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From the Officer’s Desk: Why Some Officers Struggle in Their New Roles

Throughout my 30-year career in EMS, I have seen employees who were promoted to management roles, only to struggle or fail. Why does this happen? Several factors can go into it:

  • They don’t understand their new role;
  • They lack the skills or knowledge to do the job;
  • They’re knowledgeable but impatient when working with coworkers or direct reports;
  • They micromanage, constantly telling their direct reports how to work;
  • They don’t spend time building relationships of trust, respect, and communication with their direct reports;
  • They only accepted the position for the title or raise;
  • They aren’t team players;
  • They focus on being liked rather than achieving results;
  • They avoid making difficult decisions;
  • They ignore underperformers and don’t acknowledge good performers;
  • They fear asking for help;
  • They’re self-absorbed—it’s all about them rather than supporting their direct reports;
  • They lack the qualities of a leader.

Reviewing these bullet points, it would be fair to conclude a root cause of failure is managers not clearly understanding what’s expected of them. It may be their organization has not clearly articulated its expectations for their new role or delivered the proper training.

Second, although managers routinely oversee activities, they may also have to work with coworkers and/or direct reports, and being an ineffective leader will prove troublesome. Organizational leaders must stress the importance of not only being an effective manager but an effective leader as well, making it part of the organization’s culture. Leadership qualities include influencing, supporting, empowering, and motivating people.

Growing employees to have both the skills of an effective manager and the qualities of effective leader will better prepare them for promotion. Many organizations hire for technical capabilities, and employees get leadership training later in their careers. Why not begin instilling the concept of managerial leadership early in the employee’s career, so as they move up the promotional ladder, they have a strong foundation to succeed? The skills of a manager and qualities of a leader must complement each other, not be mutually exclusive. Together they create managerial leaders.

To help their managerial leaders of their future succeed, executive leaders must establish several things: a succession plan, a transition plan, managerial leadership support, and performance feedback.

Succession Planning

As part of every organization’s succession planning, executive leaders need a formal training program that includes the essentials of management and leadership. It is during this training where the expectations of a managerial leader are articulated. This gives candidates a clear idea of what is needed to succeed.

The training may encompass a didactic portion as well as practical experience by having employees shadow other managerial leaders. For example, a paramedic being promoted to lieutenant may be assigned to fill a lieutenant’s position for the day to get some experience, or a district chief may ride along with a division chief. In addition, the employee may be asked to role-play and coach a subordinate on their performance.

The key is to provide opportunities to learn about managerial leadership before a promotion. The succession plan begins well in advance of any positions becoming available.

Transition Planning

After an employee is promoted, the new managerial leader must have support to become acclimated. Handing over the office keys and saying “text me if you need me” won’t cut it. Even knowledgeable employees with the required functional skills may need time to become familiar with their new responsibilities. Furthermore, if hiring from the outside, the employee will need time to get to know the inner workings of their new position and organization. Be sure to do the following:

  • Have new managerial leaders shadow senior managerial leaders prior to officially assuming their roles;
  • Have senior managerial leaders dedicate time to assisting the transition;
  • Provide the newly promoted leader the tools and opportunities to be successful;
  • If hiring from the outside, provide an overview of the organization’s culture, strategic plan, mission, and vision;
  • Be available to answer questions and coach.

Managerial Leader Support

As executive organizational leaders, you must not only support those preparing for and transitioning after promotion but new senior managerial leaders as well. Executive leaders must spend time with junior and senior managerial leaders, not micromanaging but sharing any challenges they’re facing on a daily basis and watching for potential problems.

When any employee is promoted, executive leaders have a responsibility to ensure they’re given every opportunity to succeed, and they must continue to be available to coach as needed.

Performance Feedback

Once the employee assumes their new role, they should receive feedback on a regular basis. This can be formal or informal but cannot wait for an annual performance evaluation. The goal is to praise successes, correct deficiencies, and ultimately groom the new leader to perform at a high level without much guidance. Maintaining open lines of communication is critical.


In summary, it is the responsibility of any organization’s executive leadership team to ensure that every managerial leader understands what is expected of them. Management and leadership have different purposes, but incorporating each of their characteristics into one can help managerial leaders succeed.

Orlando J. Dominguez, Jr., MBA, RPM, is assistant chief of EMS for Brevard County Fire Rescue in Rockledge, Fla. He has more than 30 years of EMS experience and has served as a firefighter-paramedic, flight paramedic, field training officer, EMS educator, and division chief. He has authored two books, including EMS Supervisor: Principles and Practice, and is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Follow him at @ems_officer. 


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