Increasing Organizational Leadership through the Police Promotional Process

By Hughes, Patrick J. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Increasing Organizational Leadership through the Police Promotional Process


Hughes, Patrick J., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Law enforcement agencies and their design appear to differ from any other type of organization. Although usually compared with the military, police departments have been referred to as having "hyper-bureaucratic military organizational attributes--those of formal rank, formal hierarchy, and a chain of unquestioned and unquestioning command." (1) Only until a few years ago, the term police management, designated only for those holding a title, described what those in the profession believed to constitute leadership. However, more recent years have shown that managers are not necessarily leaders. Rather, those placed into managerial roles should possess leadership skills, behaviors, and knowledge. Employing such a concept could improve officers' connections with their departments and aid in succession planning when promoting future leaders within the agency.

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So, how do officers obtain a police leadership position, and what measures their leadership behaviors and skills? Are the right people placed into these positions, and can these individuals lead larger numbers of officers in the future? For the past few decades, some police research has dealt with such topics as leadership styles of those in positions of authority. Other studies have focused on leadership as it pertains to gaining organizational commitment. Little research, however, has examined the promotional process and how it can impact organizational leadership and commitment. In today's world, a need exists to research and create changes to both the design of these agencies and the process to promote future leaders.

To this end, the author explores the current assessment process used to promote first-line supervisors and discusses leadership education and its availability and applicability to all officers. He draws a connection between desired leadership styles and how a proper assessment process, coupled with leadership education and training of future first-line supervisors, could enhance the abilities of those in positions of authority to lead the officers in their charge.

Examining the Design

When focusing specifically on organizational design, law enforcement agencies are highly structured with well-defined charts that describe the roles that accompany the position titles set forth. In addition, top-down communication exists inside these agencies. Some arguments have highlighted the need for this design because of the severe situations officers encounter and the great amount of liability that accompanies such incidents. These organizations and their design, however, lack some items that officers would like, such as better communication networks, more participation, improved decision making, and enhanced ethical leadership. Through these requests for change, organizational commitment may increase. Research has indicated that "participative role clarification improved organizational commitment." (2) Inside a militaristic-designed organization, the levels of rank in management and their importance often are oversimplified and many times seen as a mere conduit of communication having no real influence on subordinates. Researchers have argued that "obedience socialization and military command supervision across the hierarchal levels appear to distort the nature of police work." (3) Police organizations face a changing environment at a faster than normal pace and should have a structure flexible enough to handle such situations, as well as flowing communication and leadership firmly embedded in the design. In most police structures, ranks descend from chief to deputy chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, and patrol officer. These levels exist more in larger metropolitan or county-level agencies mainly due to the number of officers employed. However, in some states, such as Pennsylvania, department size does not allow for such rank design, making the levels of sergeant and patrol officer more open to leadership situations. …

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