Administration and Leadership, Columns

How EMS Managers Should Approach Task Management

Issue 5 and Volume 41.

The fourth pillar of the Supervising EMS Officer (SEMSO) competencies is task management. A significant amount of a supervisor’s job revolves around executing tasks, solving problems, managing information and material resources, managing human resources and enhancing performance.

Executing Tasks

A competent SEMSO has task-relevant knowledge of practices and procedures that facilitates prioritization, defines timelines and completes tasks in a single effort if possible (with follow-up as needed). Competency in delegation is important and has several tricky components. You must select a person who’s capable of completing a given task while providing clear performance expectations, resources and support. You must also give a defined level of authority, be clear on the time for completion, and allow someone to say no to the offer.

A SEMSO needs to demonstrate attention to detail by following instructions and ensuring that all of the necessary steps in a given task are completed. They must also coordinate staff and subordinates to ensure work is accomplished within the specified time frame, while multitasking and providing constructive feedback.

Problem Solving

Solving problems includes analytic thinking, analyzing data, mental focus, decision making and designing work systems. The SEMSO uses information gathering techniques, such as reading reports and interviewing stakeholders, to define the scope of the problems and formulate plans and potential solutions. They recognize when an issue is beyond their scope and must be forwarded up the chain of command.

Managing Information & Material Resources

The SEMSO has basic operational knowledge of logistics including inventory, delivery and flow, tracking of equipment and supplies, as well as the location and layout of facilities. They’ll demonstrate the ability to use project management tools, perform data analysis, identify performance gaps using process control tools, and strategize to close any identified gaps. Related competencies include ensuring frontline providers know and follow procedures for completing proper documentation when making equipment and supply requests. The SEMSO must know performance standards and tracking methodologies as part of the quality improvement processes. All of this supports efficient operations that conform to budget and time constraints.

Managing Human Resources

A SEMSO must be skilled in succession planning and recruiting, personnel decision quality, managing personnel policies and maintaining safety. The competent SEMSO follows the policies and procedures within the scope of authority and understands limits. They assign tasks, provide coaching or counseling as needed, and recognize when issues are outside of their scope and authority, implementing the appropriate course of action to communicate up the chain of command.

A competent SEMSO also provides guidance to subordinates to facilitate their professional growth. Such activities are directed at preparing providers for supervisory roles and responsibilities. Succession planning requires knowledge of organizational structure, recruitment and selection processes, as well as policies and procedures and how they’re followed and applied.

All officers have roles and responsibilities related to safety, including enforcing related laws, policies and regulations. Everyone a SEMSO supervises should know how to be safe, maintain situational awareness and minimize risk. Preventing injuries, accidents and unsafe behavior is in everyone’s best interest.

Enhancing Performance

Enhancing performance is closely connected to the competencies of human resource management. The SEMSO will educate frontline practitioners to be aware of performance standards and benchmarks, and encourage them to achieve or exceed them for assigned tasks. To do so, the SEMSO will identify and help remove performance barriers, obstacles, hindrances, impediments and interference. The SEMSO will collaborate with frontline practitioners to identify who’s best suited to complete particular tasks. All of these actions will facilitate performance improvement and support emergency service delivery, administration and logistics. The SEMSO will be able to:

  • Conduct pre-incident planning;
  • Deploy assigned resources in compliance local emergency response plan;
  • Recommend changes to agency policies and procedures;
  • Implement new policies and procedures;
  • Educate and train frontline practitioners so they follow the new policy or procedure;
  • Ensure fleet resources are operational through preventative maintenance and rapid response to breakdowns; and
  • Ensure durable and disposable medical supplies are in working order and stocked to a level that sustains operations.

So much of what a SEMSO does is task-related. The nature of their tasks is different from those of frontline practitioners. A competent SEMSO must remember that a supervisor’s primary tasks are no longer focused on clinical care. There are times when it’s appropriate to step in and be a clinician, however, a supervisor must supervise. If you’re a supervisor who takes over clinical care, you have abdicated and abandoned your supervisory roles and responsibilities. Keep that in mind the next time you show up on scene.