How to survive your first 100 days as a sergeant

This is a live performance and you are in a “starring” role – here are some tips for success


After months of studying policies and procedures until your eyes cross, you finally get through the interview or assessment center. The proud day arrives, and you are sworn in as a new sergeant!

In many aspects, being a sergeant is both the hardest and the best job in the department. The initial shift from a patrol officer to a sergeant demands a reorientation of your perspective. As an officer, your role is largely responding to calls for service, enforcing laws, dealing with the public and monitoring crime trends. You are responsible only for your own “beat.” You are largely independent and have a great degree of discretion in how you do your job.

Once you are a sergeant, your view changes from an individual view to a broader perspective of what the entire unit is doing at any given time. Your responsibility is greater as you are now directing the efforts of others. You are also the buffer between management and your officers.

In many aspects, being a sergeant is both the hardest and the best job on the department.
In many aspects, being a sergeant is both the hardest and the best job on the department.

However, you are also free to “create” the direction you think the unit should go. You are now the mentor and coach to your officers. You are able to help them reach their goals and know you had a part in their successes. You are the driving force for the quality and effectiveness of the unit and are able to demonstrate your leadership skills every day. You are the team builder and the force that binds the unit together. In effect, you are creating the unit’s personality. Many command-level officers look back fondly at their time as sergeants.

The following are ideas to help prepare new sergeants for their first 100 days. All of these points, in one fashion or another, should be implemented throughout the first 100 days and beyond. Download an infographic of these tips to keep as a reminder or share with the new sergeant in your department.

THE FIRST 30 DAYS

Meet with your lieutenant: This is the first step in establishing your working relationship and what the lieutenant’s expectations are of you.

Your first day! You are finally meeting your new unit for the first time. Suddenly, you realize that all the texts on leadership and supervision and all the policies and procedures you have read, are not going to help you get through this first meeting. Now it is a “live” performance, and you are in the starring role. They are all looking at you and trying to size you up. First impressions are lasting! Are you projecting confidence? Do you have command presence?

Set the tone: This is where you establish your credibility. Clarify your expectations and let your officers know you hold them accountable for their actions. These are two very important steps in establishing yourself as their supervisor. You also need to demonstrate that you genuinely care about them. You have to earn their respect, starting with day one. To them, you are the role model of professionalism and competency that they will see every day.

Paradigm shift: Being a good sergeant isn’t all about exciting radio calls and high-speed pursuits. Your perspective will change, from your own view as yourself being a “super cop,” to realizing your officers are the “super cops.” You can be the “super sergeant!”

Administrative role: You’ll be bombarded with memos, updates and training issues, as well as daily inquiries or issues that have to be resolved. Be ready for it.

Set your goals and objectives: Supervisory skills are learned behaviors. Much of your first 100 days will be just that; learning new behaviors that will help you become a better supervisor. For example, one of your goals could include reviewing recent evaluations on your officers, as well as positive or negative behavior during these first 30 days.

Officer safety: Stress the importance of officer safety, which is always the top priority. Observe officer tactics in responding to calls. Sadly, at the time of this writing, 21 officers have been killed this year in car crashes and pursuits; 42 were killed by gunfire. Nearly 150 officers have died from COVID-19! The safety of your officers is always your priority.

Communication: Communicate and clarify your goals and objectives to your officers. Listen to your officers. Keep the lieutenant apprised of your actions that may affect the agency. Document, document and then document!

Guardian at the gate: Your priority is to do what is best for the organization and your unit. Your perspective will change to a broader view of the department, and what your role is. It is this: You are now the “guardian at the gate” and are there to protect the organization, as well as the people you are supervising.

Getting to know your officers: Once you have a few weeks under your belt, and have informally talked to each of the officers, you’ll have a better appreciation for their level of experiences and skills. Consider reviewing your officers’ recent evaluations. Be aware of “cliques” though. They can be divisive and thwart your best efforts to supervise.  

Managing meetings: One of the first roles you have is of a meeting manager. Briefings or “musters” are meetings. As an officer, all you had to do was sit in the briefing and listen to the sergeant's direction. You may not have realized the skill set in managing any type of meeting. They require an agenda, creating assignments, schedules, rosters and are on a limited time constraint. A good sergeant sets the direction, the goals, and clarifies the mission of the unit virtually every day in a squad briefing. It is a skill that must be mastered as a good supervisor.

Decision-making: From the first day as a new sergeant, you’ll start making decisions that will affect your unit and the department. Be decisive, given the information you have, as you don’t want to appear “indecisive.” If you do not have the answer, it is OK to say so, and look up the answer. Say, “Let me get back to you on that.”

Problem solver: You have to be able to plan and schedule your time as much as possible, and not just react to the “newest” problem. Set priorities, deadlines and follow up. Be willing to seek advice, consider alternatives, and refer to the department’s policies and procedures. Learn to delegate issues to others. In some cases, you may turn the situation around and use it as a learning experience to help develop your subordinates’ skills.

Be flexible. Be ready to adapt to myriad issues. The sheer totality of what you will be exposed to can be overwhelming.

Stay in the role! You must stay in the role of supervisor under any circumstances. You are a “role model” for your officers (or at least should be) and have to exhibit a demeanor that lets them know you are in command and are looking out for them. In their eyes, you are to be an embodiment of the department’s mission and value statement and the code of conduct.

The Second 30 Days

Relationships: Beware of the pitfalls of becoming too close to your officers. This can include what you say or do. You may say things in a humorous fashion, but it may be viewed by your subordinates as disloyal to your lieutenant, or the organization’s leadership. Even body language can be perceived as disrespectful of the administration. You can be too “familiar” with some officers, which can lead to the perception of favoritism. Today, with COVID-19, we talk about “social distancing.” That is a good practice for effective leadership also.

Be a loyal subordinate: Learning to be a good subordinate is important. Your job includes being the best “subordinate” your lieutenant has ever had. The word “loyalty” never shows up on a promotional exam or job description but it is a crucial component of being a successful leader. Being demeaning or saying derogatory comments to your officers about your lieutenant is a sure way to cut your leadership career short.

Motivating others: When is the last time your supervisor said, “Where do you want to be in five years, and how can I help you get there?” This may come as a shock: Not all officers have the same motivation, energy and drive that you do.

Creating a team culture: By this time, you may have had the opportunity to meet with each of your officers. You have a squad, but do you have a team? Work on your team-building skills. Research and apply team-building techniques that can build cohesiveness. This can be useful throughout your tenure with the unit.

Administrative role: This will include writing official letters, memos, assignments, contingency plans, budget requests, after-action reports, personnel evaluations, recommendations for either discipline or awards, and more. You will learn there is a whole other dimension to leadership – one that involves a pen and a keyboard.

Forms and processes: Also, your agency has different forms and formats for various issues. Do some research and put together samples of the forms. Counseling, discipline, injuries, use of force, internal affairs, grievances and sexual harassment are just a sample of the types of forms you will become familiar with.

THE THIRD 30 DAYS

Learn to delegate: Consider delegating tasks to officers who have expressed a desire to climb the leadership ladder. Giving them an opportunity to get involved in an assignment is an investment not only in their future but to the agency itself. Follow up is an important part of delegation. However, a note about delegation, you can give someone the authority to take on a particular task, but you are still ultimately responsible for the end product.

Politics: You most likely will never see the word “politics” on your job description, but it is a factor that can affect your performance and your unit. The higher you go in the organization, the more you’ll realize that the job is about building solid relationships and negotiating the politics inherent in any organization.

Managing the bureaucracy maze: Bureaucracy includes the people, processes and resources that can help you accomplish your goals. Navigating through it successfully can ensure your unit is allocated the resources it needs.

Personnel: Familiarize yourself with your officers, their personalities and goals. Should you have to initiate disciplinary action, you will find it is one thing to study for the sergeant test vs. having to counsel or discipline others face-to-face. Documenting disciplinary actions, and making recommendations, commendations and evaluations are also part of your administrative tasks.

Planning: Planning an event, a project, scheduling people and or resources, are an integral part of a sergeant’s duties. Consider reviewing plans for past events and any after-action reports.

Write a training lesson: When required, research the need for the training, and how to conduct the training and evaluate the results of the training.

Write a proposal: For either tactical, procedural, policies, budgets, personnel and equipment.

Using statistics: You will most likely be responsible for writing monthly activity reports. This can include using statistical data, such as the activity of your officers, (citations, arrests, etc.) crime analysis, calls for service, response times and time spent on calls. These can be used to evaluate unit effectiveness and efficiency.

Directing tactical situations: The “directing” component cannot be underestimated. It is your job to deploy personnel as safely as possible, to direct their actions and to assess the need for additional personnel or resources.

Incident command: Be prepared to be the OIC (officer in charge) of a tactical situation or event that requires an incident commander. Be able to initiate and use the Incident Command System.

Community relations: You may find yourself in an area you are not familiar with. If possible, discuss this with the prior supervisors. Your officers are your best resource, as they should know the local “politics” and issues that are of concern to the community. Try to identify and meet with local community leaders. As a new sergeant, you must become familiar with the community dynamics and who the players are. Being aware of the relationship that the officers have had with the community can make difference in your ability to manage the area successfully.

Last 10 Days

Reassess the last 90 days! How are you able to measure success? What lessons did you learn? What did you learn that surprised you?

Then:

  • Make your plans for the next six months and year.
  • Consider a 360-degree evaluation of your performance.
  • Set up a time to meet with your lieutenant to go over areas of improvement and reinforce your strengths.
  • Reward your officers for a job well done (if warranted).
  • Continue to strengthen your team-building efforts.
  • Reward yourself for your accomplishments during these first 100 days.

Next: Why police sergeants are an agency's MVP

Infographic: Plan for your first 100 days

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