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Anyone can be a supervisor; or can they?

I was talking to a young officer the other day and he told me that in his eyes anyone can be a sergeant. Oh really young lad, is that true? What the average officer sees is far from reality and far from being the cool job you think it is. So, do you have what it takes to be a supervisor of any rank? 

Descriptions tell a tale

Rarely do those who put in for a promotion or position (detective, traffic, FTO, instructor) ever read the job description. I recommend to all departments that when you have a promotional or application for transfer process, include a copy of the full job description in the packet with signed affirmation that the applicant has read and understands the job description. This will prevent the ‘nobody told me’ explanation for their failure or other up evils from misguided promotion seekers.

Additionally, if you are the chief or member of the promotional dais there is a final question that must be propounded to the starry-eyed applicant. “Do you fully understand the position for which you are applying?” Then if they answer in the affirmative the final question is “do you really want this job?” Before you laugh at this, I have had applicants that have withdrawn from a process. One told me later that he was afraid at that time of the promotion and was relieved that he could gracefully withdraw. Follow-up on this lad is that he has since then taken the promotion on the next round and is excelling at the job.

I have often wondered do applicants fully understand that which they seek. Therefore, I recommend that you give them every chance to review and internally motivate themselves, in other words to see if they have the desire to drive on.

Looks are deceiving

I recall once watching my sergeants at roll call. They came into headquarters; a coffee in hand, promptly went into the sergeant’s office. Mumbled about and came out and conducted roll call. You’d see them later gathering up reports, riding a call or so, and at the end of the shift packing up the paperwork. Now how hard is this stuff I thought? Not until I made sergeant did I fully know or for that matter appreciate all that they did away from patrol officer’s eyes. The countless stacks of then paperwork, hey wait a minute we are now paperless with all the workstations now right? Their endless meetings, the comp-stat reports due in, the time sheets for the payroll, the work schedules and the forever thankless citizens’ phone calls and did I miss anything? 

I am not even going to weigh-in on the other jobs that officers apply for during a career. They all look easy from a distance but once you in the rodeo it is all together different.  So how can we offer a glimpse into what our officers are applying for? There are some departments that have ‘acting supervisors’ when the corporal/sergeant is away on a day off. These often dissuade some and offer the carrot to others.

Truism to promotional success

I had a young officer ask me, what he could do to prepare himself for promotion. Having this question asked many times, there are some truisms here to remind all of the future applicants for promotion.

Take the Test- I have heard many say that this time they will not get promoted so why bother? You should take the assessment process now for there is no stress on you. Take it for the learning experience alone. Get chewed up, spit out and learn! Look at the ratings sheet that you receive and focus in on the traits that you need to work on. Do it now, for when ‘your time comes’ you will be prepared and not have the assessment center jitters.

Resume Ready- Most departments will require some form of a professional resume. I have said in this column before you should have one ready at all times. However you can tell when promotion time comes around. Most are looking up how to write a resume and looking for their training files. You should have this done now! Sit down and prepare one and keep a working file to validate all that is in it. If you state you have a degree, reach in the file and pull out a diploma. This will save you time and having it sharpened now will prevent a shoddy one later.

Take Challenges – My mentor chief Dave Gellatly used to use the phrase of “this is a mandatory opportunity to excel”, which translates to you are getting ready to take a professional challenge head-on. Often these were assignments that groomed you for the next station in life. You were no longer in a comfort zone and you were forced to work harder and smarter to reach the goals. If you have an opportunity to test your mettle and make your resume shine, do it. Staying in your comfort zone is like never lifting a heavier weight, you will never grow. Look around for challenges on and off the job to test your knowledge, skills and abilities, these will pay-off when you least expect it.

Read- See what the chief is reading or what he or she holds as philosophy. You can read and it can never hurt you. I want you reading off the promotional reading list. Learning how to think like a supervisor or whatever is beneficial to you.

Training/College- If you do not have a degree or have not yet completed your degree, do so. Even if it is not required, having a degree is something that nobody can ever take away from you. You earned the letters. Police training is another thing all together. If you are seeking promotion try to take the best training programs that are slated for the supervisor. These may not be available to you due to rank, but keep trying to get in.

Field Training Officer/ Instructor – If you are a field training officer (FTO) this is an immediate bonus! The FTO is a one-on-one supervisor which to me is the most difficult of all. Here you are exhibiting that you can make decisions over others’ performance and direction. A police instructor is another great launching pad to promotion. More than anything else, it gives you experience in public speaking. Most police officers fear public speaking more than fighting off a platoon of zombies. Most assessment centers have a podium speaking element. Take the FTO or instructor challenge. It is a resume highlight and pays off big dividends.

Decide and go forth- You and you alone must look into the mirror and ask you the question. ‘Do you have what it takes?” There are some officers I know who have spent their career as a patrol officer, were true professionals and loved every minute of it. Could they have made more as a three striper, yes but did not want the aggravation. On the other hand there are those you who want the big challenge, nothing wrong here just go about it correctly. First and foremost, build on your knowledge, skills and abilities to prepare you to take the challenges. It is not a beauty contest for if it was I do not think I would have gotten out of the gate. Prepare to take the assessment but proper preparation will position you to success. 


About The Author:

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a native Virginian. He served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC). Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department. He served in field operations, investigations and support services, and completed his career there as the director of training. He has published several articles in professional periodicals and has lectured nationwide. He is serving as a chief of police in central Pennsylvania area; a duty he’s performed for the past nine years. He is on the advisory board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and other professional associations.