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Definition

liaison officer

A liaison officer is an employee who is responsible for establishing a positive working relationship between two or more people, organizations or agencies, typically with the goal of working through a mutual problem or concern. A liaison officer should understand how both companies work in order to help them come together with an approach that is beneficial to both sides. Most liaison officers are employed by public safety agencies -- such as police and fire departments -- but they can work in both the public and private sectors.

The role is often found within an organization's public relations (PR) team. Liaison officers streamline operations and handle public communications, incident response and conflict resolution. They act as technical or subject matter experts for the person, agency or organization they represent. For incident and disaster management, liaison officers serve as the main contact for people responding to the event. They are also the primary people to communicate information about these events for promotional or brand perception purposes.

Liaison officers also frequently interact with the court system, acting as a connection between the legal system and public or private agencies. Schools may also employ liaison officers to facilitate a productive connection between the police and students. In information technology (IT), liaison officers are used to bridge the gap between user expectations and what IT provides.

Liaison officer responsibilities

Facilitating the collaboration of different organizations, agencies or people to achieve a common goal is the primary responsibility of the liaison officer. Other liaison officer duties include:

  • Acting as a point of contact for all agency or organizational personnel.
  • Identifying, addressing and solving issues that occur between the organization and other entities.
  • Collecting and analyzing data that can be used to identify improvement opportunities for relationships between the organization and the other interacting entities.
  • Quickly and effectively responding to all identified events and issues.
  • Tracking, coordinating and communicating the organizational goals.
  • Maintaining a positive reputation for the organization.
  • Facilitating meetings and collaboration between people, agencies and organizations.
  • Working with other employees to identify problems that arise and gain a greater understanding of the organization.
  • Building and maintaining relationships with external entities, such as the public and stakeholders.
  • Maintaining lists of the agencies and personnel representing different people, agencies and organizations.
  • Arranging reports about specific incidents and events or updates on important business issues.
  • Performing post-mortems whenever an incident is complete.

In addition to these various duties, the liaison officer is also often responsible for coordinating updates during an event. This can include providing social media updates and telephone call-in services for community members.

Different types of liaison officers

Liaison officers are used in a variety of industries to ease communication between an organization and the people, agencies or other organizations it interacts with.

For example, a school liaison officer is responsible for negotiating conflict resolution between the superintendent, the board of education and the community of teachers, parents and students.

In the military, liaison officers may act as the commanding officer's personal representative. Their role includes communicating with allied forces and connecting the commander to other important individuals, such as other commanders and staff officers.

Within the enterprise and information security (infosec) sectors, liaison officer duties include coordinating multi-agency responses to incidents such as hacks, attacks and breaches.

A multicultural liaison officer (MLO) works specifically as a human services specialist. This role includes connecting public service agencies to individuals from different cultural groups who use the services. For example, an MLO may be hired by a school or hospital to help immigrant students or patients integrate and understand the systems.

A primary goal of MLOs is to identify the needs of individuals and families from different cultural backgrounds, and match those needs to the resources and support programs provided by the MLO's organization. MLOs are frequently found in:

  • Non-profit organizations and community groups
  • Hospitals and healthcare organizations
  • Immigrant and multicultural service consultancies
  • Colleges and universities
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Government departments at the municipal, state and federal levels
  • Public and private businesses
  • Police and fire departments

In addition, a governmental MLO works with foreign embassies, helping to overcome language barriers and cultural differences and build strong relationships between countries and agencies.

Liaison officers in tech

Within the technology industry, the primary responsibility of the liaison officer -- often called the technology liaison or business IT liaison -- is to link the business community with the IT department and guarantee the services performed by IT align with the business needs and goals. This includes closing the gap between what customers expect from IT and the services IT can realistically provide.

A tech liaison may represent the entire workplace, a single division, department, or business unit, or a group of departments. The tech liaison is responsible for maintaining and communicating the needs of IT to the business community, ensuring non-technical customers understand the different technology constraints and know what to expect once a new software or hardware is implemented.

Tech liaisons work closely with the IT department and the business community -- or the individuals who manage businesses -- to maintain positive relationships and open channels of communication. While working with -- and sometimes embedded in -- the business community, tech liaisons can come to understand how business operations are performed. This awareness allows liaisons to identify potential areas of improvement and define the necessary technical requirements to help IT teams design effective hardware and software.

Working closely with the IT departments allows tech liaisons to maintain up-to-date knowledge of technology concerns -- including the need for new or additional equipment, infrastructure services or applications. The liaisons can take these concerns and translate them into information that makes sense to the business community.

The tech liaison position may not be a permanent, full-time role. In some organizations, the liaison takes on additional responsibilities when needed, while continuing to perform their existing job within a different business or IT function. Organizations frequently invest in a liaison officer to improve communication and collaboration between the IT department and the business community, but also to guarantee all departments are aligned and meeting the organizational goals.

Liaison officer qualifications and skills

Liaison officer skills include:

  • Strong communication and negotiation skills.
  • The ability to manage communication between individuals with varying levels of training and knowledge.
  • Strong leadership skills.
  • The ability to resolve disputes and disagreements.
  • The ability to remain calm and objective in all situations.

A liaison officer who works with the police or fire departments may be required to complete the minimum training requirements of a police officer or firefighter.

In general, liaison officers are expected to have received at least a bachelor's degree, typically with a major in business. Other potential degree areas include political science, management, criminal justice and international relations.

Common challenges for liaison officers

Language and communication skills are critical to the liaison officer's job. Unfortunately, most challenges faced by liaison officers involve communication.

For example, liaison officers may find themselves lacking effective training when placed overseas and unable to successfully communicate in the local language.

In addition, liaison officers must remain unbiased and calm, regardless of the situation. It can be challenging to maintain these qualities in high risk scenarios or during events that involve a personal interest.

Finally, it can be hard for organizations and business communities to rely on one person as their point of contact. It is difficult for the liaison officer to satisfy both sides' needs all the time. This becomes even more challenging with the added pressure of maintaining and fulfilling the community's expectations while also aligning the shifting priorities of an organization and their marketing goals.

This was last updated in March 2020

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