Stocking the Toolbox for New Leaders

If you harness the underlying qualities that make an EMS provider a great clinician, you can cross over to effective leadership.


Leadership is a privilege. It’s earned with experience, education and an ability to perform. The good news is, if you harness the underlying qualities that make an EMS provider a great clinician, you can cross over to effective leadership.

With the right mentorship and education those skills can be trained for business use. There’s a distinct and drastic difference between mitigating issues on a scene and working a budget. The assignment of appropriate resources, calling for assistance when needed, judging the future outcomes with relevant timely data and working with others are just a few of the core competencies that work on both sides. The big difference is time. No need to rush to do something right this second; leadership takes patience and a good view of the big picture.

Being a leader means working more hours, dealing with more complex issues and, if you divide your check by the amount of real hours worked, possessing a good sense of irony. Welcome to the wonderful world of salaried employment! That being said, the ability to drive change and build a successful team can be worth much more than a paycheck.

So how can we tip the scales in favor of being a successful leader?

The first key factor for success is alignment. As a new leader it’s imperative your goals are aligned with the organizations goals, as well as your boss’ goals. This sounds straightforward but it requires a concerted effort. As a new leader, talk to your boss and clearly understand what his or her goals are, not just for this year, but the next 3–5 years. Ensure the projects you’re working on further those aspirations. Divergent thinking, whether intentional or not, can be catastrophic to both the organization and your personal career.

For example, you want to focus on employee satisfaction and engagement. You’ve started asking around about the things your employees would like to see in place so they can feel better about coming to work. You discover a small pay increase would improve morale. However, your chief can’t afford the increase in pay due to budgetary constraints and his focus on purchasing new equipment for the fleet. This type of divergent thinking can lead to very uncomfortable conversations, but could be fixed with a simple front-end discussion. Without that conversation, the staff could be confused at what they view as mixed messages. Resources may be strained simply because the department is trying to do too many things at once. If everything is important, nothing is. It’s better to do one thing really well, or fix one problem, before moving on to the next great idea.

The second factor for success is visibility. But don’t break out the high visibility tape just yet. Visibility in leadership means having a presence with your staff even when you’re not around. To do that you have to get out of your office and work alongside your people—a lot. Especially when you’re first promoted. This builds credibility and relationships with the people you manage. Make sure you know the people who report to you, what they enjoy (so you can reward and recognize them as individuals) and how to relate to them (so you can build trust and act on their recommendations). Above all, keep a pulse on what’s really going on in the streets. There are formal and informal communication networks in every organization. By building trust in those people you supervise, you can be abreast of an issue before it becomes a problem.

Visibility means ensuring your people always have a way of getting in contact with you. They have to know you have their best interests at heart. Showing up at the ED to help clean a truck goes a long way on a bad shift. And visibility adds character when accountability issues come up. If your crews see you all the time, they can’t argue about only seeing them when things go wrong.

To that end, as a leader you’re always on stage. You have to do things the right way, every time, all the time. You are what your people see you as—not perfect, but certainly someone who respects the rules.

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