

Well, I think the current Commandant is absolutely spot on in her approach…as are many superb staff…But in the overall experience…
…Yes, I think it is.

This is a good thought provoking subject

Maturity of staff and a true understanding of their roll is key. Modern society empowers younger people more now than years gone by.

I sometimes think that new younger staff think they need to make their mark, which could be the start of conflict.

The staff I have problems with is the ones that can’t switch their persona off when around other staff. In the canteen or office I believe all staff are equal, and that includes CIs. Bad use of status causes so many problems in this environment, especially when most staff are just there to make a difference, and don’t want the added grief of BS.

I also see staff that are too keen on getting a promotion. Again this is a status thing as rank makes very little difference to ones effectiveness, and typical alienates others in the process.

Attitude and fairness is what sets us apart.

[quote=“lead balloon” post=13099]
Maturity of staff and a true understanding of their roll is key.[/quote]

Very good point. Floured white, poppy seed, wholemail, whole grain(!), brown, sesame seed…all vital, and thats before we even get onto shape! It is a minefield.

I’ll get my coat. :cheer:

I thought this is what, a by-product, the SNCO structure was meant to eliminate and the OASC likewise on the Commission side. However it seems to have spawned a whole new breed of wannabes. I have met a few going through the process of SNCO and Commissioning have openly said they want to get their teeth into an Officer or SNCO, using their assumed power by virtue of their rank. I have in these instances raised a concern with their WSO(s) and OC, as we don’t need muppets like this. But still they get through. Ho Hum. Some of the worst offenders are in my experience some ex-cadets who go straight into adult uniform and some ex-servicemen on a crusade. As some have said the banter at ATF doesn’t help, as some fail to understand that it is banter. :ohmy:

I was an old style straight in WO, long before the SNCO structure was in place and it was at times difficult as there was always an heightened expectation of assumed knowledge, having been a CWO I felt a little more at ease with it, but it still was a minefield. But if you did have any really burning concerns you did it on the QT out of sight. It would be extremely unprofessional and discourteous to “bawl anyone out” on a parade square and whoever did the bawling, would need to be taken for a one way chat.

We all do this in our spare time (a massive variety of backgrounds and experience) and we will make mistakes and to make a huge issue out of it, is pedantic and not doing anyone any favours. But as our main audience is the general public, no one will in general take any notice. I’ve known I’ve had cadets and staff who aren’t looking their best on parade, but you only ever get positive remarks and that includes from serving and ex-service personnel. Having said that I doubt there are very few in the regular service who are as well versed in the do’s and don’ts as the average uniformed CFAV. Whether we do them or not is another matter. We all know the rules/laws for general life, but we don’t always, inadvertently or not, stick to them and the consequence of some of these are far more disasterous than not wearing a particular item or doing a drill movement or whatever correctly.

In my opinion half of our current issues with staffing are due to the fact that we push older uniform applicants to officer, and younger applicants to SNCO. We have way too many ex CWOs who have gone straight from CWO to SGT ATC and not changed their attitudes at all.
I think we need a minimum term of CI service for all potential uniformed staff.

[quote=“Baldrick” post=13108]
I think we need a minimum term of CI service for all potential uniformed staff.[/quote]

I disagree, on the grounds that this causes the other problem of this type, which is that uniformed staff see CIs as junior to them. CIs sit alongside the rank structure, not at the bottom of it and the appointment shouldn’t be used as a ‘stepping stone’ or a way of marking time before being ‘real staff’.

Introduce the rank of Aircraftman. Then anyone going down the route of becoming uniformed staff can start out in uniform and build some experience in a place where that experience is going to be fully relevant and nothing too much is going to be expected of them.

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[quote=“tango_lima” post=13112][quote=“Baldrick” post=13108]
I think we need a minimum term of CI service for all potential uniformed staff.[/quote]

I disagree, on the grounds that this causes the other problem of this type, which is that uniformed staff see CIs as junior to them. CIs sit alongside the rank structure, not at the bottom of it and the appointment shouldn’t be used as a ‘stepping stone’ or a way of marking time before being ‘real staff’[/quote]7

Disagree entirely. The problem is that attitude, (which I do not think you hold.) if every staff member had to be a CI at one point, the respect for the role would greatly increase. And the very fact that CIs sit outside the structure makes it perfect for informing the decision of which uniform role to take. A CI can easily shadow an officer or an NCO and make an informed decision, whilst simultaneously being outside of the system. So not developing a negative attitude to either side. Introducing Aircraftmen would just trap more and more staff in the NCO ladder than we currently have.

Locally it seems all the recent ex cadets are going the officer route.

Locally it seems all the recent ex cadets are going the officer route.[/quote]

That’s good. The more junior officers we have, the less chance individuals become overburdened.

[quote=“Baldrick” post=13113][quote=“tango_lima” post=13112][quote=“Baldrick” post=13108]
I think we need a minimum term of CI service for all potential uniformed staff.[/quote]

I disagree, on the grounds that this causes the other problem of this type, which is that uniformed staff see CIs as junior to them. CIs sit alongside the rank structure, not at the bottom of it and the appointment shouldn’t be used as a ‘stepping stone’ or a way of marking time before being ‘real staff’[/quote]7

Disagree entirely. The problem is that attitude, (which I do not think you hold.) if every staff member had to be a CI at one point, the respect for the role would greatly increase. And the very fact that CIs sit outside the structure makes it perfect for informing the decision of which uniform role to take. A CI can easily shadow an officer or an NCO and make an informed decision, whilst simultaneously being outside of the system. So not developing a negative attitude to either side. Introducing Aircraftmen would just trap more and more staff in the NCO ladder than we currently have.[/quote]

I’m with Baldrick here. I absolutely agree. EVERY member of CFAV should go through the CI route. Moving a CWO or C/FSgt into a Adult Sgt rank is an unnecessary burden on them and the Sqn. Being made a CI promotes a great deal of self discovery; allowing that individual to see the major difference between being a Cadet and an adult member of staff.

My personal opinions? I hope that on either of the boards, the SNCO or Officers; one of the determining factors for passing is having decent common sense. Ensuring that factor is paramount might go some way to preventing any animosity, either perceived or otherwise between Officers and SNCO’s. Ultimately, we are all in the same boat. We all have to pull together to the benefit of the small people that we nurture. There shouldn’t be angst between us. Now, I don’t live a life through rose coloured spectacles and acknowledge that angst will always occur. However, the forces; all of them, have always had a quasi-dictum: The Officers command but the SNCO’s are in charge. Is that right? Maybe. But if it is or isn’t, it matters not. We are, as I mentioned, all part of the same organisation and all doing ostensibly the same job. Yes, we will get good and bad SNCO’s and Officer’s, that’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid. Let’s just all try and work together for the good of the ACO.

[quote=“Racing Stick” post=13120]I’m with Baldrick here. I absolutely agree. EVERY member of CFAV should go through the CI route. Moving a CWO or C/FSgt into a Adult Sgt rank is an unnecessary burden on them and the Sqn. Being made a CI promotes a great deal of self discovery; allowing that individual to see the major difference between being a Cadet and an adult member of staff.

[/quote]

I think people only see CI this way because that is how it is used. It’s not how it should be used.

It’s seen too much as a ‘probationary staff’ position, not as an end in itself.

I’d follow the ACF on this one and introduce a real probationary position. It doesn’t have to be AC, use the existing ACF ‘PI’ rank if you want.

And while I’m on the subject, end cadet service at 18. Supposedly Staff Cadets are ‘probationary staff’, so make them ‘PIs’ too.

I’m with TL on this - I’d like to see CI as an end in itself, not as a stepping stone.

I’ve never quite seen how spending some time as a CI is supposed to magically induce epiphanies in ex-cadets - I was a CI for a short period between being a cadet and becoming an officer, and as far as I could tell I was exactly the same person just wearing different clothing.

I tend to agree with Baldrick’s point. A compulsory spell as a CI (one tour) would mean that the people we get going into a uniformed adult role, have a much better idea of what it entails to be a CI and this includes our much beloved cadets, too many of whom IMO look down their noses at CIs and a spell as one would give them more respect for the role. If they left as they had to be a CI, so what, to be perfectly honest if this was the case, they obviously aren’t cut out to be staff in the Corps. I’ve seen many a cadet who thinks they are going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread as they know more about it than all of us who have been there etc etc, and either buckle or find that it’s not a bowl of strawberries and cream. I can’t help but be condescending to these children, as their naivety is mind numbing and they need bringing down a peg or three.

Also as suggested, as a CI people can take time to evaluate the route that’s best for them, ie uniform or stay as a CI. Those who choose the latter shouldn’t be regarded as a lesser being, which unfortunately some senior officers seem to, given remarks I’ve heard along the lines of “why haven’t you gone into uniform”. I was chatting to an ex-cadet who’s been a CI for 3 years and despite everyone saying they should commission have decided they are going down the SNCO route, because that’s what THEY want to do. Apparently it’s not a popular decision with Wing Staff; a source told me … good.

A problem that has been evident for far too many years is that for some reason lost on me, senior CFAV officers don’t seem to understand the difference between being a cadet and adult staff, despite many of them having been cadets. IMO if the difference wasn’t that great (especially Commissions) then we’d be awash with ex-cadets in uniform adult roles and not a general lack of officers, requiring sqn cdrs needing to “run” more than one sqn or SNCOs running sqns in some parts of the country.

[quote=“glass half empty 2” post=13126]

Also as suggested, as a CI people can take time to evaluate the route that’s best for them, ie uniform or stay as a CI. [/quote]

If they were PIs/ACs/whatevers they could make an informed choice between CI, NCO and officer, giving all three roles proper respect rather than the choice between ‘proper staff’ or ‘just a CI’ offered by the current system…

The thing that concerns me is as a “uniformed” PI you might not feel comfortable and feel obliged to carry on in uniform because it’s what the system says. I do wonder sometimes if older cadets feel like this when WSOs and COs paint them a pretty picture of uniformed life as adult staff, because they are in a cadet uniform and don’t feel confident enough to say no to a Sqn Ldr or Flt Lt, effectively telling them, do it this way.

In a totally civilian capacity you have the distance to be able to properly evaluate and decide for yourself when it’s right.

Having been a CI many moons ago, there was a sense that you weren’t fully respected in that capacity, but then I feel that uniformed staff aren’t fully respected by the CoC. But as a CI there is as I said a feeling that many older cadets think they are a cut above a CI, solely because they wear a uniform and the CIs don’t.