Supervisor shopping is a problem that has plagued newer first line EMS supervisors since Johnny and Roy tried to get the same day off from Squad 51. New supervisors have a few things on their mind: getting though their probation period, making a good impression, trying to make a difference and getting along with the people they will supervise. Unfortunately, the only thing this will do for the new boss is make him vulnerable to everyone who has their own agenda.
Everyone, no matter what their profession, has needs. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one of the items toward the top of the pyramid is the need for esteem. We all strive to be accepted and will do what we need to in order to achieve self-esteem, social acceptance and personal worth.
So what would that have to do with being an EMS supervisor? A lot. New bosses are trapped in a rather uncomfortable position. They have to please their superiors, and they must ensure that policies, procedures and protocols are followed and take corrective action when they aren't. On the other side of the scale is the need to be accepted by their subordinates.
I have found that the boss who gets out of the truck to assist the crew with a lift, gets down on his knees and does compressions, and helps the EMTs clean their truck after a heavy call will gain much more respect. Starting a social relationship with the folks you supervise, however, is a huge judgment error. The next thing you know, the EMT who picked up your lunch, got your coffee or assisted with one of your assigned duties will be asking if he can leave early on Friday to attend a barbeque over at Melrose Station. You check the schedule and see that two people are already off duty that day, but think, "He’s a great guy. I’ll give him the time off."
Low and behold, Monday morning you're explaining to your supervisor why you ran an ambulance down or used 12 hours of EMT overtime that the agency could not afford. How did that work out for you? Feel your “career extinguishment light” flashing? You should.
We in EMS have a problem. We like to eat our young. Instead of embracing a new boss and giving him the support and guidance he needs, we let him sink or swim. We may feel threatened by the new supervisor or had an issue with him when he was a paramedic. Whatever the reason, we don’t allow the new boss into the fold as we should.
The most important issue a new supervisor may face is lack of communication among supervisors. The new boss might think that asking questions will make it look like he doesn't know what to do. Perhaps he's shy or is afraid he'll be taken to task for his lack of knowledge. Maybe a more experienced supervisor thinks, “I paid my dues, now it's his turn,” or, "He was given the title and the pay; now it's time he earns it."
That type of approach will not be a good experience for anyone. Supervisors need to act and communicate as a team, not with the us-versus-them attitude I've seen in some agencies. The relationship between supervisors should always be dynamic, exchanging ideas and experiences and learning from those events. Having the new supervisor shadow a more experienced boss will give him a better grasp on how to approach the people who will be expecting him to solve their problems.
Veteran managers must make themselves approachable. Don’t roll your eyes and take a deep breath when the pup asks you about something he should know. Keeping the lines of communication open between the new supervisors and veterans is a must. Let me give you an example of what happens when communication fails:
One morning, in the station where I was the commanding officer, a new lieutenant was assigned as administrative lieutenant (desk supervisor). His partner, a far more seasoned supervisor, was on the road as patrol boss. A kid who was assigned to our station on light duty asked if he could use an ambulance to drive himself to fire department headquarters for his monthly medical exam. Unbeknown to me, the new lieutenant gave the employee permission to use the ambulance. Now this was post-9/11, and the department had received a threat that a group of people were attempting to purchase a large supply of ambulances in the area. The assumption was they could be packed with explosives. You can imagine the rest of that scenario.