Attributes of the Modern Police Chief
By Robert Lunney, Chief of Police (Ret.)
The characteristics, skills and abilities of a successful chief are simple to enumerate but more difficult to fulfill. While personal qualities of character remain the foundation and our touchstone to the past, new challenges vastly extend the demands on the chief of police.
Leadership – The role of the chief is to inspire people to achieve a higher purpose and to perform at a higher level. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and more than one leadership style can be successful, from high profile to quiet effectiveness. Envisioning goals, affirming values, motivating, explaining, representing and serving as a symbol are all part of the chief’s role, but the chief must also foster the process of organizational renewal. A leader who demonstrates moral courage – one who is steady, reliable and fair will consistently attract loyalty and trust.
Integrity – The chief’s position requires uncompromising character and honesty in dealings with members and employees, the police authority, the media and the community. The chief is also responsible and accountable for establishing high standards of integrity within the service.
Predilection for Performance – The police in democratic countries are encountering a storm of demands for performance. Performance means driving down crime and disorder and responding to community needs for reassurance and security. With the aid of information technology and new analytical tools, it is now possible to effectively challenge an ever more complex crime threat. The chief must accept this challenge, marshal resources and lead the service to practice continuous improvement. The chief is the only person who can set the tone for a culture of performance.
Professional Confidence and Experience – Police leaders must know the business of policing better than anyone else. This means staying abreast of crime trends, new investigative techniques and all current events affecting policing. Lifelong learning is the key to success in contemporary professional life.
Communication Skills – The ability to communicate is essential in establishing positive relationships within the service and with the community. While in today’s society it is accepted that chief executives should be capable of delivering anything from an original public address to a thoughtful dissertation to the management committee, everyone has a preferential strength for the written or spoken work or for visual projection. The important thing is that chiefs know their strengths and deploy them, while acquiring skills to complement the talent would benefit from improvement
Administrative and Management Skills - Directing the development of strategic plans and budgets and overseeing the everyday administration of the service is both an art and a technical skill. Effective administration is the lifeblood of an organization, ensuring that resources are allocated according to need. The chief owes the members of the service the highest possible level of administrative efficiency to back them up while they focus on police duties.
Interpersonal Skills –The ability to be professional, friendly and compassionate builds relationships within the service and in the community. A reasonably high “likeability” factor can smooth the way for problem solving.
Openness to Innovation and Progressive Change – Managing change is the practice of doing constructive damage to the status quo. Openness to change and a willingness to innovate is vital to successful leadership.
Ability to Delegate Responsibility – The confidence to give permission to good people to do the right thing is the test of enlightened leadership. By contrast, a ‘no surprise’ management style can lead to people continually looking over their shoulder apprehensively or checking back for reassurance, instead of getting on with the job. People will respond to a leader who invests in their personal and professional growth. The simple act of giving permission is one of the most powerful tools available to a chief intent on running a high performance organization. A chief who astutely gives permission may stand back and be pleasantly surprised with what happens as a result.
Enthusiastic and energetic Morale Builder – The attitude of the chief has a tremendous impact on the level of optimism and good spirits. Body language, facial expressions and speech all provide clues to staff forever searching for signs of whether things are going well or not so well. The chief must be aware at all times of the messages conveyed by everyday behaviour.
Intuition – Intuition is the amalgam of experience, information and emotion processed by the subconscious mind. The power of intuition speaks with that inner voice that alerts the chief to some impending event or cautions against precipitous action. Intuition must be nurtured, tested and honed. It is not an innate capacity, but a learned capability. Wisdom is an outcome of intuition.
Sense of Fairness and Equity – Chiefs are evaluated on the ability to make judicious decisions and on the degree of fairness implicit in their treatment of people. This extends to the ability to manage sensitive personnel matters. You cannot manage a police service without the ability to make decisions perceived as fair in circumstances where discipline and the separation of employees are involved. This requires skill in assessing the merits of the circumstances against the law or the disciplinary code and making judgments that will hold up under scrutiny.
Partnership Building – The chief must encourage the establishment of collaborative partnerships between the service and the community, and within the organization. The chief’s personal capacity to build partnerships with other CEO’s and with members of the governing authority is critical to personal success.
Personal Accomplishments – A track record of success with tangible problems is evidence of competency and builds confidence in the ability to lead. The chief’s CV is out there for all to assess. It is not immodest to state the facts and accept responsibility for accomplishments.
A Strong Ego and Self Confidence – The media, city council, the police association and the governing board judge the actions of the chief on a daily basis. It takes a strong sense of self and a thick skin to ward off damaging job stress and insecurity.
Tenacity – Whatever else it is, the chief’s job is hard work. Woody Allen said, “Ninety per cent of success is showing up. “Showing Up”, as it turns out, is the first law of policing. The chief must show up in times of stress and also in quieter times, demonstrating a supportive presence.
Toughness – Toughness in this sense is resiliency – the ability to bounce back from adversity. Depend on it; there will be plenty of adversity! It is who is left standing in the end that counts.
Physical Fitness – the Chief must possess the basic capability to perform as a police officer, but a high standard of fitness helps to manage stress and build endurance.
Individuals may aspire to be the best they can, but no one can be perfect. The striving is in many respects as important as the ultimate goal. Striving combines a strong sense of mission and a will to succeed with a propensity for action. In the final sense, leaders succeed not because their followers believe in them, but because they believe in their followers.