Op/Ed: Leadership, Management, Supervision


Leadership, Management, Supervision. The following article has been written by David Sullivan. It includes editorial content which is the opinion and story of the writer.

It should go without saying that leadership is the key, all important factor, that defines, and eventually determines, every organization’s success. And that success is difficult, if not impossible to achieve if the lines between leadership, management and supervision are not clearly established. Controversies of late involving police departments might be an indication that many of today’s police chiefs are indeed finding those lines difficult to establish and maintain. Perhaps the fact that the average police chief lasts less than five years in any one city has something to do with the challenges and complexities of police leadership.

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark once said, “police officers have to be lawyers, scientists, medics, psychologists, athletes, and public servants”. He recognized the formidable task police officers face day in and day out, and in a very hostile environment.

Without dynamic leaders, focused managers, and effective supervisors, officers can feel abandoned, left confused and experience morale issues.

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To be fair, there are few professions that experience the constant demands that are placed on law enforcement and today’s police chiefs. Leaders in most other professions have the luxury of developing a leadership style that rarely conflicts with the organization’s management of operations or supervision of personnel. In other words, day to day operations change little and minimum pressure is put on the organization to achieve its goals. Not so with policing and law enforcement.

Today’s police chiefs are often overwhelmed, and at times blindsided, with unpredictable situations that leaders in most other professions never encounter and with police departments, room for error is not a viable option. Police chiefs must answer to politicians, community activists, the media and citizens, each presenting their own priorities they think, and in some cases insist, the police department should pursue.

Strong police leadership is not an option, it is a necessity.

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Choosing a leadership style, or styles, and when it’s appropriate is central to a police chief’s success. A book I often used when I was a hospital laboratory managing director lists no less than six styles of leadership, some of which are good for law enforcement while others would tend to cause problems within the department. Unfortunately, breakdowns begin when the chief fails to recognize or ignores when a particular style is appropriate. Sometimes the problem is not the leadership styles the chief employs, but the ones he does not. A rules-oriented leadership style, necessary for police work, should not stifle flexibility or a participative style where input from all police officers is readily accepted and evaluated. Police officers should certainly not be told by a senior leader that the department is not interested in what they have to say, as was the case on one occasion. It exposes what could be viewed as a leadership style that is detrimental and a liability rather than an asset to police operations.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best leader is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it”. Effective police leaders must recognize there is a difference between leadership, management, and supervision yet still manage a cohesive organization that meets the overwhelming demands of the department and community. Most organizational management situations change little, and only minor adjustments are indicated from time to time. By contrast, management in policing and law enforcement is extremely fluid and subject to constant, and at times almost immediate change. The question must be asked; do police chiefs consider proven performance, extensive subject knowledge, whether it’s street operations or administration, and unquestioned moral values when choosing a command staff. Or were they “rewarded” with command staff positions based on other factors?

That brings us to the issue of whether present and past chiefs have in fact chosen the best managers who can create a cohesive, organizational structure that effectively addresses and carries out police operations. One study told us the lack of command staff cohesiveness created problems, and the unrest and doubt most officers perceive today indicates those problems might still persist today. If in fact problems do exist, is it because the chief has chosen an effective command staff and has “meddled “, or has he “rewarded” a less than effective command staff and is trying to compensate?

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As far as the rank and file are concerned, leadership and management are always a concern, but supervision will have the most direct effect on police officers. Again, unlike a typical organization, police supervision is anything but normal. In most organizations, the supervisor is right there, close by, if not in the same room and readily available.

When problems do surface, they can be addressed and handled immediately. Not so with police officers. While they have supervisors, they rarely have immediate, direct supervision as supervisors can be in the field or at the station while officers are spread out over a wide area often miles apart.

When reviewing the misconduct or questionable judgment used by some individual police officers, adequate supervision, rather than leadership and management, is almost always the issue. That being said, it is the responsibility of leadership and management, whether department or city, to insure supervisors are thoroughly trained not only in administrative responsibilities, but supporting positive career development and insuring each police officer understands and adheres to the perimeters of job performance. First line supervisors have always been considered the backbone of any organization, which is especially true in law enforcement, and the stakes could not be higher. There is the adage that came from an oil filter commercial of “pay now or pay latter”. In other words, front a few thousand dollars now to adequately train supervisors, or pay the millions of dollars in consequences later, as has been the case in some cities.

Author, David Sullivan, a former police officer, is a retired 26-year Air Force veteran where he was a hospital laboratory managing director and superintendent of Bacteriology and Hematology training responsible determining Air Force laboratory training needs, developing lesson plans, study guides, workbooks and measurement tests. He got into policing with the Dallas Police Department at the age of 48 and stayed in patrol until retiring at the age of 65. At the age of 76 he returned to policing with the Lakeview Police Department serving the cities of El Lago and Taylor Lake Village, Texas as a patrol officer until retiring once again at the age of 82. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and is now working on his second book.

Op/Ed: Leadership, Management, Supervision

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