A strong manager can make all the difference when it comes to an effective lifeguarding program. It starts with knowing how to hire and retain the right people and goes all the way to implementing the most effective surveillance methods and rescue techniques.
It’s not easy.The industry typically has not invested much time in building management expertise. High turnover rates among young, seasonal employees make building strong staffs that much harder.
But when lives are on the line and an organization’s reputation rests in the hands of teenage employees, a strong manager is a must. It is not enough to hire and post a work schedule in the office. Lifeguard managers must be visible, vigilant and knowledgeable.
See how many of the top 10 management practices you currently follow. Your lifeguards should:
1 Have a clear and in-depth understanding of what is expected of them. Your lifeguards need to have a complete understanding of their job responsibilities and duties, and be fully aware of the expectations you have for them. Consider implementing contracts for the guards that outline job duties and performance expectations. Making them sign an agreement may help increase their level of commitment.
2 Demonstrate maturity, reliability, effective communication and decision-making skills. Hiring high-quality lifeguards may help decrease employee turnover and improve your facility’s safety performance record. Think about adding situational questions to the interview process to test for these characteristics. For example, ask: “Could you tell me about a time when you had to handle a discipline problem while on the job?” Such questions tell you how a potential employee actually behaved, rather than a role-play that deals in hypothetical situations.
3 Hold current certification in lifeguarding, first aid and professional-level CPR/AED. Check to make sure the certifications of the guards you hire are valid and that they were trained by a reputable organizations. Also, make testing of rescue skills a standard part of your hiring practice to ensure that new employees are prepared to be on the job.
4 Have the proper rescue and personal protective equipment. It is important that your lifeguards have the proper equipment to do their job. This includes rescue tubes, communication devices, backboards and stocked first aid kits. If you don’t have the necessary equipment or if the equipment is not in good working condition, your facility should not be open for business.
5 Use the best vantage points for effective patron surveillance. As part of your manager duties, periodically look over surveillance points at your facility to see if they are the most effective for the lifeguards to use. Also, check at different times of the day to ensure that sun glare, crowd issues and water quality aren’t decreasing the effectiveness of that surveillance point.
6 Receive frequent breaks or rest periods. Research shows that a guard on surveillance duty too long is ineffective and may not see a swimmer in distress. For example, a guard may spend 15, 20 or 30 minutes at one station, rotate to another and then take a break. Adjust the rotation schedule to allow more breaks on very hot days.
7 Understand and possess a working knowledge of emergency action plans, rules, regulations and personnel policies. Make emergency preparedness a priority and include drills in your rotation of in-service trainings. Post regulations and policies where lifeguards will see them often; provide verbal reminders of key policies during staff meetings or the in-service trainings.
8 Work together with other aquatics staff members to make the facility as safe as possible. Build a team approach to safety at all levels. Involve your guards in the process and reward them for finding areas needing improvement, or for new ideas to make your facility safer. The more trained eyes you have looking for safety issues, the better.
9 Get regular in-service training to keep skills sharp. Ongoing skills review and practice are important. Include in-service trainings on a variety of topics, such as rescue skills, CPR, physical endurance, injury reporting, communications and conflict resolution. Not only do these exercises improve lifeguard performance, but they also tend to keep morale high and help with guard retention.
10 Receive rewards for doing a good job and get corrected immediately for problem behaviors. As a manager, you should be visible at all of your facilities on a regular basis so you can review lifeguard performance often. It’s a great opportunity to not only make sure your guards are following policies, but also to observe them doing positive things that deserve recognition. Consider setting up a mentor system to provide new or underperforming guards with extra guidance.
After reviewing this checklist, if you feel you need some management coaching, call your lifeguard training provider to see if they offer a management course. Or find ways to network with colleagues to trade ideas on effective management tactics. Remember, being an effective manager takes time and practice, but there are resources available to help you gain the skills you need to be successful.