There are many ways to manage an organization; this is certainly true for the fire and emergency service. Due to decentralized governmental control in our profession, virtually all management occurs at the local level. This provides fire and EMS agencies with tremendous opportunities to serve their communities within the funding and priority levels desired by citizens and approved by administration.
However, this high degree of local control requires many tasks and directives be recreated and it allows for opportunities of misunderstanding or minimal oversight within an agency.
Proper management begins with good communication. Within an organization, good communication is paramount to the proper execution of the administration’s direction.
We all grasp the importance of clear and concise communication at an incident. Without it, resources aren’t utilized efficiently and people may be exposed to unnecessary risk. Good communication is also necessary to ensure we’re successful in directing non-incident activities. Many techniques to facilitate good communication are at our disposal; we just have to utilize them.
One of the most powerful and effective techniques of good communication is listening. Here’s an example from the field: since initial officer training, it has been stressed to each of us that if we need a resource, we:
- Know what it is we need.
- Request the resource through the incident commander.
- Verify that the commander understands our request when they repeat the request.
- If necessary, restate the request until it is understood.
In each step of this process, it’s imperative that each person involved—requester and the IC—understand what each is saying. Otherwise, we experience a breakdown in the process.
Taking this process from the field to the station isn’t difficult. It is, however, different.
To deliver a clear message with these simple steps, we must first know what it is we need. This is often intuitive to us, since those in leadership are charged with providing direction, but we must remember that for our direction to be carried out, we must clearly state what that direction is.
That leads to where we request the resource (our objective) through those who work with us.
Then we’re responsible to verify that our resources understand what our request or direction is.
This is where listening becomes critical. It’s too easy to make an order and move on. But at this point it’s determined whether the direction you’ve provided is clearly understood and will be executed flawlessly or if you’ll be disappointed.
Probably many reading this, at some point in their careers, have completed a course that included a module on communication, if not many courses focused solely on this topic. Regardless of our education, we must be aware that good communication is a depreciable skill. Just like our firefighters and paramedics are required to routinely practice their fireground, EMS, rescue and hazmat skill sets, we as managers must ensure that our most important skill set is listening, thus communication. To keep this critical skill honed, we must know where our strengths and weaknesses are and continuously improve it.
Another critical component of managing a department is proper delegation. Delegating is necessary because none of us can do it all by ourselves. However, delegation involves much more than simply assigning a task to subordinates. Many goals can be achieved through delegation, but the one delegating must know what their goals are. If the purpose of delegating is simply to get an item off your plate, then nothing more should be expected in the result.
However, the purpose of delegating can always incorporate higher-level results. Every delegation is an opportunity for your people to improve their skills and abilities. It’s your job to know where their current strengths are and how, through delegation, they’ll become a more successful and capable team member.
Also, consider an individual’s goals and aspirations when delegating assignments. When people are provided opportunities to grow and strengthen their abilities, both they and the organization mutually benefit. It’s incumbent on you to simultaneously understand where your people’s strengths and aspirations lie. With care and attention to this, you’ll successfully plot a course for them to achieve their goals through your delegation of assignments and responsibility.
Without a commingled strategy that targets results for your organization and the individual, one or the other may suffer. This strategy should be clearly identified and communicated by the leader. With this approach, individuals will understand the implications their assignments have for the organization. They’ll also understand the growth opportunity being provided to them and how to actively improve their own potential and responsibility within the management structure.
William Hyde, EFO, CFO, CEMSO, CTO, MIFireE, is the deputy chief of special operations for the Rogers (Ark.) Fire Department. He serves as a director-at-large on the Executive Fire Officers Section’s board. He’s been a member of the IAFC since 2009.