A letter to rising EMS field supervisors
Influence growth where you are able, while defining your own success
Stepping into an EMS leadership role for me, was like stepping into a new classroom on the first day of school; incredibly exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. My training in the role of clinical field supervisor has been continuous since 2016.
A solid foundation in both the operational and interpersonal aspects required is paramount to success in an EMS leadership role. In my experience, you must be self-driven in order to secure training in both of those areas and choose mentors that will help you succeed.
Coaching peers on professional development, patient care, operational policies – and having the responsibility of holding them accountable when coaching isn’t effective – changes the work dynamic drastically! The reality is that not everyone will be happy about the new relationship dynamic, and that is OK. Lacking an appropriate set of tools to be able to effectively lead, however, presents embarrassing growth opportunities.
I received early advice from my supervisor field training officer to be assertive. That sentiment has been echoed by many and I do believe there is some truth to it. I imagine you will – or have – heard that too. I invite you to look at that advice in a different way; assertiveness is defined as confident and forceful behavior. Confident and forceful behavior have their place in leadership when lives and safety are on the line or when directives are needed on projects, but not when there is a mix up at a special event or when a crew member forgets their spare uniform at home. EMS supervision requires that you know how to use those attributes a tool and act accordingly.
There are moments when supervision is incredibly difficult, such as when coaching a peer goes awry and you’re confronted with difficult personalities. Separating out the behavior from the relationships and perceptions of people is an imperative skill that I had to learn early on in my leadership journey. All humans can become difficult and leading with your title or ego will implode your ability to be effective and garner respect. You will feel at times that you have to prove yourself – know that is normal. Preparing yourself to be both assertive and self-assured will help you navigate most situations.
A formal training schedule for first-line EMS supervisors
Limit turnover and improve a toxic culture by investing in leadership development
The beautiful thing about growing yourself is that it is always a worthy investment. You will need new tools; you will need a thicker skin, because change is inherently difficult and there are few harsher places to learn than in EMS and in front of your peers, even when you are seeking growth.
Define what success looks like for you
EMS has a long history of celebrating our own saltiness, our uncanny ability to compartmentalize and, all too often, our penchant for defying perceived authority. Those things may help us cope and make us fun in the field, but it is a new challenge to supervise and coach through! Moving into leadership provoked me to loosen my hold on all those fun behaviors and helped me approach everything with a much broader perspective. Where I once was quick to assess and answer, I was given the opportunity to learn to take a step back and take in before choosing how to act and manage. I am incredibly grateful that I took the opportunity to lean into that mental shift.
Everyone has an idea of what success should look like. Remember, you define this role yourself. I aim for humble, consistent and as concise in my communication as I can be. Here is the deal: If you want to promote up, do it and celebrate it! If you decide you want to try something else outside of management or go back in the field because you miss patient care, you do you. Celebrate that too! At the end of the day, you are a human having an EMS experience, you are not your role. Remember what I said earlier about not everyone being able to adjust to your new role? The same goes for external pressure from all angles if you decide that being in whatever managerial role you take is not revving your engine. Define your own success.
If you don’t yet understand the concept of servant leadership, I suggest reading Breńe Brown’s “Dare to Lead,” Shari Harley’s “How to Say Anything to Anyone,” and having your agency sponsor attendance at the EMS Leadership Academy (hosted by an amazing group of humans through Safe Tech Solutions) to learn more about this approach.
This job is absolutely hands-down, a growth experiment and a commitment to supporting this field which I hope you love! Stay open to learning and communication, support your amazing crews and system, and influence growth where you are able.