The importance of observation skills for Executive Protection Agents

Today, we would like to analyze a very important skill for EP agents that is not being addressed or taught in EP schools but is extremely important. Presently, as we have all seen, there is a lot of talk about prevention and proactive measures but less talk or none at all, regarding what it takes to actually prevent a situation and how one can train to improve these skills. For an agent to be able to prevent a situation, he/she will need to have sharp observation skills.

Observation is part of human nature and, as a protective measure, has been practiced by our ancestors for survival, but as we are living in big cities and in a world more dependent on technology, many have lost their observational skills and/or become desensitized.

In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker wrote in 1997 about the importance of educating security professionals on being more observant. Later, in 2007, Joe Navarro wrote in his book that whoever doesn’t have the skills to observe properly will not be able to ‘’read’’ the person he/she has in front of him.

Andreas Venetis, who had been studying the application of body language for decades, conducted his own research on how security professionals can highly benefit by applying body language techniques. He wrote regarding these techniques in his thesis,” The contribution of body language in dealing with terrorism and crime: A comparative analysis of international cases” which is also included in the National Library of Police in London. He uses many case studies and examples from which one can gain substantial knowledge.

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(A woman suicide bomber walks past soldiers, the trigger in her right hand (Al-Mawsleya TV)

Why is observation so important? First, we must clarify that observing is significantly different from seeing. Just because you see something or someone doesn’t mean you observe it or them. Observation is a cooperative mental blending of visual and thought processes. The difference between seeing and observing can be crucial for a security detail. Being able to observe properly, one will be capable of identifying any early risk exposures and thus take appropriate safety measures.

Having good observational skills means you know what to look for and the how, when, and where’s to look and then interpret properly what you see according to your position and client. No matter how much visual information you have, it means nothing if you don’t know what you are seeing. If you cannot make a judgment, a prediction based on what you have just observed and how that can affect the safety (and smooth operation) of your client and your team, then your observation skills are lacking. And quite often, many newer agents forget that an important aspect to always be mindful of is what you AREN’T seeing. What is missing from the scene they are observing, perhaps certain aspects of behavior missing, lack of street or local traffic, or cultural/customary expectations that are strangely absent. Another thought is to always be mindful of the day or date. Some events or behaviors you expect will not be present on certain days, whereas others that are restricted or observed only on certain days or times will be an awkward surprise if you are not properly prepared or informed.

Good observational skills can help you not only in identifying suspicious people and behaviors but also can help you in these examples:


Being the problem-solver or troubleshooter everyone appreciates, starts with identifying the source of the problem in the early stages and then taking the correct action to solve it.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments to form a judgment. And the ability to think critically often relies on observation skills to accurately realize and comprehend what is happening around us.

Interpersonal Intelligence

The ability to understand and interact effectively with others (public, team members, client) and, again, observation is the key component because of the need to monitor others’ behaviors.

Andrey Karlov, Russia's ambassador to Turkey, moments before his assassination

Andrey Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, moments before his assassination

But how can one learn how to observe properly? We can probably agree that society has taught us to pay attention and observe others in a wrong way or even, not at all. First of all, in everyday life, we are literally encouraged to look away from life and focus on a little screen in front of our faces. We should always be in a heads-up position and pay close attention to all that is occurring in real-time all around us. We, as humans, focus too much on facial characteristics rather than hands. If you are a security professional, hands should be the first thing you are observing. Is the person holding anything that can be used as a weapon? Is the person holding something that is unusual for the environment, or do the person’s hands look tight or tense? (Making a fist is the first sign of someone who is either under a lot of pressure and trying to maintain self-control or someone who is being ready to attack in some manner). Also, if you ask women and men to describe what they observe in someone else, women will focus on different characteristics than men. (And yes, sometimes they will give you more detailed descriptions than men!).

Observing properly means that you have a full understanding of your role, your environment, your client’s security needs, the risk factors and that you can read people and their behaviors based on these. And as all these factors have the potential to change quickly, you must also be able to ‘’reset’’ your observations and reactions just as quickly. This is the primary reason that these skill sets must be repeatedly and constantly challenged and refreshed because if one requires too much time to think, the critical moment may very well occur before any proactive security measures can be implemented properly and the client/team will then be in jeopardy.

In 2015 I found myself for the first time working in India, a totally different and new world for me. After my driver picked me up from the airport and we were on our way to my apartment, we stopped at a gas station. As the driver was fueling the car, I decided to get out and stretch (after all, I had been flying for many hours). I saw a young woman get off a scooter and stand next to me. What primarily made the ‘’red light’’ go off in my head was the fact she had a backpack (which looked heavy), and she had a full-face scarf. Now, what I didn’t know was that this was a very frequent image for the foggy area of Mumbai, but it wasn’t common for me, so I had to re-train my observation skills according to my new environment.

Observation, like any other skill, can be improved with practice. Start observing people and how they interact with each other. In your daily life, get in the habit of always asking the who, what, when, where and why’s as you move about, on your way to work on the transit bus/train, at the park, in a coffee shop, in an event, at a town square, etc. What stands out? Why? What DOESN’T stand out? Why not? What belongs? What is missing? The questions will certainly keep your mind busy, but they will definitely begin to sharpen your observation skills and adaptive reactions or solutions to events, people, and things that are happening all around you.

Tips for improving your observation skills:

1)     Know your client, your environment, and your safety risks.

2)     Establish your baseline.

3)     Self-observation (Are you focused on your job, or is your mind wandering?) You drastically lose your awareness as you become increasingly self-absorbed or self-focused. Stay in the moment!

4)     Watch hands, watch hands, WATCH HANDS! Then body core, face, and legs. Is anyone carrying anything that can be used as a weapon or beginning to gesture a violent movement in your client’s direction?

5)     Less cell phone time.

6)     Focus on the necessary task.

7)     Focus on body language. Body language can be an amazing asset in identifying pre-attack indicators.

8)     Improve your concentration.

9)     Identify and block any distractions.

10)  Less cell phone time.

11)  Pay attention to details or be aware of what might be missing.

12)  Observe how people interact with each other and try to make stories about what is happening among them.

13)  Less cell phone time

14)  Learn more about different environments, cultures etc.

15)  Keep notes of your observations.

16)  Maintain critical thinking during the observation process.

17)  Put information and people into categories as you notice them.

18)  LESS CELL PHONE TIME. Wait, did we mention that already? This has become the primary reason for the lack of observational skills and continues to numb and desensitize people to all that is occurring around them. You will always have down time later to look at your phone and wander off into Cyberland. But it is NOT the time when your senses need to be at their most sensitive and when the client needs you most.

Some examples or signs of unusual behavior or activity:

·        Inappropriate clothing for the season/time and place circumstances and consideration

·        Elegant / strikingly different clothing for the surrounding location

·        Jacket/coat during summertime

·        Long sleeves that conceal the palms of their hands

·        Protrusions in the sleeve, the back, or the chest

·        Excessive nervousness /shaking hands /touching the face

·        Sweating / flushed

·        Involuntary motions

·        Apathy/gazing

·        Adjusting items under clothing

Observation skills are something that you hone over time. Practicing, looking for things out of place, excessive, or even missing, will make you increasingly aware of what does and does not belong, what is normal or what is out of the ordinary. As you continue to practice these methods, you will find that very little escapes your observational skills, and in time, you will be able to quickly glance and make a lifesaving assessment when moments count.

The Grows

Denida & Chris bring a combined 54 years of international experience in the Protective and Intelligence services. They are based in Seattle, WA, and run their companies LeMareschal, Athena Worldwide and Nannyguards

Nannyguards has been selected by the Leaders Network team at Meta

We are very happy and quite proud to announce that Nannyguards has been selected by the Leaders Network team at Meta to showcase our success story. It has been a tough road and many long hours since the very first day Nannyguards was created and we feel extremely blessed to share our work and heartfelt passion with some amazing professionals who have since joined our team. Dr. Mary Beth Wilkas Janke (Psychology), JD Elkin (Cyber Security Awareness), Kelly Sayre (Situational Awareness) and Chris Grow.

Want to learn more about Nannyguards? Visit

”Giving Back The Stage” Project – Presenting Kelly Sayre

This has been a project I have wanted to do for a long time. As a woman in the security industry, I had the pleasure and the luck to have worked along with some amazing female professionals from different parts of the world and security fields. Personally, I have been blessed with my networking contacts, developments, and public exposure. I feel like I owe a lot of my brands’ success to my relationship with my network and other colleagues. That is why I decided to “Give Back the Stage” to a different woman every month. Women don’t tend to be very public about their stories, their achievements, and their struggles. So, every month I will be using the power of my networking platforms and connections to promote and bring awareness to a specific female in the security sector. My goal is to help them grow their own brands, connections, and publicity by showing their stories and sharing them with my network and contacts. I learned a long time ago, success comes not only from hard work, dedication, keeping the standards up, but also from having the right connections. And what these connections taught me is that sometimes by simply asking, you will be given an answer, help, a tip, a new introduction, and sometimes a job offer.

Please join me in this effort and welcome these women, invite them to your professional network and reach out to them if their services align with what your organization or clients may need. If you know a woman who must be on this “Stage”, please reach out to me and send me a recommendation.

The first woman to whom I am giving the Stage for this month is Kelly Sayre. Kelly is the Founder and President of The Diamond Arrow Group, a company that builds women’s self-confidence with realistic tactics and tools to help them live life safely and on their own terms. Her refreshing angle on women’s safety emphasizes non-physical, proactive situational awareness techniques that recognize and avoid threatening situations before they happen. With a grounded approach and high energy, Kelly works with law enforcement, nonprofit, corporate, and youth organizations on emergency preparedness, situational awareness training, and personal safety. She is a frequent speaker at national events and a guest on global podcasts. 

Kelly is trained in FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team program, the Department of Homeland Security’s Active Shooter Preparedness Workshop, and Texas A&M Extension Service’s crisis communications. She is a member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, TeamWomen, FEW, and the Tri-County Humane Society. Kelly lives in Minnesota with her husband, children, and a 190-pound Great Dane.

I met Kelly some months ago, although I had her as a LinkedIn connection, I never had direct communication with her. One day Kelly called me and asked if I would be willing to read her book and give her my feedback, which I gladly did. It was refreshing to see another woman who actually gets it when it comes down to personal safety. Talking with her further I found out that the reason she decided to write the book and get a different approach in teaching other women how to be safe, was the fact that for years, Kelly saw women’s self-defense courses were focused on handling physical altercations, while domestic violence advocacy has circled around helping women who are already in abusive relationships. Meanwhile, the statistics on violence committed against women have remained stagnant for decades.

According to Kelly, there is a better way of handling these issues. Women have unbelievable intuition skills. They notice when a loved one is “off.” They feel the vibe or energy of a place. Their amazing instincts help them take care of others. What if they could use these natural abilities to enhance their situational awareness and avoid a physical fight? What if they could learn to recognize the red-flag behaviors and get out before the violence starts?

Now, they can! In her book, ‘’Sharp Women’’, Kelly Sayre breaks down ways for women to deal with everyday situations using their best self-defense weapon—their intuition. In this book, they’ll discover how to sharpen their natural skills, build a solid plan to protect themselves, and move forward through their life with confidence. One of the reasons Kelly wrote this book was the fact that she approached the topic as an everyday woman. And when she looked for answers to the questions she had on how to increase her situational awareness, as an everyday woman, the resources were scarce. There were no options for training outside of the law enforcement and military communities and some martial arts instructors. She found two books, and while she found both excellent resources, they were both written by men. Kelly decided to do more research and gain more experience with this new information and wrote the book to share what she has learned to date, from a female perspective, having experienced a lot of the scenarios she talks about firsthand.

Safety doesn’t happen by accident….

Author Unknown

As a female in the security industry for two decades and as a martial arts athlete since my early childhood days, I had the opportunity to sit in many ‘’self-defense’’ and combatives classes. As an experienced woman and athlete on the training mat as well as the security professional working in real-life scenarios in different environments, I found most of these teachings were ‘’irrelevant’’, ‘’insufficient’’, and ‘’unrealistic’’ especially when delivered to women who had never practiced any kind of close contact fights or knew anything about safety. And here is this writer who had put down her questions, did her research, and put together a great book that can teach an everyday woman how to be safer. A book I truly feel can be useful to my daughters or mother. In simple words, with research and real scenarios and examples, Kelly has managed to put together a useful guide of how to be A Sharp Woman.

If you are a woman interested in learning more about how to be safe, grab her book or send her a message on LinkedIn with your questions. If you represent an organization or school reach out to Kelly for a presentation or speech. 

Denida Zinxhiria Grow

Founder & CEO

Athena Worldwide

Athena Academy


Managing Partner

LeMareschal LLC