A Solid Foundation: The components of the ideal EMS manager

Imagine for a second that you’re building a manager out of blocks. Each block represents a trait for an EMS manager, and different colors signify different qualifications. For example, blue blocks stand for education. There’s a blue block for no college degree, one for an associate’s degree, one for a bachelor’s degree, another for a master’s degree and yet another for a PhD.

The red blocks are medical licenses. There is a block for no medical license, one for EMT, one for paramedic, another for nurse, and another for physician.

Yellow blocks represent character traits, such as age, attitude and management style. Let’s say there’s one block for someone in their 20s, another for 30s and so on (you could base it on years of service rather than age). Also, you can add blocks for people skills and management style.

Now, collect your blocks and build your EMS manager. How do they look? Are their management qualities balanced, with a good mix of all the important traits, or have you built a one-dimensional manager?

What degree (if any) would your ideal manager have? More importantly, does an EMS manager need a degree to be an excellent leader? Intelligence isn’t always defined by a piece of paper. Bill Gates, George Washington, Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Edison never received a college degree. Decide what level of education your manager needs to be effective in your organization.

Now, let’s look at technical licenses and certifications. Is your minimum requirement for an EMS manager an EMT license, or is it more? We seem to promote the paramedic with the best clinical skills, but the best paramedic doesn’t always make the best supervisor or manager.

Likewise, someone with a medical degree isn’t always qualified to be the manager of an EMS organization. A physician who has no formal business education and is hired strictly for their clinical background might not be qualified to address many of an organization’s issues. A good EMS manager can oversee the budget, tackle personnel issues, execute strategic planning and hire personnel without violating federal employment laws. Do you want the EMS manager running your organization to be able to read an ECG, read a budget or both?

Maybe an EMS manager doesn’t even need a medical license. General Dwight Eisenhower never saw battle or held an active command until he was appointed Supreme Allied Commander in World War II. Most often, Eisenhower was known for his organizational and administrative abilities.

There’s one key difference between the EMS manager and General Eisenhower. The latter managed a large organization while the EMS manager traditionally manages a smaller group. Does this impact which type of background the manager should have? Does the manager of a smaller organization need to be more hands-on with a “been there, done that” perspective?

What other experience blocks would you use to build your ideal manager? What about how politically savvy they are? Is an EMS manager who knows how to build relationships with politicians, board members, the medical community, the fire chief, the police chief and others important to the success of your EMS organization?

Attitude is another significant trait.Your EMS manager can remain calm and communicate clearly on scene or yell at everyone and anything that moves.

Age is a factor as well. Would your EMS manager be young and energetic, middle-aged with some experience, or older with even more experience but possibly set in their ways?

When it comes to management style, the autocratic manager and the democratic manager are quite different. Your manager can adopt one of these styles or combine them.

Autocratic managers are sometimes compared to dictators. Martha Stewart has been called an autocratic manager because she reportedly micro-managed many parts of her organization and her word was absolute. Then there’s the other extreme: The democratic manager solicits input from many and may try to gain the consensus of the group before making a decision. President John F. Kennedy has been described as a democratic manager. Employees working in a democratic-led organization usually feel more satisfied.

From my experience, there’s no single way to build the ideal EMS manager. The blocks you choose depend on your organization’s culture and goals.

What’s important is that EMS managers be flexible in their management styles and realize that no organization is perfect. Once you strive for perfection and believe you’ve achieved it, your organization will begin to deteriorate.

There are more blocks you can use to build your ideal EMS manager. What other blocks would you like to see?JEMS

Gary Ludwig,MS, EMT-P, is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He has 32 years of fire and rescue experience. He’s chair of the EMS Section for the International Association of Fire Chiefs and can be reached at www.garyludwig.com.

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