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Vietnam has experienced remarkable development during the past 30 years, and the country’s resilience to COVID-19 economic effects means its economy is projected to grow 6.6 percent in 2021, according to the World Bank. (Photo by iStock)

Developing Careers in Developing Nations

Security management is a well-structured discipline based on recognized theories and processes that manage risks; these processes are applied by multinational corporations as they seek growth. The complexities and dimensions of security management are evident to security practitioners operating in developing nations. The publicity generated by terrorist threats and the COVID-19 crisis has thrust security management to the forefront of many corporations’ business plans. This results in the security manager becoming further integrated into the management team and sought out for advice when business is being contemplated or conducted in developing nations.

The role and function of the security management group within a multinational corporation is affected by the unique operating environment within developing nations.

As developing markets continue to attract investors despite increasing risks across world markets, these unique operating environments are making some multinational corporations’ security management roles increasingly vital. Corporations operating in developing nations are often involved in large infrastructure developments and commercial ventures—some high-risk regions present opportunities to create or protect market shares. These environments and risks are making security management practitioners and their expertise increasingly sought after.

Whether the threat to foreign corporations in individual developing nations is real or only perceived, unique challenges exist for the expatriate security professional. Although the security theories that are practiced in developing nations are still relevant, security theories, practices, and developments are only as strong as the people implementing and adhering to them.

When the security professional is well-versed in the principles of security management and possesses the corresponding experience to implement accompanying policies and procedures, the risk equation will correspondingly shrink. However, given the realization that suitably qualified security professionals demand high salaries in developing nations and corporations are focused on generating profits, it can be expected that financial pressure will limit the number of adept expatriate security professionals, and organizations will supplement the security staff with nationals from the host country.


This offers a unique challenge to the expatriate security professional—the security practitioner not only has to come to terms with working in a new environment, but he or she is also challenged to train and mentor relatively inexperienced security practitioners. In such circumstances, expatriate practitioners are not confined to utilizing their security management knowledge alone, but they are equally reliant upon their leadership and managerial skills.

The author conducted a survey in 2011 asking more than 20 security management practitioners and executive managers about their experience in multinational security and managing security teams and departments in developing nations. In recent conversations with security directors worldwide, the conclusions continue to hold water.

Pressure to Be Replaced

Survey participants agreed that security practitioners contracted to or employed by the private sector, whether in developed or developing nations, will always be subject to cost scrutiny. The difference is that expatriate security professionals demand higher terms and conditions in developing nations compared to developed nations, and they may inadvertently be pricing themselves out of secure employment in the long run. The option often taken by the employer is to replace the expatriate with a national as soon as possible to reduce the cost to the corporation.

The security practitioner must work with the local security management staff to develop their skill sets through training and mentorship programs to ensure the national staff members are, as far as possible, suitably qualified to eventually assume responsibility of the security group.

However, security programs face not only financial but political pressure when it comes to staffing. Host countries may require concession holders to fill a higher percentage of positions with local nationals. Contract commercial staffing and salary levels set by the host countries to restrict employment to national staff are common. In response to such constraints, some companies restrict salary levels for specific professions, thereby ensuring only local staff will apply for the position because there are no employment benefits to cover accommodation, schooling, or travel.

Additionally, host countries may have visa quotas or special contracting agreements with national companies that mandate nationalization programs. Support functions such as security, emergency, transport, or safety are often the focus for early nationalization initiatives because these positions are not always as reliant upon formal certification qualifications.

Extra Responsibilities

The majority of survey respondents indicated that it is common practice within corporations operating in developing nations to rely upon the security group to manage non-traditional security tasks. This demands strong managerial qualities from the security professional outside of the recognized security theories, which may explain why corporations seek mature and experienced individuals to manage the security group during expansions.

Survey results indicated that the security function often maintains responsibility for typical security duties plus other non-traditional functions with security implications while operating in developing nations. The inference is that security professionals will be required to manage additional duties not normally encountered when practicing in developed nations, including transportation or journey management, risk intelligence, personnel tracking, and even crisis communications or community relations.

Security practitioners will frequently be directed to manage these tasks during the start-up phase of operations when assets are at a premium, often leaving little to no procedures or operating norms are in place to support the role. This occurs concurrently with onboarding newly hired nationals into the company’s operating model. During this period, the security manager’s productivity and the competence of support staff are minimized. Importantly, the security manager may not have managed these additional tasks in a previous role, resulting in a steep learning curve.

For example, land transportation must support both the business and the social demands of the expatriate workforce. The start-up process will entail a rapid staff deployment, resulting in a strain on infrastructure, especially if company policy bans expatriate staff from driving. As a result, the security practitioner might be asked by the business to not only plan and roll out security in what is often a high-risk environment, but he or she might also be expected to manage time-consuming, non-core tasks, such as sourcing and maintaining secure driving services.

The operating environment within developing nations often places the security management professional in a difficult situation. He or she may be forced to recommend unpopular policies and procedures, restricting employees’ lifestyles, such as bans on visiting certain social establishments or whole areas within cities, establishing travel boundaries, and enforcing curfews. This can result in the expatriate security management practitioner experiencing a certain amount of resentment or pressure from other expats in the company.


The situation appears to be a common challenge to the security group—both on personal and managerial levels. When delivering unpopular restrictions to lifestyles, each situation should be dealt with on its own merits and in the managerial style best suited to the task and individuals involved. Several survey respondents indicated the need for support in the form of condition of employment agreements, and a thorough pre-deployment briefing process can help explain why restrictions are in place.

Additional delegation of tasks to security professionals may seem like a burden to the security management group and will certainly add to the workload, but it can also help position the group as a core corporate asset, ensuring the group is perceived as a business enabler rather than an operational cost center.


Unsurprisingly, survey respondents recognized the value-added factor that the security group can deliver by embracing additional atypical tasks. Any additional tasks must be accepted on a case-by-case basis and managed carefully to avoid overloading the security team and detracting from its core functions.

Business leaders leave the security professional in no doubt of his or her position when it comes to additional duties and the benefits the practitioner brings to the corporation. When prudent to do so, the security group should actively pursue these additional duties to strengthen the relationship between security and the business, albeit with an exit strategy so that start-up tasks do not become permanent duties.

Nationalized Succession Planning

The industry is under pressure to nationalize security management positions, as noted in the survey. The majority of the responses indicated that business leaders consistently come under pressure to appoint a national as the figured head of the security group. Survey participants commented on the degradation of expertise when nationalization occurs too early in the succession planning cycle. Preemptively taking this step can affect duty of care considerations.

It is worth noting, however, that just because the individual is a national of the host country does not automatically imply that the nominated individual is not competent. As one respondent indicated: “It worked well and was only done after the overall framework was set up and embedded in the organization.”

In situations where candidate selection, planning, and time is well managed, a framework can be put in place to ensure the candidate is well prepared. If succession planning is not fully arranged, the nominated individual may be fast-tracked into a management position without adequate preparation and exposure to security theories, management practices, and organizational culture.

Culture Counts

The influencing factors of culture, tribe, clan, family, and religion could well be aspects the national workforce more readily identifies with, regardless of the position or rank individuals within an organization may hold.

The culture developed within the security department is an important factor that will impact its success within the corporation. A high number of survey respondents identified that the outside influences of the host country affect the business culture and development aspirations of the organization, signifying a challenging dilemma to the expatriate security practitioner.

These professionals should not make the mistake of attempting to change or challenge the validity of the local customs and traditions; this approach would be counterproductive and, in some cases, morally wrong. It takes a certain amount of experience to come to terms with local customs and assess their impact on workplace culture and security.

Plans modelled and designed in developed nations that rely on public sector resources will be inherently flawed in developing nations.

According to one respondent: “Anyone who uses the ‘home country’ model for security management in the emerging world, rather than using a template developed for and tested in said emerging world, is mistaken…. This happens, perhaps too frequently, because the people pressing for use of the corporate model have no personal experience in the realities of the emerging world. Posturing from on high occurs primarily with inexperienced companies, less so in seasoned companies.”

Through a lessons-learned process, plans best-suited for a risk scenario in a developed country may be used as a blueprint in developing nations. Security management plans—whether designed for the multinational corporations in developed or developing nations—should be grounded in recognized theories and practices. While plans and templates are justifiably useful, they must be tailored and customized for the environment and the risks facing individual affiliates. Not allowing for these considerations and adjusting each plan with bespoke mitigation measures will reduce those plans to a paper tiger.

The templates and end plans should also take end users into consideration. Documents should be detailed enough to fulfill the requirements of their design yet easily understood by those whose native language differs from the multinational corporation’s.

Keys to Success

When contemplating foreign assignments in developing nations, the security professional needs to seriously consider all the advantages and disadvantages of the deployment, which are not limited to the job description. The personal circumstances related to each practitioner should be considered. A security professional with a family may find the working hours a heavy burden to balance against family commitments. Each deployment will bring about varying conditions of employment, ranging from recreational leave and annual leave entitlements to rotational work where the contract may stipulate that the deployment will be single status only.

The security manager in developing nations will be confronted with security situations on a more regular basis than their counterparts in developed nations. Obviously, this will be professionally challenging, but it will enhance the practitioner’s skill set. Conversely, this will place the security manager under constant stress and may induce burn out more rapidly. Business managers should be aware of the stress placed on the security manager and support a plan for reasonable work–life balance.

Given the complexities of the working environment in developing nations—including a wide variance in culture, religion, and ethics—a single managerial approach will likely not work across all geographical locations. The complexities surrounding local demographics must be carefully considered when working with the host community.

“Being well versed in handling stampeding snow oxen probably will not be of great value when angry baboons are ripping the arms off an expatriate dependent,” one survey responder said. “That said, security management must always be tailored to the geographic location, and cognizant of the ethnic, religious, societal, environmental climate, and supporting infrastructure at hand. Every one of the successful security managers who I have known are well skilled at adapting their background skill set to the new requirements of the current location. The old ‘pip-pip cheerio,’ pith-helmeted Kipling character—whilst colourful—is often woefully inadequate if they are unwilling or unable to adapt their approach to the current environment.”

It may be argued that these traits also form successful management styles in developed nations; although it may also be possible to be successful without these traits when working in one’s home country as cultural sensitivities are not an overriding influencing factor. In some developing nations where the security manager is an expatriate, a lack of cultural awareness in the managerial approach will be disastrous.

Multinational corporations operating in developing nations are disposed to deploying expatriate security professionals to support the business. For security practitioners who have recently graduated from university with a security major and are looking to practice in developing nations, it’s often a case of the chicken and the egg—newer professionals are more flexible in which roles they can take on, but organizations are looking to tap proven security professionals for the job.


A solution to this dilemma is to seek employment within a multinational corporation that operates in developing nations. The new security professional can gain experience in security management, and when the opportunity presents itself, he or she can express interest in short-term deployments or business trips to developing nations. This joint exposure and experience will then prepare the individual for permanent deployment as an expatriate security practitioner.

As corporations continue to seek business opportunities in emerging markets, the requirement for security management professionals calls for higher skills and experience levels to deliver effective operational support in more demanding surroundings. The security practitioner should look beyond traditional security management practices when working in the commercial environment to enhance the positioning of the profession within multinational corporations.

Business leaders expect security managers to not only protect the corporation’s assets and stakeholders but to act as business enablers. To achieve this, security practitioners need to look beyond added value in their traditional job scopes by absorbing additional roles and responsibilities into day-to-day security operations. At the same time, they need to be mindful of their key security management and duty of care responsibilities. Security practitioners should be able to speak the language of business, adding to the bottom line if possible and achieving results at lower cost and increased value.

Security managers ought to develop managerial and leadership trademarks consistent with a corporate culture. Managing the security management group made up of company employees requires a different approach to leading a guard force company, military, or police unit. A one-size-fits-all approach will not be appropriate for all nations or regions, especially in the setting of developing nations with complexities in culture and norms and standards. 

Stewart Duncan is a doctoral student at Charles Sturt University in Australia. He received a bachelor’s degree in security from Edith Cowan University in Perth, a master’s degree in security and risk management from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and a master’s degree in emergency management from Charles Sturt University. Duncan is employed as a regional crisis and security director with an Australian multinational corporation, and his current research is investigating whether multinational corporate responsibility and organizational resilience can be improved by developing and maintaining local sustainable communities.