Observed Divergence in the Attitudes of Incumbents and Supervisors as Subject Matter Experts in Job Analysis: A Study of the Fire Captain Rank

By Mueller, Michael; Belcher, Greg | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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Observed Divergence in the Attitudes of Incumbents and Supervisors as Subject Matter Experts in Job Analysis: A Study of the Fire Captain Rank


Mueller, Michael, Belcher, Greg, Public Personnel Management


This study compares the attitudes of incumbent Fire Captains and their supervisors regarding critical aspects of a Fire Captain's job. Fire Captains and supervisors (Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chiefs, and Division Chiefs) were held as separate subject matter expert groups in an analysis of the Captain's job. Data regarding the attitudes held by these SME groups concerning the criticality of Fire Captain job tasks and work required knowledge, skills, abilities and worker characteristics were collected through task inventory and worker attribute surveys. These data were compared to determine the degree to which the SME groups agreed upon the critical aspects of the Fire Captain's job. The data indicate that Fire Captains and their supervisors substantially agree upon the criticality of Fire Captain tasks, and moderately agree upon the criticality of requisite Fire Captain attributes. The findings of this study have applications for current job analysis practice as well as point out areas in need of further examination.

Information developed through job analysis techniques provides the basis for a variety of Human Resource Management decision making: job classification, setting of compensation levels, selection and placement, performance planning and evaluation, employee and organizational development, and so forth. Although a variety of techniques have been developed for the purpose of gathering job-related information, most rely on the opinions of Subject-Matter-Experts (SMEs) to define and evaluate work behaviors and worker requisites. Often, SMEs are defined as job incumbents and supervisors of job incumbents. If incumbents and supervisors largely agree on the critical aspects of the job in question, one could reasonably conclude that the job is well described. However, if incumbents and supervisors disagree on critical aspects of the job, one could wonder which perspective is most correct; and further, which perspective is most in line with the strategic goals of the organization. By analyzing and comparing job analysis responses of incumbents with those of their supervisors, one can understand what differences exist in these groups' respective perspectives. This understanding could then lead to better organizational planning and development.

Purpose of the Study

Findings of this study describe work behaviors and requisite worker attributes collectively considered by Fire Captains to be the most critical in the performance of the Fire Captain's job. Findings of this study also describe work behaviors and requisite worker attributes collectively considered by supervisors of Fire Captains to be the most critical in the performance of the Fire Captain's job. These findings can be used for strategic planning, and organizational, individual, and career development purposes. Major questions addressed in this study include:

1. Does a relationship exist between the attitudes held by job incumbents and their supervisors regarding the criticality of entry-level Fire Captain work behaviors?

2. Does a relationship exist between the attitudes held by job incumbents and their supervisors regarding the criticality of entry-level Fire Captain worker attributes?

Review of the Research Literature

Job Analysis

Understanding of the world of work has largely come about through various job analysis techniques.[1] Job analysis is fundamental for virtually all modern human resource management systems.[2] Legal mandates encourage the application of job analysis techniques in the area of employee selection. Specifically, the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures require that selection validity studies:

   ...should be based upon a review of information about the job for which the
   selection procedure is to be used. The review should include a job
   analysis.... Any method of job analysis may be used if it provides the
   information required for the specific validation strategy used. 

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