Take Care of Your People

Be present for your team, & never be afraid to recognize good behavior

By Scott Hughes  |   Feb 9, 2015

Whether you are a new supervisor, or a seasoned leader looking for a few reminders, we can all use a reminder from time to time: appreciate your people. They may fall below you on the organizational chart, but they are the reason your role exists.

Be Seen, Be Effective
It’s difficult to effectively supervise if you sit in your office all shift completing administrative tasks handed down to you from your boss. There are certainly going to be times where you will be stuck in the office. But you must make being on the street a priority.

How do you do this? Time management.

You may need to come in early before your shift starts or stay late in order to spend more time on the street. One of the most common responsibilities for any supervisor is completing some type of evaluation or review. This is hard to accomplish if you’ve never left the station and observed your officers working.

Bottom line: Officers want to know that supervisors have got their backs. One way to show this support is to simply be visible.

Know the Job
Take similar training classes as your officers in order to keep fluent in best practices. Your agency won’t pay for it? Then pay for it out of your own pocket. Attending these classes with your officers builds rapport and keeps you on the “same page.”

Unfortunately some supervisors feel that once they get promoted they no longer need to attend “those classes,” as if they are better than them. This is a terrible attitude to have. Think about the last time you attended a training seminar. Most of the attendees were patrol officers, deputies, or troopers–very few supervisors and even fewer, if any, command staff personnel.

Don’t let your ego get in the way. Times change, and it’s obviously important that we keep up with these changes. You need to understand how officers are being taught and what they are being taught. Some of the best compliments I have received while teaching a class have come from sergeants, lieutenants and even a few chiefs! Those are the kind of people I’d want to work for if I were starting out today.

Do the Job, Be Tactical
Besides knowing the job, you need to be doing the job. Writing traffic citations and arresting bad guys tells your employees that you’re still one of them. You’ll be more effective as a supervisor if you’re out there making stops and backing them up on radio calls. Being out there and doing the job with them allows you, the supervisor, to better understand what they are facing on a day-to-day basis.

Added benefit: You’ll become a better evaluator, coach, and role model–among others things–by simply doing the job. In addition, you’ll be able to see firsthand the need for any policy changes, procedural changes, equipment needs, and more.

But don’t just do the job–do it tactically! As a supervisor you should be demonstrating solid officer safety tactics at all times, especially around less experienced officers.

Just like being an FTO, your officers will be watching your every move. It’s vital that they see their leader demonstrating the way things should be properly done. Example: If an officer observes you parking in front of a crime in progress or leaning into a car door on a traffic stop, they may assume this is an acceptable tactic.

Tip: Become an instructor or a role player at your local police academy. This is an excellent opportunity for a supervisor to learn about the latest police tactics and training. Additionally, being an instructor in the police academy makes you a better supervisor because it exposes you to public speaking, dealing with different types of personalities, and so forth–all good practice for the difficult job of management.

Let your employees know when they do something good. It’s simple: Give them an “attaboy!”

If you’ve had the luxury of working for a great supervisor then you know what I’m talking about. You remember that first time you received a positive write-up. It made you feel valued and important. It reminded you that your supervisor cared about you and was paying attention to your job performance. We need to do this more!

Those of you already doing this–ATTABOY! Keep it up! Those of you who are not writing up your employees when they go above and beyond, take the five minutes and begin doing it now.

But don’t give them out recklessly. Doing so might encourage bad behavior. Knowing your employees strengths and weaknesses will allow you to decide when attaboys are appropriate. Every department has officers who are–technical term here–“s**t magnets.” If those employees are making gun or drug arrests every shift then it would not be feasible, or practical, to give a formal write-up every day. You might recognize this particular employee verbally in front of the troops, or simply say “good job” over the radio.

Some agencies send out monthly newsletters, emails, and use social media outlets to show employee highlights. Regardless of how you do it, do it!

The number one intrinsic motivator with people is positive recognition. In other words, if I want my officers to consistently go above and beyond I must let them know I appreciate and understand the work they do. The best way to show this is through positive recognition. Regardless of rank, people like to know they’re doing a good job. Officers want to hear it from the sergeant, sergeants want to hear it from lieutenants, and chiefs want to hear it from city managers.

Try it. It will make a huge difference

Watch Your Back
Understand this: There are people you work with–either at your level, below your level, or above you–who will be threatened by someone who implements and follows the above advice. Don’t let them discourage you! No matter how tough it is (I know this is easier said than done), do it. Don’t let their negativity discourage you from what’s right.

There are going to be days where fellow co-workers will try to “bring you down.” Don’t let ‘em! Be stronger than they are. This may mean you have to avoid them. Surround yourself with positive individuals who want your organization to succeed. People, especially cops, can spot a fake. You know who the brown-nosers and a**kissers are. Be aware of them (in particular if they have influence), and be clear about their motivations.

Being a supervisor is an extremely rewarding and gratifying assignment. It’s a position you are lucky enough to occupy. (And if you’re not their yet, the advice applies all the same as you make your way through your career.)

Never condone illegal, unethical, or immoral behavior, and be present and responsive to the people who work for you.

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Scott Hughes
Chief Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of Charleston and is a graduate of The Supervisor Training and Education program as well as The Police Executive Leadership College. Scott is also a graduate of the 133rd FBI-LEEDA Command Institute and is a certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE). Chief Hughes is an active member of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police where he serves on the education committee.