Interpersonal Skills for Close Protection Officers

by Westminster Security

Interpersonal skills are life skills used every day to communicate and interact with other people, individually and in groups. For close protection operatives/officers (CPOs), or bodyguards. These soft skills include aspects of self-management such as professionalism, image, communication, teamwork, and meeting the expectations of clients and Principals.

Specific traits that a CPO must have or develop and maintain include:

  • proactiveness
  • assertiveness
  • listening skills
  • confidentiality
  • negotiation skills
  • communication skills
  • problem-solving skills

Importance of Communication Skills in Close Protection

Poor communication skills prevent successful close protection operations.


A CPO that fails to communicate effectively will not meet the Principal’s expectations. The Principal will lose confidence in the CPO. Ultimately, the CPO will lose their job.

Incident Management

Even worse, when managing an incident, a CPO must be able to issue clear, calm, and concise instructions to the Principal and colleagues so that they react and react in the right way. A CPO that cannot do this puts the Principal, themselves, and other close protection team members at risk.


Planning is vital to close protection. Excellent written and verbal communication skills are required so that information is not lost or misinterpreted in the formation of plans.

Conflict Management

Communication skills are central to successful conflict management. The wrong word, delivered in the wrong tone, with incorrect non-verbal communication, will escalate rather than diffuse adversarial situations.

Importance of Assertiveness

Portraying a strong, confident, and positive image is essential. Not only to deter potential adversaries. A CPO is also a reflection of their security company, Principal, and client.

Effective management of the Principal and team requires confidence. A CPO that melts in front of the Principal is not focussed on their tasks. To smooth the way for a Principal, the CPO must be able to act assertively. Even more so, when action is required, a CPO must be able to give instructions that a powerful, wealthy and famous Principal will immediately follow without hesitation.

Importance of Etiquette, Protocols and Dress Code

CPOs must know and follow the correct etiquette, protocols and dress code.

Etiquette: the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

Protocol: the accepted or established code of procedure or behaviour in any group, organisation, or situation.

Close protection operatives must understand the need to learn etiquette and protocols to maintain a career within the security industry successfully. These requirements are often ignored and misunderstood. Etiquette and protocol are the professional disciplines that allow the CPO to behave in a way at all times appropriate to the environment, culture, and lifestyle of the Principal.

A CPO may work for or be in the company of billionaires, foreign royal families, heads of state or celebrities. They must learn the etiquette and the protocols for each nationality or even individual family household.

CPOs are continually removed from assignments because they fail to implement or follow the correct etiquette and protocols.

Royal or Ministerial offices often have a Protocol officer or a Head of Protocol. This person’s job is to ensure that strict protocol and etiquette are adhered to when differing countries heads of state or Royals meet. It is therefore imperative that CPOs assigned to such principals understand the etiquette and protocol so as not to embarrass their Principal, themselves, or offend the receiving Principal.

All CPOs must be aware of their etiquette before they should even consider operating within a Royal or Ministerial environment.

Dress Code

Let us begin with the dress code. Dress code should be simple, but you will always see an operative that has not understood the requirements or is dressed inappropriately for the environment or Principal. We should, of course, consider that we do not know what briefing an individual operative may have received for a particular task. Still, you can always spot a dress code faux pas.

In general, a close protection operative should dress according to their Principal’s schedule and any briefing given. For example, if the schedule dictates that the Principal is attending a business meeting, then most likely the CPO should be wearing a business suit and tie. Simple right? Not for everyone. Male and female operative business suits should be plain and dark in colour preferable black, navy blue or dark grey. Females should not wear skirts or low-cut blouses.

It might be fashionable to wear a shiny suit with skin-tight trousers these days. However, that type of outfit has no place within this environment. You can be sure the first time the wearer bends over or quickly manoeuvres into or out of a car they will split their fashionably skin-tight trousers. So, a CPO should make sure that their suit fits properly with room to move, an investment that will certainly pay dividends.

The CPO may also require an overcoat. A ski jacket is not going to suffice when dressed in a business suit. The operative should remember at all times that they are a representative of the Principal and the security company that is hiring you. The message is – make sure that you look like you belong in that environment and do not stand out!

CPOs should wear white shirts to keep it simple. Alternatively, they can follow the tradition of white shirts for an evening meeting or dinner appointment and light colours such as pale blue for during the day. The shirts should be plain with no patterns or stripes and paired with a plain sombre tie.

Avoid any bright colours of clothing as this will only draw attention to your presence and certainly no neckties with pictures of your favourite cartoon character. Similar edicts apply to socks, under no circumstances apart from during sports activities should you wear white socks!

Shoes should be polished, preferably black, with rubber soles for grip and comfort, and lace-ups, not slip-on/off shoes or military boots. After a time, slip-ons can become slightly loose, and the wearer runs the risk of losing a shoe if you have to move quickly. It is not more beneficial to wear slip-on shoes so that you can rapidly remove a shoe and throw it at someone who is attacking you! (believe it or not, we have heard this reasoning before).

Female operatives should wear flat shoes for obvious reasons.

For casual assignments, again dictated by the briefing or Principal’s schedule a CPO would usually wear smart chino trousers a collared shirt with a blazer or sports jacket. Wearing a collared shirt allows adding a necktie if caught off guard because the schedule has changed, and there is no time to change completely. Shoes should again be smart and sensible no trainers or walking boots unless the environment dictates the wearing of boots.

Sometimes a close protection operative may be required to dress more casually. For example, when working with children. It would then be acceptable, on approval from the Principal or PA, to wear jeans and a polo shirt with appropriate footwear, which could well be trainers or walking boots. Of course, the jeans should be without holes, rips, or funky patterns.

Operatives should be careful not to take “dress casually” too literally. They get caught out when the child that they are protecting meets their parents for lunch in an exclusive hotel or restaurant, and they then stand out.

Only wear shorts, T-shirts and trainers on sports or beach assignments, or while with children at the park. Avoid T-shirts with offensive slogans. A shirt featuring an operative’s favourite sports team encourages a potential confrontation from an opposing team’s fan when with the Principal.

CPOs should always consider the nationality and cultural differences of the Principal when dressing. For example, a female operative on a middle eastern family assignment would need to ensure that their shoulders and arms are covered.

Again, female clothing should not be too tight or revealing but practical.

All clothing should be clean, pressed, and ironed.

Keep jewellery to a minimum for practical reasons and make-up should be discreet if any at all.

Sunglasses can be a massive bone of contention. Close protection operatives or bodyguards wearing black sunglasses are a stereotype. Are sunglasses really needed on the assignment? Is the job in the Caribbean? Is the operative going to be out walking with the Principal with the sun directly in their eyes? Then, yes, wear sunglasses. However, sunglasses are unnecessary inside a store, restaurant, or club. Consider the style. A bodyguard may think they look cool or even intimidating when in fact they look ridiculous. Don’t attract unwanted attention by wearing sunglasses that do not suit you, your dress code, or the environment.

Personal Hygiene

Personal hygiene should always also be considered and maintained throughout. Shower regularly. CPOs work long hours so shower as often as possible. Certainly before the start of your shift. Make sure to use a good deodorant with a discreet scent.

Avoid aftershaves and perfumes. A pack of baby wipes in your grab bag will get you out of trouble during the long hot summer days.

Clean your teeth and make regular visits to the dentist to ensure good dental hygiene. Most Principals spend a great deal of time and money on their appearance. So, a CPO needs to make an effort with their appearance too.

A Principal may not want even a first-class operative with low hygiene standards nearby. Furthermore, it is essential to stay fresh all day.

Bad Habits

Personal bad habits should be kept in check at all times when on assignments. Picking your nose, or adjusting your underwear in public is unnecessary. Swearing, chewing gum, spitting, and flatulence are all no-nos.

A CPO’s behaviour will often come under tight scrutiny. CPOs must be very self-aware of their behaviour and actions when around Principals, their family and their staff. Bad behaviour or flippant comments will always find their way back to the Principal. Quite often a comment can be misconstrued via Chinese-whispers or taken out of context resulting in the swift dismissal of the CPO.

Try to avoid political or religious conversations as this will most likely draw you into a conversation that an operative will not win or not come out of in a good light with the Principal. Do not discuss or express personal feelings unless asked. Indeed, a CPO needs to engage in a conversation with the Principal if the Principal has instigated it. However, they should try and remain neutral with opinions and be mindful that they are not overstepping the mark by being too familiar.

Being over-familiar with the Principal or the Principal’s staff has and will be the downfall of many CPOs. An operative who thinks that they have an ally or friend within the household or that the Principal themselves is a friend can meet a bad end.

When working within a Principal’s home or property, a CPO should remember that it is the Principal’s property, and should remain courteous and polite to everyone. Do not slouch or lean on walls or put your feet up on furniture. If there is a crew room do not take it for granted that everything within the crew room is for your use. If it is, do not abuse what is on offer.

Do not smoke in front of the Principal or their family. If the Principal smokes and encourages you to smoke with them, try to avoid this as it will distract you from carrying out your duty as a CPO and will look unprofessional.

Never chew gum when on duty or in the presence of the Principal or their family. It looks unsightly, and after a while, people often forget they are chewing gum and look like a cow chewing the cud. Use mints or a mint spray if you need to freshen your breath.

Affording Privacy

A good CPO will know when and how to give the Principal a little privacy when possible, such as during telephone calls or private conversations. The Principal will appreciate a CPO is trying to afford them some privacy while still maintaining a secure environment.


When it comes to restaurant dining, CPOs must understand that firstly, they must not take it for granted that they are invited to eat or that there is even a place for them to sit. Operatives should confirm if they will eat and if they are even required within the restaurant. Once inside the restaurant, a CPO may not have the choice of the ideal table to give the best visual coverage of the Principal and the doors. Do not cause a scene insisting that you must sit close to your Principal. Learn to adapt and overcome but do it discretely by using your negotiation skills with the Maître d’.

Once seated, do not get drawn into staring at your Principal. Not staring applies to all aspects of an assignment. Do not become so drawn in watching the Principal that tunnel vision means missing what is happening in the periphery. A client can quickly become uncomfortable and agitated because their CPO is staring at them. Likewise, do not lose focus while perusing a vast, confusing menu.

When dining, always be one course ahead of the Principal and always be ready to depart even if you have not eaten. Never drink alcohol when on assignments. Once you have finished eating, be prepared to leave by paying as soon as possible. If a CPO has to cover expenses, they should not take it for granted that a meal will be paid for by the Principal. Always check and keep the receipt. The receipt will be necessary for reimbursement, and your tax return!

A good rule of thumb is for a CPO only to order what they would typically order if paying themselves. Unfortunately, (or not?), CPOs may be eating in restaurants that are exclusive and super expensive. It can be challenging to order something that would be within their usual budget. Bear in mind, ‘if you abuse it, you will lose it!’.

If confused by the menu or which cutlery to use, and you need advice or recommendation, discreetly ask a member of the restaurant staff or another team member. Avoid embarrassing the Principal.

CPOs assigned to Principals such as middle eastern royals need to consider that they cannot eat certain foods such as pork or of course drink alcohol. Avoid ordering any pork products. The same applies if purchasing food and expenses are reimbursed. Make sure that there are no pork or alcohol products on receipts or hotel invoices for room service.


A CPO may be required to travel with the Principal on a private aircraft. Usually, security and other staff members will be seated at the rear of the plane. The CPO should always wait for the Principal and family members or guests to board first. Of course, security procedures should dictate that bodyguards do not board until the Principal has boarded. When boarding, do not dither, head up the stairs turn right and head towards the back of the jet unless it is a larger aircraft with a set of steps at the rear, then take the rear set of steps.

When disembarking, depart the aircraft before the Principal. Make sure to take all belongings and walk straight to the door avoiding eye contact with the Principal. Private jets are made in various configurations, but generally, on small business jets, you will board at the front.

Helicopters can be a little trickier. The ground crew or pilot will guide as to when to approach the aircraft. Helicopter styles vary. A CPO may be required to assist the Principal in climbing into the helicopter. Also, a CPO may need to offer assistance with securing seat harnesses, especially if the clients are not frequent users of helicopters.

Once the Principal and any associates are inside the helicopter, and the crew has shut and secured the doors, the CPO may board. Depending on the configuration and size of the helicopter, the CPO may be upfront with the pilot. Alternatively, they may be squeezed awkwardly into the small cabin with the Principal.

Upon landing be prepared to depart the helicopter first but do not open the door until the crew or pilot signal that you are safe to exit the aircraft.

Private flights may be taken at short notice. So, it is prudent for a CPO to always carry their passport with them. Not having a passport at hand may be the day missing a trip abroad with the Principal.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Most close protection operatives will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Usually, the close protection company or the Principal’s office supply the NDA. These agreements ensure the confidentiality of the Principal and anything connected to the Principal. For example, material knowledge or information that may be gained from the Principal. Privacy covers the business and personal life of the Principal. Even sharing a personal opinion regarding the Principal’s spending habits with other members of staff is a breach of the Principal’s confidentiality.

Carding and Contracts

Finally, under no circumstances should a CPO ever be “carding” on an assignment! ‘Carding’ is a horrible trait and is unprofessional but seems to happen a lot within the close protection industry. Unscrupulous operatives employed as a sub-contractor to a close protection company will attempt to take the Principal for themselves by offering their services independently “cheaper”. Such dishonest behaviour always comes back to haunt them.

Should a Principal like an operative and approach the operative to supply their services or hire them directly, this should be an agreement worked out between the Principal and the close protection company. When releasing the CPO privately to the client, the close protection company will typically take a recruitment fee payable as noted in the service contract. But this will almost definitely see the CPO taking a pay cut.

Many close protection companies have contracts drawn up to ensure that this does not happen. The arrangements also stop the client from poaching operatives directly avoiding household staffing recruitment agency fees.

CPOs should always read and understand the contracts set out for the assignment. Operatives should know where they stand should the Principal like them and approach them directly for full-time employment.

Never breach the Principal’s or company’s trust. There will be financial ramifications immediately in losing your job, or in the long-term with proceeding legal action. Worse still, mistrusted operatives quickly find their name besmirched on the small close protection circuit. A mistrusted CPO will soon run out of contacts and work. Do not do it!

Interpersonal Skills for Close Protection Officers was originally published on the Westminster Security website.  Copyright 2020 Westminster Security Ltd.  All rights reserved.

Westminster Security Ltd are an industry-leading private security company based in London, UK. Established over 20 years ago they provide high-end security and investigations throughout the UK, Europe, and worldwide. Their clients include high-net-worth individuals and families, CEOs and Executives from Fortune 500 companies, royalty, and heads of state. Being a Veteran owned company they specialise in providing ex-military bodyguards and executive protection, many with backgrounds in the UK Special Forces. They have built an enviable global reputation and client base through their exceptionally high-standards, knowledge, and attention to detail.  They are considered as subject matter experts and have been published in many leading National and International media including Forbes, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, London Evening Standard, and many more. Westminster Security are founding members of the Armed Forces Covenant, and the London Living Wage, they are also members of the Association of British Investigators and British Bodyguard Association.

Contact Westminster at  Tel: +44 (0) 207 123 4544

Email: [email protected]

Cover photo by Roland Samuel on Unsplash
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  1. Excellent comments on soft skills. More CPO’S fail due to lack of soft skills in the corporate and private family environment than any other reason,
    well said.

  2. One of the best articles, if not the best article I have read on real-world close protection operations. This stuff cannot be taught on a course, these skills come with years of experience, and of course, harsh lessons learnt from mistakes. Great article!

  3. Great article on Personal Protection Officers/EP soft skills (interpersonal skills). This is fundamental to understand in Executive Protection work. Thanks.

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