I recall my first step toward becoming a supervisor: My name was in the supervisor slot on the schedule. Knowing there was some kind of mistake, I asked my director. His response was something to the effect of, “The normal supervisor is gone that day. You can do it. Don’t screw up!”
Fortunately for me and the general public, no major calamities occurred that day.
Once I became a regular supervisor, no formal training was offered until I was afforded the opportunity to attend a Supervisor 101 course at the local university. This was my first official training in supervision, and it had a tremendous impact in creating the supervisor I wanted to be.
It’s well known that supervision, management and leadership are necessary for every successful organization, yet very little time is spent preparing EMS personnel to be promoted into these positions. Typically, the good clinicians are promoted because of their experience. Unfortunately, the skill sets of a clinician and a supervisor are different, and this approach often ends poorly. So, many times, these employees fail and we lose both our best clinicians and the most promising employees because we as current leaders failed them.
We now have a tool to help current and aspiring leaders develop their skills to be better equipped for their current position or the next promotion. The National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA) released the results of the EMS Leadership Competencies Project in July.
The three recognized levels of EMS leadership include supervising EMS officer, managing EMS officer and executive EMS officer.
The EMS officer competencies identify seven pillars, followed by key attributes, knowledge and tasks. They include:
- Pre-qualifications: General and job performance prerequisites for each level;
- Self attributes: Work habits, attitudes, stress management, self-insight, learning;
- Leading others: Communication, interpersonal awareness, motivating others, developing others, influencing others, human resources management;
- Task management: Executing tasks, solving problems, managing information and material resources, managing human resources, enhancing performance, emergency service delivery, administration, logistics;
- Innovation: Creativity, enterprising, integrating, perspectives, forecasting, managing change;
- Social responsibility: Civic responsibility, social knowledge, ethical processes, leading others, ethics, acting with integrity, health and safety, community relations, government affairs; and
- Clinical performance: Quality and performance management, education and learning systems.
Within the attributes, the competencies are broken down into subheads and definitions to better help the user identify and potentially determine where they are in their leadership journey. For example, in “Self Attributes,” under “Work Habits,” specific skills include time management, goal orientation, organizational skills, and work ethic. Each skill is defined for each of the three levels of leadership.
Time management for the supervising EMS officer states, “The supervising EMS officer will plan and structure time effectively and efficiently. He or she should concentrate effort on the most important priorities and multitask well. The supervising officer should be able to attend to a broad range of activities.” As the level moves up to the executive officer, the definitions change to be more commensurate with the position. There’s also an evaluation tool to help the user determine how well they meet each objective.
With this extensive list of core competencies available, education groups and institutions can develop or refine their curriculums to meet the needs of the student EMS leader. All current and aspiring leaders should consider themselves students, as we can all learn how to improve our leadership skills.
Historically, EMS has relied on general supervisor and management training. Although most of this training translates into EMS-specific roles, the competencies are designed for the EMS officer and include job-specific attributes. It’s a true roadmap for any EMS provider to follow to build their skill set in a logical, progressive manner.
In my organization at Care Ambulance Service, all new supervisors attend the Ambulance Service Manager course to give them an overall introduction to leadership and management, and begin building their toolbox. At Ada County Paramedics, Idaho, we developed a supervisor training program for newly promoted leaders that includes didactic lecture, group discussions and mentoring.
The goal of current EMS leaders should be to better prepare and equip our next generation so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. It’s my sincere hope these competencies will be incorporated into all education programs and organizations to make leadership a high priority. EMS has progressed as a profession. It’s no longer justifiable to throw new supervisors the keys to the truck with the “just don’t screw up” instruction. Your people and your organizations deserve the best opportunity for success.