Capacity v Capability in Security Professionals

Tony Security Leave a Comment

Risk assessing your capacity as a security professional

Security is a difficult profession. It takes a wide variety of behavioural and technical skills to be successful and those skills have to be maintained and improved over time. It’s also a profession with a low barrier to entry and a lack of stringent entry requirements in many regions. As such we often see a cohort of people working within the sector who just aren’t fit for the role. They may have all of the same training and even a lot of enthusiasm for the role but they lack the capacity to be successful. That’s what I want to discuss in this article. The difference between capability and capacity to perform as a security professional.

No blame

What I don’t want to get into here is the blame game. We can all look at regulated training and point out it’s many flaws. We can also say that regulated training doesn’t guarantee a person a job and it’s poor hiring practices that are the problem. We could also look at the lack of professional progression and reward available as the cause. The reality is that those and many other factors are of course to blame. We won’t solve them with an article. I want to talk here about identifying, risk assessing against and building professional capacity in security professionals.

Capability v capacity

What does it mean to be capable? To me being capable is to have the required knowledge and skills to effectively perform a task. Sometimes it can also mean having experience of the task but experience alone doesn’t mean capability and training alone doesn’t equal capability. Often however capability isn’t enough. The vast majority of the adult human world is more than capable of running into a burning building to rescue somebody or preventing a mugging. How many would do so is another question? That is where capacity comes in. Capacity is the willingness to engage in a particular situation or incident. Capacity isn’t often physical. Its having the mental willingness and ability to override the fear response, the stress the fatigue and a range of other factors and engage in a dangerous situation. Its different in us all. Its a conversation that we all need to have with ourselves not just once in our career but throughout our working life. It changes over time with experience, with growing capability and with growing responsibilities. There is no shame or embarrassment in a lowering of your capacity for certain security jobs. Change is natural. What is important is honesty. Being honest with yourself and with your colleagues about what you are willing to do and not over committing to responsibilities or tasks that are beyond your capacity or capability.

Risk assessing your career against your capacity

I say to people when they are starting off in security that they should risk assess their career not just against their capability but against there capacity to perform. If you have an aversion to violence and aren’t willing to engage in it then don’t apply for jobs where it is a likely risk. If you are a social creature and need interaction then don’t apply for roles that require long periods of isolation. If you have an active mind don’t apply for sedentary roles. Of course capacity can change over time and often will fluctuate with increased capabilities but the two often aren’t rising and falling in alignment.

There is no wrong answer to the question ” What am I willing to do?…” but there are many ways of asking it.

What am I willing to do for this salary?
What am I willing to do for this boss?
What am I willing to do considering the training I have?
What am I willing to do considering the responsibility I have?
What am I wiling to do considering what I might lose?
What am I willing to do considering what I want to achieve?

It does take a certain mindset and capacity to move towards danger. It takes a certain mindset and capacity to put your safety at risk for that of a stranger. It takes a certain capacity and mindset to travel extensively away from your family to reach your goals. Not everybody is willing to do any of those things and that’s fine. Being self aware enough to recognize this and being honest enough to make changes to ensure that you aren’t placing yourself and your colleagues or employer at risk because of it is key.

I’ve had people on medical training courses complete all of the knowledge and skills to a very high level and at the end tell me it was great but they would never use it in the real world because they hate the sight of blood. When asked why they volunteered for a medical training course they replied that they got an extra allowance in work if they had the qualification.

I’ve had people with amazing CV’s and backgrounds come work with me and as soon as situations became heated or violent they ran, froze or completely over reacted. All the skills in the world with the wrong capacity to apply them.

In both situations the lack of self honesty about their own capacity could potentially put others at risk.

Capacity building

Can we do things to build capacity in ourselves or at least test out our level? Of course we can. Stress inoculation training and pressure testing scenarios of course have their place in building capacity and can be extremely effective when used correctly. Building physical and mental fitness will also increase capacity as well as having a positive effect on capability. Even if these things dont actively build capacity as much as an individual may like they will at least give an indication of where a persons level of both capacity and capability lies.

Aligning capacity and capability

Capacity and capability often fluctuate over time across a career. Mine certainly has. While they can both continue to grow over a career they don’t often grow in alignment with each other. When I started my security career I believe that my capacity for getting involved in risky situations certainly outweighed my capability to deal with them often resulting in some dangerous outcomes. Over time as my capability grew at a rapid rate the two came closer to alignment. After a while though I’ve experienced all of the questions listed above in my career as my responsibilities (at home and work) grew. In some cases it has led me to consider my capacity for putting myself in medium to high risk situations, considering both the type of roles I undertook, and forming alternative solutions to the situations I faced. Becoming more predictive and proactive (of course increased skills capability supported this) and reducing the need to test my capacity as much. I’m still not completely aligned as we speak but I’m aware enough to know and it and if somebody offers me a task with a stupid level of risk I’m prepared to say no even if I believe that I may have the skills to execute it. I’m still prepared to put my safety on the line in the right circumstances and with the capability to support that decision but I wont say that I haven’t gotten better at avoiding those situations.


Lack of self honesty can cost. It can cost you and others, and can result in very serious injuries or worse. There is nothing wrong with not being willing to be in danger as long as you admit it to yourself and risk assess your career against that knowledge. Skill doesn’t equal willingness and vice versa. In the middle of a dangerous situation is not the time to be figuring out your capacity. Having that honest conversation with yourself and sometimes with your family or peers in advance could save yourself and many others a lot of grief.

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