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Helicopter Flying Away - 7 Tips To Manage A Crappy EMS Boss

In a perfect world

you’ll never need to read this article.

You’ll work for someone who genuinely cares about you, your work and your success.

An EMS boss who manages by example, gives you freedom to make mistakes, and supports you when things go wrong.

But just in case….

Your EMS boss falls short of the description above, this article will show you how to manage a crappy EMS boss. And more importantly, how to do it in a non-threatening “under the radar” sort of way.

But before we get started, it’s important to really understand the goal when trying to manage a crappy EMS boss.

What is the goal?

The goal is to keep your professional record free of blemishes until you can move on to a better position. Understand and accept this fact up front. It’s one of the biggest time and frustration savers in EMS. Why? Because trying to turn a crappy boss into a good or even just decent boss is a waste of time.

Don’t waste your time. Life is too short.

Understanding this reality puts you way ahead of your EMS and air medical peers in both the short and long term. I know how harsh this sounds. But unfortunately, it’s still true. I would rather offend some with my directness, than watch anyone waste their time trying to change an unchangeable situation.

So here goes:

7 Tips To Manage A Crappy EMS Boss

1.) Make Sure It’s Your Boss, And Not You

This step is important, don’t discount it.

It’s difficult to step outside our own workplace and objectively look back in. Really difficult.

But it’s critically important you do this exact thing before pointing fingers or placing blame on your EMS supervisor. It might be your boss is doing fine and you’re the one who needs an adjustment. And that’s okay, but it’s critical you do this before misdirecting blame.

My advice is to start with a trusted friend. Explain your concerns and gripes and get their opinion on whether your concerns are valid or just symptoms of a normal workplace.

2.) Understand Your Boss’ Motivation

Understanding why your boss does or cares about certain things can help you understand why he does certain things certain ways.

Once you understand your boss’ underlying motivations, it’s a lot easier to manage how their management style affects your work.

Look for patterns. How does your boss act around his boss? Is he a total kiss-ass always concerned about appearances? Or is he hard focused on certain recurring issues? Pay attention. Make a list of what really motivates your boss.

3.) Don’t Let It Affect Your Work

Don’t let yourself be consumed by a crappy boss’ behavior. Dwelling on a boss’ shortcomings can quickly affect your own performance if you let it.

And easy example is pilot check rides. Even if your boss is the world’s worst aviation program manager, you still need to perform well on your pilot check rides and evaluations. If you’re a line pilot, you won’t get the “check the block” automatic sign-off your bad boss gets on all evaluations.


Because your check airman doesn’t work for you, he works for the same crappy boss you work for.

The point is to not let your own performance slip for any reason, including an incompetent boss.

4.) Stay At Least One Step Ahead

Once you understand your boss’s motivation, it’s usually easy to stay a step (or more) ahead of her expectations.

Most crappy EMS bosses are concerned more about appearances than productivity. What I mean is that a crappy boss only cares about public perception or what her own boss thinks.

Employee satisfaction is far down their list of priorities if it even makes the list at all. Head off potential conflicts by anticipating what your boss will want next and create it ahead of time.

Is your boss concerned about scheduling? Start doing the schedules ahead of deadline. You get the idea.

5. Document Everything

Make sure to document all your interactions with your boss. Keep a log of all tasks assigned, date completed, feedback positive or negative.

This step applies to all careers, but it’s especially important in aviation and medicine. The reason is simple. Aviation and medicine are both chalk full of legalese.

If you ever need to defend your past actions in a court of law, documentation is crucial to proving your point. But don’t let documentation scare you. Keep it simple and easy. In most cases, you’ll never use any of it beyond daily operations.

For example, when a scathing ‘missed deadline’ criticism email arrives from your boss, it’s nice to have the ability to check your log and reply by re-forwarding the email you sent prior to the deadline.

6. Be Patient

Bad EMS bosses thrive on conflict. They routinely create their own drama so they can jump in and ‘save’ their employees from whatever perceived injustice looms in the future.

Don’t be fooled and don’t lower yourself to their level. Be patient and wait and see what really happens.

Remind yourself of the last 10 rumors that had no validity whatsoever. Remember how everyone got stressed out, upset and irritable for no reason whatsoever.

Time solves a lot of EMS drama.

7.) Be A Leader

You don’t need a good boss to do the right thing. You can do the right thing all on your own.

Give every situation your best effort and do what’s right for its own merit. Does following this mantra guarantee you’ll survive the wrath of a crappy EMS boss? No, of course not.

In fact, this scenario is often the catalyst for the very best EMS employees to move on to new jobs. Read the Top 10 Reasons Your Best EMS Crews Quit and Bad EMS Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit for more information.

Part of being a top level EMS employee is the ability to lead when necessary. The ability to what’s right for its own sake, even when it’s not specifically covered by policy or contradicts policy.

What To Do Now

Now that you know seven ways to manage a crappy EMS boss, what’s the next step?

My advice is to consciously remind yourself why you chose EMS or air medical as a career.

Changing jobs usually sucks. Staying positive by reminding yourself how much you love EMS and helping other people is important for your own sanity. Also, remind yourself that over the long haul you’ll be much happier and healthier.

Stay positive, fly safe, and treat other people well (deserved or not).

Listen to the Audio Version here:

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Troy Shaffer
Troy Shaffer

About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

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