Volunteer Dive Team Success: Leadership, Supervision & Evaluation

By: Thomas Powell

I began my Emergency Responder career in 2001 when I joined a dive team to learn more about diving. I had been training for about a year and was thirsty for as much knowledge as I could absorb into my mind. I flew through everything, from Open Water to Technical Diving, and even Cave Diving. The speed at which I moved through training raised questions from some at the agency level, as to whether I could be ready to move up the levels at this pace. The instructors who believed in my abilities and knowledge stood up for me and helped me continue my dive education and transition to the Public Safety Diving (PSD) side of diving. Moving to PSD opened the door to a vast education in emergency response, including Fire Fighting, Emergency Medical Technician and Technical Rescue. This education taught me that leadership, supervision and evaluation are three important points that help volunteer dive teams succeed.


Leadership is a subject that has been written about repeatedly and the definitions are as numerous as the books on the subject. When asked to define leadership, it’s sometimes said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”. I feel leadership in the volunteer team world is inspiring others to selflessly give their time to the service of the community. An effective leader should also inspire his or her team to accomplish their missions. The big question is, how?” How does one provide leadership that is inspirational and not dictatorial?

In many cases, the inspirational leader seems more like a friend than the person in charge. A common misconception is that if you are the leader, you are the person in the position of authority. This is sometimes the case, but not necessarily. Leaders can be at all levels of the organization and may not possess the title. The person who has the title may be more of a boss who does not effectively lead or is seen as unworthy of the position or the respect of the team.

What are the qualities and skills of an effective leader? Effective leaders possess similar characteristics, such as the ability to communicate effectively. Communications in the Emergency Response world is crucial. A good leader will develop, demonstrate and teach this skill. Compassion is another quality; a true leader will genuinely care about his team. This doesn’t mean you have to be with your team every minute. It means that you take an interest in their lives and their development both with the team, as well as with other aspects of their lives. Technical Competence as a leader is also extremely important and demonstrates that you can be the leader in the field and have the ability to assist in technical areas.

These are just a few of the qualities and skills of a good leader. An effective leader will continually work to develop themselves and their team. Leaders develop by continually educating themselves and expanding their knowledge. General Jim Mattis, in his book Call Sign Chaos, said that if you are not reading you are functionally illiterate. Considering this, the leader should continue reading and staying up to date on changes in the field. A good leader will also push the team to learn and develop by promoting education and training, as well as leading classes.

Leadership and supervision are often used interchangeably. But they are different, and at the same time equally important to an effective team.


Unlike leadership, supervision is very much attached to a title that might be held by a person who is also a leader. Supervision involves directing, overseeing and controlling the team members. This is an important aspect of the team and needs to be accomplished to ensure the mission’s success.

The effective supervisor will work to ensure the mission is accomplished and the members are complying with policies and guidelines. Supervisors are also responsible for motivating the team, as well as effectively communicating with them. The team supervisor can seem cold at times, but if this position is filled by an effective leader, it could be the perfect marriage of the two. Although many of the supervisory tasks seem administrative, the position holder can be, or become, an effective leader.

All teams need an effective supervisor to ensure administrative functions are accomplished and to keep the team out of trouble. Additionally, a supervisor may be responsible for evaluating the team’s performance.


Evaluation is important for the team. They will only know how they will perform in a real incident if their performance is evaluated in a training scenario. This is a continual process and doesn’t just apply to the team’s overall performance, but also the individual performances. All-encompassing exercises test the team and the evaluation will show team strengths and weaknesses. Individual skill evaluation provides feedback on areas the team member needs to improve, along with identifying individuals who could serve as leaders in specific areas.

The evaluation process should be ongoing, as it provides the organization with a gauge of its abilities and weaknesses. Good evaluation can help the team better spend its training dollars by correcting problems early, thereby reducing risk.


Although many aspects can make a team great, Leadership, Supervision and Evaluation have stuck out in my mind as being the key points. The development of these areas can put a team on the road to great success. Today’s PSD team should strive for excellence in these three areas by continuing to learn and explore all opportunities available to them.

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