Management Vs. Leadership

By Bradley M. Pinsky

Emergency service leaders generally lack an education in the science of management. Although the topic of leadership is commonly taught in the emergency service training regiment, true management courses are far less common. Although there is value in the topic of leadership, leadership is not “management,” nor does leadership alone foster a successful organization. Our agencies simply cannot thrive without proper management.

Many fire service leaders will shy away from learning about management. At first, understanding the science of management may not seem exciting or challenging. We would rather speak of the heroics of leadership instead of the principals of management. We spend our time educating our future “leaders” but rarely discuss training our future “managers.” Organizations need managers perhaps more than individuals need leaders.

Management is a science whereas leadership is an art. Management can be studied, learned, implemented, evaluated for its effectiveness, redesigned, and evaluated again. The effects of proper and improper management are measurable both quantitatively and qualitatively. The fire service must begin to train its managers, and we must improve the management of our emergency service organizations.

Unfortunately, there are very few management courses available to those who have no time to seek a degree with a foundation in management, and the fire service has too few fire service instructors who have studied and understand the principals of management. Even the Executive Fire Officer series at the National Fire Academy fails to provide any real background in the science of management, and its pre-class reading list is wrought with books about leadership but not management. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1021, Standard for Fire Officer Professional Qualifications, contains management-related job performance requirements for varying officer positions, and the fire officer courses generally attempt to include some management lessons, but they are glossed over at best. The fire service is simply failing to train managers, and we are suffering as a result. It is time that our fire service organizations are managed like successful businesses.

Management vs. Leadership

We must understand the difference between “management” and “leadership” to appreciate the importance of an education in the science of management. Although management and leadership often go hand in hand, they are vastly different concepts. Here are a few common distinctions:

  • Management is a “plan.” Management defines goals and creates a path to achieve the goals. Conversely, leadership is a style, sometimes displayed in the spur of the moment. Leadership may inspire others to work toward a goal, but management sets the goals, establishes the process to achieve it, and evaluates the progress toward the desired endpoint.
  • Managers are present to ensure that results are produced efficiently and effectively. Without managers, leaders would inspire others to achieve goals that are not necessarily those of the organization. Leaders can rally others in times of need but without the goals set by management, leaders will not know where to direct the efforts of the organization.
  • Workers need their managers not just to assign tasks but to define the purpose of their actions. Leaders do not define purpose or monitor the progress toward the goals. Leaders do not monitor whether efforts are efficient. Management is concerned with the time it takes to achieve progress, while leadership is concerned with keeping others inspired to make progress.
  • Leaders are models for fair and ethical behavior, while managers are models for efficiency, achievement, and prosperity. Good managers need not be charismatic. A manager does not have to rally the troops.
  • Management skills can be taught and learned through formal education and experience. Conversely, leadership is generally learned through modeling behavior of another and challenging one’s own ideas for ideal leadership characteristics.

We speak more about leadership than management in the emergency services, and we confuse the two concepts. Leadership is important, but we too often ignore management. Leadership sells books and makes good television, but solid management skills will ensure the success of an organization.

Perhaps our lack of management training is a result of the lack of education and experience of our present fire service leaders in the science of management. Thus, our managers failed to develop proper management skills and gain knowledge from their predecessors, as they were also not trained managers. We must break the cycle of poor management education and training.

This article refers to persons in charge of making decisions as “managers” and not “leaders.” Leadership does not require a rank but management does in fact require a title. We too often confuse the role of a manager with a leader. This article advocates for a management model in which not all line officers become managers and not all managers become line officers. Instead, those best suited for the position should hold the management authority.


To implement a successful management structure, we must understand “management theory.” The purposes of management theory are to find the best methods of organizing a group to reach the best outcome in the most efficient manner and to find systematic approaches that create repetitive results year to year. Understanding management theory will help you gain management skills, evaluate your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and improve your organization’s operations and effectiveness.

Whether you know it or not, your organization’s personnel demand a clearly defined management structure that is designed to achieve and deliver excellent outcomes such as firefighting, patient care, and rescue. Your public demands that these outcomes are achieved for a reasonable cost. Anyone can use unlimited resources to achieve good results, but a well-managed organization will be just as successful in less time with fewer resources.


Theorists in organizational behavior and group dynamics have opined that persons will join an organization that espouses a belief they have adopted or desire to adopt as their own.1 The fire service exudes ideals such as brotherhood, community service, honor, courage, and pride. Those who join the service want to define themselves in the same way. Individuals will remain in the organization only so long as they believe that the organization continues to define itself as they want to be defined.

As the fire service is a paramilitary organization, those who join a fire department often crave the strict structure offered by such an organization. This structure provides comfort to those who perform a dangerous job, as many believe that following a well thought out process will keep them safe. We believe that those who have elevated themselves in the hierarchy have the knowledge and ability to keep us out of harm’s way.

Maslow’s hierarchy professes related theories. Maslow theorized that individuals must satisfy their basic needs to reach their highest potential and that the inability to satisfy each basic need will inhibit or prevent their ability to succeed or reach their fullest potential. The second tier of Maslow’s hierarchy is “safety.” Indeed, if an individual joins an organization and feels that he is not safe in such organization, the individual is not apt to remain a member, as the individual will not believe that he will survive or excel.

As an example, consider the fire department’s training program. Participants in a well-organized and efficiently managed training program will not only gain valuable skills but will also gain the confidence to participate in actual emergencies. They will form the belief that they will gain the skills necessary to prepare them for challenging and dangerous environments. A training program is no different than any other managed program; it must have goals, an established process, rules to follow, and an evaluation of its progress. The failure to implement a management structure and to define and follow a process for offering, conducting, and evaluating training will result in members without skills or confidence in their abilities.

A properly organized and managed fire department will instill confidence in its members. Members will be proud to be part of a well-run organization and will take comfort in the safety that a structured organization will offer. They will tout the benefits of belonging to their friends and community members. Successful management will breed growth of the organization.

A well-managed organization can provide its staff with opportunities for management that are notable on a resume. An organization that enhances its members’ management experience and skills should retain those members longer, as the members will realize the mutual benefit gains from participating as management.


Management is a science, and there are many studies on how management should be conducted. Present and future managers should study several theories of management and choose a management theory for their department and for their own personal endeavors. Managers should not manage organizations without understanding the impacts of the various management theories. This portion of the article highlights some of the most accepted management theories.

Henry Fayol published his “14 Principles of Management” in 1916. Fayol is among the most influential contributors to the modern concept of management, even though many no longer refer to “The 14 Principles” by name today. These principles are well suited for the administration of emergency service organizations. Readers will quickly recognize some of these principles, as they were clearly copied by the developers of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Fayol’s 14 Principles of Management

  • Division of work: When employees are specialized, output can increase because the employees become increasingly skilled and efficient. Persons become better at preforming fewer tasks than many tasks.
  • Authority: Managers must have the authority to give orders, but they must also keep in mind that with authority comes responsibility. They must act responsibly and follow up on the tasks that are assigned by them. “Following up” requires diligence and organization.
  • Discipline: Discipline must be upheld in organizations, but the methods for doing so can vary. Without discipline, there can be no consequences for negative actions.
  • Unity of command: Employees should have only one direct supervisor. Reporting to more than one supervisor will create confusion in work priorities and result in competition for time and dedication.
  • Unity of direction: Teams with the same objective should be working under the direction of one manager using one plan. This will ensure that goals are clearly defined and the paths to those goals are properly coordinated.
  • Subordination of individual interests to the general interest: The interests of one employee should not be allowed to become more important than those of the group. This includes managers. We all are directed to the same goals.
  • Remuneration: Employee satisfaction depends on fair remuneration for everyone; this includes financial and nonfinancial compensation.
  • Centralization: This principle refers to how close employees are to the decision-making process. It is important to aim for an appropriate balance. Not everyone can have input into every decision, but dividing the organization into different concentrated areas with common goals will permit more people to participate in the decision-making process in their own realm of authority.
  • Scalar chain: Employees should be aware of where they stand in the organization’s hierarchy or chain of command. They must understand how to get things accomplished and where to turn for direction and approval.
  • Order: The workplace facilities must be clean and safe for employees. Everything should have its place.
  • Equity: Managers must be fair to staff at all times, both maintaining discipline as necessary and acting with kindness where appropriate.
  • Stability of tenure of personnel: Managers should strive to minimize employee turnover. Personnel planning should be a priority.
  • Initiative: Employees should be given the necessary level of freedom to create and carry out plans.
  • Esprit de corps: Organizations should strive to promote team spirit and unity.

Max Weber’s Theory

Max Weber is another theorist of the science of management. He created what is referred to as “bureaucratic management theory.” Weber theorized that businesses were being run like families and criticized them for this reason. He further theorized that employees were loyal to their managers but not to the organization itself.

Weber believed that management should be a “bureaucracy” that follows a formal structure where rules, formal legitimate authority, and competence are the characteristics of appropriate management techniques. A “bureaucracy” is a well-defined level of hierarchy and chain of command that distinguishes the level of authority within the organization. Clearly, an emergency services organization is a bureaucracy. Individuals who hold higher positions supervise those lower positions.

Weber also believed that a supervisor’s power is based on an individual’s position in an organization, his level of professional competence, and the supervisor’s adherence to explicit rules and regulations. In other words, a manager is revered because of his position, abilities, and knowledge of the workings of the organization. As an example, the fire service often reveres those with a long history in the organization.

Weber believed that a bureaucracy should have a clearly defined management structure broken into a hierarchy where members are governed by clearly defined and rational rules. An organizational hierarchy is the arrangement of the organization by levels of authority in reference to the levels above and below it. As an easy example, supervisors are in charge of others below them to make sure that those persons meet the organizational goals. A common example is the NIMS chart (see chart 1).

Examples of rational rules are plentiful in the EMS/fire community. However, many organizations fail to implement rules and experience “freelancing management” as a result. Subordinates do not know what is expected of them in many instances. There are no policies to guide them, such as human resource manuals, best practices, administrative policies, procurement policies, and ethical policies.

Weber theorized that a well-managed organization requires both a hierarchy and fair rules. Volunteer departments live and die by their bylaws while career departments live by human resource manuals and collective bargaining agreements. An organization cannot succeed with a hierarchy but without rules. Managers must respect those rules.

Contingency Theory

Contingency theory asserts that when managers plan, they must take into account all aspects of the current situation and act on those aspects that are key to the situation at hand. The theory believes that there is no single management approach that fits all situations or organizations. It varies by the situation. For example, on the fire scene, autocratic/dictator-based management is best, while in the firehouse, a more participative and facilitative leadership style may better serve the department.

This basic point of this theory is important to understand because the fire/EMS service lives under two distinct environments: emergency scenes and the nonemergency organization. Two very different management styles are required in each environment, but we should never believe that one style fits both the operational and administrative organizations. Perhaps our administrative management styles are failing in the fire service because we attempt to manage our department’s administrative affairs like an emergency scene.


Can we measure the success of fire service management? An organization can improve itself by evaluating and restructuring its management and by building foundations of good management practices. However, how does one determine if improvements are required? Can the quality of the management be measured and evaluated?

The success of a fire service organization’s management can be measured quantitatively (numerically) and qualitatively (based on quality of outcomes). We can evaluate whether the management structure and processes are effective by measuring the success of an organization in meeting its goals, though we first must determine if there are any goals and whether those goals are in fact reasonable and obtainable.

The answer to why a department is successful or not always can be found by evaluating management and management processes. So long as the entity has set goals, the progress toward those goals always can be measured and the success or failure in making such progress always can be evaluated.

Common Management Structures in Today’s Fire Service

Example of inefficiency #1: Many smaller emergency service entities have very simple but inefficient management structures. One common example can be found in volunteer fire departments where each position holds a job function and the ability to perform those administrative functions is almost irrelevant so long as the individual is a competent operational officer. The lack of management skill unquestionably impedes the organization’s success.

Example of inefficiency #2: In some organizations, those with job titles possess no decision-making roles. Instead, they must report to the chief as the chief holds all the decision-making authority. The fire service has placed such great importance on the role of the chief that it refuses to provide any other person with final decision-making authority.

The chief cannot oversee everything, as the chief cannot always be present or responsive. Moreover, the chief cannot possibly manage everyone under him. Indeed, the “span of control” (Henry Fayol) would be violated if the chief supervises more than three to seven individuals. Emergency service entities must place trust in other people and provide them with decision-making authority.

Imagine a sole individual trying to manage a ship. Could one individual give instructions, monitor progress, correct errors, instruct when skills are lacking, and evaluate their own success? Of course not, yet this is exactly how our fire service managers operate today.

Example of inefficiency #3: Some departments use only “go to” individuals to tackle every task. Perhaps this is because fire service managers fail to recognize the significant number of issues that must be addressed by their organization. For example, “training” may require operator training, firefighter training, EMS training, fire police training, scene support training, technical rescue training, and so much more. One person cannot possibly handle everything. Thus, placing all the training responsibility on one person will require that individual to ignore many tasks or to spend too little time on too many tasks. This individual will quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated, because no one is managing his work load.

Example of inefficiency #4: Another common management structure is akin to managing floating bubbles. The chief assigns 40 different duties to 40 different people. There is no defined structure and very little formal oversight responsibility. Instead, jobs are just handed out to individuals. The chief attempts to manage all the persons performing the various tasks, and most of the assignments never come to completion. The chief simply cannot control all the people and monitor all the progress or lack thereof. The farther the “bubble” gets from the chief, the less supervision is provided; eventually, the bubble is simply ignored and forgotten. The closer the “bubble” floats to the chief, the more attention it gets. However, no one can control the bubbles.

These management styles exist simply because no one has ever created a true hierarchy. The lack of a hierarchy may reflect a lack of management skills needed to create one, or it may be the result of a lack of trust from the top down. As the top manager, you need some of the people below you to help manage the organization and its programs. You need to have trust in their present or future abilities to assist the organization in accomplishing your goals.


To permit others to become involved in the management of the organization and to gain greater authority to make decisions and implement change, the top management must trust in the ability of others in the organization. An organization in which the chief manages everything is a sign that either the chief simply has never considered a better management structure or the chief does not trust his staff.

Lack of trust in others will result in an unproductive organization. Resentment will run rampant. Conversely, involving others in an organization’s management will significantly improve the morale of most individuals. Thus, the failure to trust others with the management of the organization will result in their resentment toward the chief and the organization. Worse, the organization will crawl along while failing to take advantage of the potential and skills of the many people.

If the management wants to effect real change in the organization and to make advances previously not possible, the top managers must begin to trust those below them and vest others with the authority to make improvements; handle projects; and, if need be, make mistakes.




Is it now time to restructure the agency? As the chief, you must first ask whether you are able to trust others in the organization and set them free to manage. Consider ignoring rank for administrative positions and matching individuals to their talents, skills, and experience. Save “rank” for operational issues, as “talent knows no rank.” Rank does not make someone qualified to be a manager.

One department’s overhaul: The XYZ Fire Department used a management structure akin to that described as “managing bubbles.” The department is a combination organization with more than 10 full-time career staff and approximately 60 volunteers of varying backgrounds. For decades, only line officers were placed in charge of various tasks. The chief managed each of the line officers. Span of control was 1:20. Assignments were not broken up into groups with similar missions. Goals were set by individuals in charge of their programs, but there was little coordination between any individual or similar projects. The chief did not set goals for any of the programs. Indeed, management was run more like a small structure fire instead of a complicated business.

Morale was low. People were frustrated by a lack of organizational structure. Although success was achieved on an individual basis, the department did not seem to be moving in a unified direction.

Most members and staff believed that a change to the management structure could be beneficial. So, the department began a rigorous process to evaluate the organization and chart a new course. The department adopted Fayol’s 14 Principals of Management and set off to rebuild the organization from the ground up.

The process was as follows:

  • First, the department identified every job and task in the organization. There were well more than 50 tasks identified.
  • Then, the department grouped the tasks by common objectives and placed the objectives into functional “divisions.” The goal of these groupings was to keep the “span of control” manageable and to allow the group to share goals. For example, the department took the roles of EMS training, fire training, and driver training and placed them in a “training division.” The goals set by the training division director guided the work efforts, budget choices, and resources of the division.
  • The department then determined how many programs could fit under one common objective and assigned these programs to the divisions. Each division required a proper span of control. This led to the grouping of the common goals into the creation of six divisions – fire, EMS, training, community programs, support services, and fire police division. Although there are other roles such as health and safety officer, the tasks under this individual’s role did not initially require division status. Later, however, a health and safety division was implemented because of the expanding role of this group.
  • The department created a management structure while paying special attention to Fayol’s principals of span of control and unity of command. The chief was placed at the top of the chart and six divisions were created below the chief. Each division is led by a “division director” who reports to the chief. Each program area within the division is headed by a division coordinator. No more than six programs were in each division.
  • Division directors and coordinators were chosen without regard for their rank in the department. Talent took precedence over rank, and rank was saved for operational tasks.
  • Once the organizational chart was created and put in writing, the chief appointed the division directors and the division directors appointed the coordinators. It was important that no one held multiple positions in the organization. Although this was not entirely possible, they tried to avoid it at all costs.
  • The chief then set five goals for the department, and the division directors then set the division’s goals necessary to work toward the department’s goals.
  • Each division director was required to create a job description for the position and to direct each coordinator to create his job description. The division directors then compared the job descriptions to ensure that no one duplicated their responsibilities. These job descriptions continued to change, evolve, and become more clarified over the next 12 months as people worked through their programs.
  • Clear job duties provided clear direction to individuals and clear lines of authority and led to increased morale as everyone knew what they were expected to accomplish.
  • The job descriptions used words that clearly defined the level of authority of each member. The descriptions created a sense of order among the division directors and coordinators.
  • The chief provided a budget to each of the divisions. The division directors had authority to spend their funds, with the understanding that their budget was their own to spend. This was a huge change of thinking not only for the chief but also for the municipality in charge of the fire department.
  • Meetings were originally held with the division directors monthly, but the length of these meetings during the first six months almost dictated biweekly meetings. Meetings with the divisions are held regularly.
  • All purchases within a division were approved by a division director or, in some cases, a coordinator.
  • Divisions directors made their own decisions. Although the chief managed the divisions by assisting them with setting up goals, the division directors were free to create their own goals and manage the path toward the goals. The chief monitored the success of the divisions by working directly with the division directors but not the coordinators below them.
  • The chief could not micromanage, as the chief would destroy the belief that he trusted the division directors.


What are the results of this new system of management? The department reports that productivity has skyrocketed as all hands are working. The department reached its lofty annual goals by harnessing the collective talents of numerous individuals within the respective divisions. Morale seems to be at an all-time high because the members are each working toward common purposes in an organized manner. In short, everyone has a hand in the department’s success – and they know it.

Always tell your people that there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. No one should ever feel as if they do not have a voice, and it only takes a voice to help the organization move toward progress.

Since the goals of the department and each division are clearly and continuously defined, members understand how their efforts will lead to achievement of the goals. Everyone understands their part in the department achieving its goals.

Each year, top management should set the organizational goals and have the division directors establish their goals for their individual programs, which further the department’s overall goals.

While members are busy with their tasks, no one should be overwhelmed. Proper management requires ensuring that all goals are obtainable and that the individuals have the time to accomplish their goals. If one division had too many goals, the chief and the division director must prioritize the goals and reduce the workload. If one person has too many assignments, the assignments must be prioritized or some of them must be delayed. Nothing stops progress like a sense of failure, and the inability to accomplish any goals because of being overwhelmed will lead to feelings of failure. It is better to accomplish fewer goals than to set too many and accomplish little.

Individuals are learning how to manage their own programs and are gaining experience that will assist them in managing larger aspects of the department. Moreover, members are gaining valuable skills that they can place on a resume for advancement within this department and in their own careers outside of this organization.

Since members are vested with the authority to run their own program or task as they see fit, the members can be creative, innovating, and daring. This in turn creates a sense of ownership in the department and a trusting relationship between the member and the organization.

Failure is accepted and not criticized. Blame is not permitted, but personal responsibility is encouraged. From the chief on down, the department views poor results as a chance to learn and improve. As a result, people are willing to take chances by engaging in tasks that may be beyond their present skill set. Since new ideas are always welcome, people are willing to step forward.


Emergency service organizations need to consider a new method of structuring their management. These organizations need to break the cycle of managing by rank and instead start managing by talent. We need to educate our members in the science of management and adopt well-known principles of management. As many volunteer departments struggle to recruit and retain their members, we must look at the causes of why people join, quit, or stay. We may find that the answer lies in the science of group dynamics, organizational behavior, and the science of management. Just as the fire service is changing the way it fights fires based on new science, perhaps it is time for the service to review our management structures and practices.


1. Brooks, David, “How to Leave a Mark on People,” New York Times, April 18, 2017.

Bradley M. Pinsky is chief of the Manlius (NY) Fire Department. He is an attorney representing more than 500 emergency service entities. Pinsky has a master’s degree in health administration, which provided him with extensive education in the topic of management of health systems. He is a frequent lecturer at FDIC International and other conferences throughout North America and lectures frequently on both legal and management topics. Pinsky is the author of the Fire Department Law & Management Resource Manual. He may be reached at

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