The Executive EMS Officer

The last in a three-part series examining NEMSMA’s proposed EMS officer levels.

This is the third of a three-part series discussing the three prospective levels of EMS officers defined by the National EMS Management Association’s EMS Leadership Agenda Core Competencies project. Those levels are supervising, managing and executive EMS officers. This column discusses the executive officer. For more see


The executive officer is responsible for setting the vision and direction for the entire organization. This is a huge responsibility and not to be taken lightly. The executive is responsible for the livelihood and reputation of the agency and, to some extent, the employees that work there.

This series has discussed the importance of both character and competence when displaying real leadership. These are the bookends that develop trust—a key component in leadership and the ability to establish or change a culture. This is just one element an EMS executive officer must master for true success. The executive’s character and behaviors must match the organizational values, or they will be meaningless for all employees. To uphold these values, the executive must hold everyone accountable, including his managing and supervising EMS officers. That does not mean the executive has to be a taskmaster, but he must provide guidance by promoting the agency’s mission, establishing goals and developing appropriate policies. He must know where he is leading the organization, and his activities must focus on fulfilling this vision. Without vision, the executive will be inclined to manage rather than lead. It is the executive’s awesome responsibility to develop the vision and then make it a reality.

Developing Skill Sets

This is no easy task. There are a multitude of skills and functions an executive must master to be truly effective. The Polaris Competency Model Executive Card Set described in last month’s article, “The Managing EMS Officer,” suggests a list of leadership core competencies: communication, conceptual, contextual, interpersonal, leadership, management and personal skills. For the executive EMS officer, it is not just about understanding the competencies, but about truly being able to apply, analyze, evaluate and create these core components.

Let’s further break down the seven categories of core competencies:

• Communication is cited as the most common failure in leadership, and it is not surprising. Everyone communicates differently, and therefore the executive must use a variety of techniques to effectively reach his or her audience. The executive must connect using excellent oral and written skills and sincere nonverbal gestures.

• Conceptual skills will help the executive stay at the leading edge by embracing innovation, taking calculated risks and moving the organization forward.

• Contextual competency is developed through knowledge and experience. The executive should focus not only internally, but externally as well. It is the executive’s responsibility to know what is happening within the profession at a global level. Leaders should spend considerable time studying and engaged in activities and initiatives within and outside the profession to determine how to apply best practices internally.

• Interpersonal skills are necessary when interacting with anyone else, regardless of pecking order. Sincerity is the key to success when dealing with others. Hidden agendas or fake empathy will destroy trust and credibility. Conflict management is an absolute necessity for effective leadership. Competent executives can bring together disparate views and deal with conflict head on.

• Leadership is the ability to influence others to follow your ideals. Leadership is depicted when others support the executive’s plan of action even if it is different or outside the norm.

• Management is an important part of leadership and the executive officer’s responsibilities. The leader is not the person who does all the work. If that were true, the executive could be a team of one and not have any followers. This is not leadership. The executive must appropriately delegate and organize functional responsibilities to ensure the work is completed effectively and efficiently.

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