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Performance, Culture, and Professionalization in Emergency Services: A conversation with Paresh Wankhade
Episode 539th June 2024 • PCC Local Time • Nancy Joan Hess
00:00:00 00:53:54

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In times of crisis, we often see leaders emerge from the frontline. My guest today, Professor Paresh Wankhade has published extensive research on emergency services and offers us examples of how emergent leadership shows up in times of crisis.

In this episode we talk about how the leadership framework is changing within emergency services. Some of the topics we cover include pressure on ambulance crews to meet performance targets, and how this impacts their ability to provide care, cultural challenges inside fire services, and lessons on leadership from crisis situations.

This episode is part of the Across the Pond Series that we began in 2023 with Professor John Diamond. We have so much to learn with our colleagues across the pond and they in turn have an interest in learning with us.


Paresh Wankhade FAcSS, FRSA, FCMI is a Professor of Leadership and Management at Edge Hill University Business School, UK. He is the Editor-In-Chief of International Journal of Emergency Services. His research and publications focus on analyses of strategic leadership, organisational culture, organisational change and interoperability within the public services with a focus on emergency services. Paresh has published in major journals including Work, Employment and Society, International Journal of Management Reviews, Public Management Review, Regional Studies, Public Money and Management and International Journal of Public Sector Management along with several monographs on the leadership and governance aspects in the emergency services.

MOST RECENT BOOK: Emergency Services Management: A Research Overview

Profile with List of Research

LinkedIn Profile


[05:00] Emergent Leadership in Crisis Situations

Paresh explains how leadership can emerge from unexpected situations, using examples like the Chilean miners and the Thai cave rescue. He emphasizes the importance of team-based leadership and bottom-up approaches in emergency services.

[10:00] Performance Targets in Ambulance Services

Paresh critiques the performance management approach in ambulance services, particularly the focus on response time targets. He argues that this approach pressures ambulance crews and impacts the quality of patient care, as the eight-minute response target often prioritizes speed over effective medical intervention.

[15:00] Cultural Challenges in Fire Services

Paresh highlights the cultural issues within fire services, particularly the lack of diversity and gender balance. He mentions recent reviews highlighting problems related to the treatment of women and ethnic minorities in the fire services and the need for cultural change to address these issues.

[20:00] Professionalization and Its Impact

Paresh talks about the professionalization of emergency services and how it affects motivation and job satisfaction. He discusses the clash between efficiency-focused management models and the mission-driven nature of emergency services work.

[25:00] Crisis Leadership and Shared Leadership

Paresh discusses the need for a shift in leadership models from heroic, top-down approaches to more collaborative, team-based structures. He provides examples of effective shared leadership during crises, such as the Chilean miners' ordeal.

[30:00] Lessons from Grenfell Tower Fire

Paresh analyzes the Grenfell Tower fire, highlighting the failures in communication, evacuation plans, and coordination among emergency services. He stresses the importance of having clear operational plans and better training for handling large-scale incidents.

[35:00] Comparing UK and US Emergency Management

Paresh compares the emergency management structures in the UK and the US, explaining the UK's approach, which lacks a federal agency like FEMA, and discusses the role of local resilience forums in managing crises.

[39:00] Lessons from Captain Sullenberger's Decision-Making

Paresh discusses the famous incident involving Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who successfully landed a commercial airplane on the Hudson River after both engines failed due to a bird strike. Paresh uses this example to illustrate the importance of experience, risk assessment, and decisive action in crisis leadership.

[45:00] Shared Leadership Among the Chilean Miners

Paresh discusses the 2010 crisis involving the Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days. He emphasizes the role of shared leadership in their survival, highlighting how the miners collectively made decisions and supported each other throughout the ordeal.

Mentioned in this episode (in reference to the Titanic Disaster)

Why We Can’t See What’s Right in Front of Us

HBR, May 10, 2012



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