Succession Planning: Why Bother?

By Ed Marasco, MPM, CMTE, EMT-P (Ret.)*

Long In The Tooth And Short On Plans

EMS is a relatively young profession and some of the challenges faced by our community today are “old world problems” for many of our peers around the healthcare and public safety sectors. As the early leaders in our profession approach their golden years, the question of future leadership looms large as we face substantial clinical, operational, and financial challenges. As a community, we pride ourselves on preparation and planning, along with the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. It is the nature of our work.

Succession Planning: Why Bother?

A key aspect of our preparation is succession planning. Identifying, recruiting, supporting, and grooming future leaders within our organizations is one of the most important aspects of our leadership responsibility. In a 2014 survey of organizational leaders by Deloitte Consulting, 86% of leaders believe leadership succession planning is “urgent” or “important”; however, only 14% believe they do it well. This discrepancy is concerning.

Key Benefits Of Effective Succession Planning

  • Stronger Culture
    The proactive process of identifying and advancing leaders who embody the organization’s mission, vision, and values drives more alignment throughout the organization. We grow leaders who are aligned and at the same time, we send a clear message to those within our organization who may not be aligned with the mission, vision, and values.
  • More Diverse Group of Leaders
    If we carry out an objective, unbiased identification process, we will likely end up with a more diverse and effective leadership team. It is important that we are deliberate in this approach.
  • Higher Quality Decisions Throughout the Organization
    Working closely with staff and existing leaders to cultivate their leadership skills and engagement will promote better decision-making at various levels of the organization. Our team members make decisions every day on behalf of the organization. These decisions should reflect our values.
  • Retention Success
    A deliberate approach to succession planning provides enhanced career development opportunities for emerging leaders driving greater engagement and retention. We know that deliberate career paths within organizations can be an effective retention tool. We should be overt about these paths.
  • Stability
    Working to cultivate new leaders for the organization often results in stability and resiliency for the organization. Most EMS agencies are tied to specific communities. There is certainly an advantage to maintaining a team of well-respected, familiar leaders throughout the organization.

Why Is Succession Planning So Difficult?

  • Accountability
    One of the biggest challenges is confusion over who has the primary responsibility to champion the process. Is this a Human Resources function? Is it an Executive Leadership function? Does it rest with each individual leader within the organization? To be successful, these questions must be answered deliberately by the organization.
  • Nerve-Wracking
    The process of identifying and coaching one’s replacement is not always a comfortable process. It is human nature to desire some level of stability and predictability in life, especially when so many aspects of life around us are out of our control. However, ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ROLES WE HAVE IS TO GROOM OUR REPLACEMENT.
  • Stability Concerns
    Identifying and cultivating new leaders implies that change is coming. It is often difficult to battle the perception that working to develop new leaders necessarily means the prior leaders are “on their way out.” Some constituents may view this as a lack of stability within the organization. It is important to make it clear to the organization, at all levels, that we want to grow the talent we have in the organization and help every team member reach their full potential.
  • Time Horizon
    Solid succession planning is something that truly evolves over time. It is a long-term exercise. Many leaders view the expectations and incentives as more short-term in their orientation. If a leader is focused on generating successes within the current year, how can they focus on initiatives that will yield no real measurable results until several years downstream? It requires a mindset that covers both short-term objectives and long-term goals for the organization.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Be selfish!! For many of us, there is an expectation that we will stay connected to the communities that we serve throughout our EMS careers. We may live there during our golden years; we may come back to visit family as we age, and we may still have loved ones who will be lifelong residents. Our goal should be to entrust our EMS organization to the best and brightest as we approach the time in our lives when we may be more apt to use the services than to provide them. In these challenging times, it is important to understand that quality leadership is more important than ever before.


Ed Marasco is QMC’s Vice-President of Business Development and a veteran healthcare provider and administrator with over 40 years of experience in emergency medical services, reimbursement and consulting.

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