THE BLOG
20/03/2015 07:37 GMT | Updated 19/05/2015 06:59 BST

The Challenges for Police Leadership

The College of Policing will present initial findings of its review of police leadership on Friday.

It will recognise the successes that current police leadership, at all levels, has delivered, but it will also show why the leadership of today will not be sufficient for the future.

The increasingly complex demands on the police to protect and safeguard our changing communities, intensifies daily. Policing faces the challenge of providing a trusted local presence, while at the same time having the high level skills necessary to combat crime which is sophisticated, often digitally based, sometimes internationally driven and always without respect for the boundaries between 43 forces.

These changes are raising questions about policing structures and the knowledge base, culture and skills required of our police. They are also challenging the way we think about leadership.

Leaders will need to ensure that everyone working in policing has relevant, up-to-date knowledge of 'what works' and the skills and competencies to deliver their roles with confidence and integrity. Leaders, in all parts of the service, must know how to motivate and support those around them to work to their full potential and fully understand the needs of the communities that they serve.

There are many challenges to achieving this.

The cultural challenge: We need to make policing decisions on the basis of 'what works' not 'because the boss told us to'. As forces and universities grow the knowledge base of 'what works' in policing, leaders, at all levels, will need to understand this knowledge and know how to use it to review and change practice. There will, obviously, be times when 'command and control' is needed in operational policing but leaders must become more supportive of 'informed discretion'. Effective leaders will empower staff to make the right decisions and ensure they know they will be supported if a well-made decision leads to unintended consequences. They will create a culture of enquiry where it is OK to debate and question how things might be done better.

Promoting the best and the diversity challenge: It will become ever more important to build teams with diverse skills, experiences and backgrounds because the evidence shows they are more effective. Some aspects of the current system weed out difference and this must change. To give a small example: many posts are only open to those who are already employed in that force. To get the greatest diversity and the most effective teams we must create the largest possible pools of candidates to choose from at each level, from selection through all promotion processes.

The management AND leadership challenge: We need to recognise that, as responsibility grows, policing roles require both management and leadership skills. Leaders must be supported to develop both of these sets of skills and understand the value of regular review of practice delivery and personal reflection.

The reward and accreditation of skills challenge: As crime patterns change we need more specialists and leaders of specialities. This does not fit easily with either the current rank system for promotion and recognition of success or the sharp delineation between warranted officers and staff. Increasingly leadership doesn't just happen upwards and downwards. 'Lateral' progression will need to be rewarded and leaders of specialities should have their skills accredited.

The hierarchy challenge: Powerful hierarchies with multiple levels at which individuals are considered for reward and promotion can have a negative impact on open communications and team performance and flatter structures may bring benefits for performance.

The consistency challenge: 43 different force interpretations of professional standards currently leads to different practice across the country. For some things this may be appropriate but where the public expect consistency, and the profession demands national quality standards, this creates significant risks.

The College review will consider these challenges and it must be bold in its recommendations for change if policing as a profession is to deliver its tremendous potential. The hard working, highly skilled and deeply committed majority of police officers and staff deserve these challenges to be taken seriously and difficult issues addressed with determination.