PhD Student Oklahoma State University Stillwater, Oklahoma, United States
As uncertainty during emergency response operations increases, so does the need for responders to display heightened levels of adaptive performance. Emergency response organizations such as the fire service, however, tend to constrain adaptive behaviors due to their highly formalized bureaucratic structures characterized by extensive rules, policies, and procedures. To bypass these constraints, structural theories suggest that leaders empower employees with more control over their work conditions. Thus, using survey data from a U.S. fire department, this research tests whether mid-level supervisors can empower firefighters by increasing their ability to improvise during complex response incidents, and the degree to which this subsequently enhances department adaptive performance. Moreover, in a moderated mediation model, we test whether senior leaders must also be effective, empowering leaders in order to achieve this effect, as many senior leaders in the fire service are criticized for being overly bureaucratic, risk averse, and resistant to change. Our initial results show that supervisors who coach, inform, lead by example, show concern, and encourage participative decision-making enhance firefighters’ self-determination, and that this explains why such behaviors increase levels of department adaptive performance. However, the results did not find support for interactive effects and instead showed that empowering immediate supervisors can compensate for risk averse, non-empowering senior leaders in their ability to personally empower firefighters on their own, implying mid-level leaders play a crucial role in the empowerment – adaptive performance relationship. These findings answer crucial questions in how response organizations can become more adaptable in conditions of high uncertainty despite various constraints and new dangerous, changing conditions of today.