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Are you ready for the active supervision challenge?

To be an effective supervisor requires a different set of skills than being a police officer – here’s how to attain those skills

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Hello there, I’m Coach Paul, and I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you supervise people, I want to challenge you in 2021 to improve your active supervision skills.

Active supervision is the continual and consistent enforcement of the rules of your organization. Over the year, I’m going to share with you the 10 skills of active supervision, help you create a plan for developing each of those skills, and discuss a few special considerations that may apply to your situation.

Active supervision principles

Let’s start with the 10 skills of active supervision. An active supervisor is a person who continually and consistently enforces the rules of their organization. This is not necessarily what most people think the job of a supervisor is when they go for promotion. Most line-level employees believe that getting promoted means more money, more authority and possibly less work.

While the first two of those, money and authority, do often come with promotions, effective supervisors will tell you that they put in more, not less, work than they did when they were line-level employees. Part of the reason for more work is the increase in the responsibilities that come with the job. Employees are responsible for themselves. Supervisors are responsible for themselves and their followers. The second reason for the increased workload is the amount of time it takes to learn how to supervise well.

Most law enforcement professionals are comfortable with the idea that becoming a good law enforcement officer or professional staff member (formerly known as a non-sworn employee) takes training. They happily go through academies and attend classes to learn and improve their technical and tactical skills. Yet most of those same people are surprised when people like me tell them that effective supervision requires a different set of skills than being a police officer, dispatcher, records technician, or crime scene investigator. Yet the fact remains that when you put on those stripes or other supervisory insignia, your agency expects different things from you than they did before. Those new expectations include you becoming proficient in these 10 active supervision skills:

  1. Performance management
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Problem-solving
  4. Communication
  5. Courage
  6. Training
  7. Innovation
  8. Inspiration
  9. Time management
  10. Scheduling

Call to action

I’m going to leave these 10 skills undefined for now. In this article, I just want to expose you to the concept that active supervision has its own set of skills. I want you to start thinking of your job as a supervisor as being very different from your job as a line-level employee. And even though I haven’t defined these skills for you yet, I want you to give yourself a rating for each one as you currently understand it. Give yourself a + (plus sign) if you believe that you are good at the skill, a √ (checkmark) if you believe that you are ok at the skill, or a – (minus sign) if you believe that you need to work on the skill.

Download a copy of the 10 active supervision skills to chart your progress.

As we progress through this year, we will focus on one skill per month. I’m going to define the skill for you, describe what it looks like in real life, and give you some activities you can practice to improve that skill. If you follow along and put in the effort, by the end of the year, you will have successfully completed the active supervision challenge, and your followers, organization and community members will benefit greatly from this.

Special considerations

As an added bonus, each month I will share how to apply active supervision skills in these three situations:

  • The working supervisor who splits their time between supervising and performing line-level duties;
  • The small-town supervisor who supervises a small group of paid and volunteer followers who are spread out over vast geographical distances;
  • The minority supervisor who supervises a group of followers who differ from you in regard to race, gender, ethnicity, age, or other visible characteristics.


I hope you are as excited about this year’s active supervision challenge as I am. Without a doubt, one of the most critical jobs in any organization is the front-line supervisor. You are the person with who line-level followers see and interact with on a regular basis. You set the tone for your unit to follow. I appreciate the hard job you have to do and look forward to helping you learn ways to do it better. Thanks again for taking the time to read this article. I’m Coach Paul, and I’m looking forward to communicating with you again next month. Keep your eyes, mind and heart open out there.

NEXT: Active supervision challenge: Managing performance

Want a list of the 10 active supervision skills to chart your progress? Fill out the form below to print out a chart.

Coach Paul Conor, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and management consultant who has been working with law enforcement leaders for more than 20 years. He is a former US Marine infantry officer, who led Marines in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Coach Paul is an award-winning author, California state-certified Team Building Workshop facilitator and former university professor. He is also a reserve lieutenant with the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department.