Leadership

Law enforcement professionals are facing a tumultuous time. Throughout the world, law enforcement professionals are trying to work within an ever-changing economic, social and cultural landscape. New police officers enter the field with their own ideas of what it means to be a police officer, how their leaders should lead and what to expect on the job. Leadership in policing is challenging today. The right leaders can help new officers navigate this challenging environment while doing their job effectively and efficiently.

It was earlier thought that leadership is a quality that you are born with. Thankfully, most organizations have realized that leadership qualities can be learned through education, mentorship and experience. Leadership is one of the most important skills that new officers should learn when they decide to join the force. Leadership roles are constantly evolving and developing. The skills needed to lead policing teams effectively also continue to change. If you are a law enforcement officer or aspiring to be one, learning more about how to be an effective leader is a great place to start. There are several different leadership styles, skills and traits needed to be successful as a leader.

Meaning of leadership in policing

A leader in policing can have a huge impact on the success of a department. When it comes to policing, a good leader knows how to keep their team motivated and productive. Team members that work with good leaders are happy with their jobs, motivated to be more productive and respect their leaders. On the other hand, leaders and supervisors that are not effective often have to face pushback and resentment from their teammates. Their team members may become defensive or closed if they don’t trust their own leaders.

An effective leader knows how to make the department function well without supervision. Once the right leadership skills are implemented, the entire team knows just what to do and how to do it. A poor leader can affect the entire agency with low productivity, anger and poor morale. This is one of the reasons that it is so important for new law enforcement officers to take the time to develop strong leadership skills.

Different leadership styles in policing

Every leader is different and prefers to lead their team in their own way. Like other industries, there are various leadership styles in policing to choose from based on your personality and core values. Here are some of the most common leadership styles in policing:

Authoritative leadership

This leadership style is based on strict rules and approaches. Authoritative leaders expect their team members to follow orders. They have full control over their subordinates. Team members are expected to follow orders and obey the decisions made by the leader. They are not invited to contribute ideas or provide feedback. Historically, most police forces and military organizations followed an authoritative leadership model. Things have changed over the last few years as more organizations realize that this leadership style is not very effective with the current generation of officers. Contemporary leaders in policing rarely follow this leadership style. Instead, they prefer to engage and inspire their team members.

Transactional leadership

In the transactional leadership style, leaders use rewards to motivate their team members. Based on adherence to the rules and their performance, team members may be punished or rewarded. This leadership model believes that when officers are faced with the anticipation of rewards or the fear of punishment, they will be more motivated to follow the rules set by the leader.    

Transformational leadership

Unlike authoritative leadership, transformational leaders try to motivate, empower and inspire their team. These leaders work with their team members to collaborate and contribute towards the common goals of the organization. They encourage creativity and innovation. Transformational leaders understand that each subordinate has unique motivations and skills. They communicate freely with their subordinates and provide them with the support they need to help them succeed.

Leadership skills needed in policing

If you are interested in pursuing a leadership role in policing, there are several important skills that you will need to develop and refine. Here are some of the most important skills that good leaders possess:

Effective communication

One of the most important skills that police officers in leadership roles need is effective communication. Communication is important in every leadership role. This skill can help leaders build strong relationships with their peers and subordinates and help them create trust. Strong leaders know that communicating with subordinates, other agencies and community members are very different and will require different communication techniques.

Adaptability

Our world is constantly evolving, and law enforcement leaders need to evolve with it. Good leaders should be adaptable and willing to change their leadership style based on circumstances. Many professionals in leadership roles start feeling secure when they have been leading teams for a few years. They may become complacent. They will need to constantly reinvent themselves and adapt based on the changing needs of their team.

Ability to view different perspectives

The relationship between law enforcement leaders with their communities continues to change. They are required to work with a lot of different groups and regularly encounter different perspectives. Good leaders have the ability to be open-minded and work with these different perspectives to achieve their goals. They need to be able to communicate efficiently with different groups and understand the situation from various angles. Leaders in policing not only need to be aware of what is going on in their own community but also of what is happening on a broader scale. They should be willing to engage in a dialogue and reach an understanding and be open to new possibilities that they may not have considered before.

Attention to detail

Professionals in law enforcement are dealing with many tasks each day. Every day is challenging, different and requires multitasking. Their attention is required in many different places at once. This is one of the reasons that it is so important for leaders in policing to have excellent attention to detail. They need to be able to spot mistakes while balancing multiple responsibilities. This crucial skill can help them develop relationships with their team members, the community and other agencies. Policing leaders need to be perceived as legitimate and trustworthy by the community and their team. Attention to detail helps build trust and confidence.

Strong management skills

Law enforcement leaders are essentially managers. They are responsible for a lot of tasks and functions within their departments. They must lead teams and train and manage trainees. They also need to be able to keep the operations of their department running smoothly. Good leaders also need to know how to resolve conflicts within their teams. Strong managerial skills are a part of the curriculum for the Wilfrid Laurier University online policing degree to ensure that future leaders know exactly how to manage their departments effectively.

Budgeting skills

Most law enforcement officers may not be aware, but budgeting and financial skills are crucially important in leadership roles. Law enforcement leaders need to have a deep understanding of resource allocation, staffing allocation, finance, negotiation and budgeting. This will help them use the funds they receive through grants and taxpayers effectively to ensure the safety of the public.

Legal knowledge

It goes without saying that police leaders need to have strong knowledge of local, federal and state policies and laws. Leaders need to have comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge because they are often responsible for implementing new laws and working with the right authorities to update ordinances. Good leaders should know how and where to find reliable research, and best practices when needed, so they can make good decisions based on up-to-date information.

Technological skills

Technology is a part of every area of our life. It has a huge impact on policing and public life. Law enforcement also needs to keep up with technological advancements and change its leadership skills based on current requirements. In this technological era, it is important for leaders to be open to using new technology and constantly updating their skills.

Traits of good policing leaders

There are many traits that can set good police leaders apart from the rest. Most successful leaders in law enforcement have a few common traits that help them effectively lead and mentor their teams. Here are the top characteristics that can be seen in successful law enforcement leaders.

Commitment

Being a law enforcement leader is a big responsibility. It requires commitment to the mission of the organization and the responsibilities it comes with it. Good leaders are willing, motivated and committed to their jobs. They lead others to work collaboratively towards the common goals and vision of the department. Good police leaders are a positive influence on their subordinates. They need to be highly committed to working tirelessly to make their communities safer and dealing with the challenges that come with a leadership role.

Integrity

Successful police leaders act with integrity. They do the right thing consistently even in situations when it might be hard. For leaders, it is even more important to act with integrity and honor because they serve as role models to the rest of their team. Their actions inspire the team and motivate them to do the same.

Honesty

Honesty is an essential trait for all police officers to have, especially those in leadership roles. Law enforcement leaders need to work with the media, citizens and other agencies, so it is important for them to be transparent in all their communications. Good leaders are also honest with their team members and with themselves. They are not afraid to face their own shortcomings and are always eager to improve them.

Mentorship

Even though law enforcement is constantly changing, the insights and advice that a mentor can provide remain incredibly valuable. Being a good mentor is a valuable trait. This is one of the reasons that so many departments have mentorship programs. Trainees and newly recruited officers can benefit greatly from the advice of veterans in the field. Becoming a law enforcement officer is a huge change and a challenge that many are not prepared for. Having a mentor to provide guidance can make a huge difference.

Humility

Another important trait that successful police leaders have is humility. This can be one of the most difficult traits to develop for leaders in law enforcement or in any other industry. When a police leader is humble, they help create an environment where team members feel safe. Humility helps officers feel comfortable and secure enough to approach their leaders to report incidents, voice concerns and ask questions. Ultimately, this can help improve the operations and performance of the department. The current generation of officers and leaders prefer to work in teams in a collaborative fashion. Humility makes it easy to develop that relationship with subordinates.

A solid education is important for police leaders

Unlike what was believed in the past, leadership can be developed through formal education, training and practice. The right education and training can help law enforcement officers develop the core leadership skills they need to climb the ladder and pursue leadership roles in their organizations. Good leadership degree programs are designed to teach students leadership philosophies, leadership styles and the strategies needed to implement those philosophies. If you are serious about taking your law enforcement career to the next level, it is important to invest in your education. Managing a police department is a demanding profession and you will need to have the right skills and motivation to do the job successfully.

There are many educational programs available for professionals in law enforcement today. Many of these are available online and can be completed part-time, so you don’t have to compromise on your professional commitments. These programs are designed to help you develop the confidence you need to become an efficient leader that can bring about change in your department. When you invest in your career, you will have access to more opportunities within your own organization as well as in related fields.