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Leadership development series: Understanding why police leaders succeed

By examining the qualities, strategies and approaches that contribute to success, we gain insights into effective leadership practices in law enforcement


While police leadership failures garner significant attention and provide many learning lessons, it is equally important to understand the factors that contribute to police chief success.

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Police leaders play a vital role in maintaining law and order, promoting community safety, and fostering trust between law enforcement agencies and the public they serve. While police leadership failures garner significant attention and provide many learning lessons, it is equally important to understand the factors that contribute to police chief success.

This article explores the key skills that enable police leaders to thrive in their roles, driving positive change within their organizations and communities. By examining the qualities, strategies and approaches that contribute to their success, we gain insights into effective leadership practices in law enforcement.

Visionary leadership and strategic planning

Successful police leaders demonstrate a clear vision for their organizations and develop strategic plans to achieve their goals. They envision a future where their agencies are proactive in addressing emerging challenges, building strong community relationships and promoting innovation. By communicating their vision effectively, leaders inspire their teams and align their efforts toward shared objectives.

They prioritize strategic planning, identifying priorities, allocating resources and implementing evidence-based practices to improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. With a strong strategic framework, police leaders can navigate complex issues, adapt to changing environments and make informed decisions that enhance public safety.

Effective communication and relationship building

Strong communication skills are essential for police leadership success. These skills foster open and transparent communication channels within organizations, ensuring that vital information flows efficiently from top to bottom and vice versa.

By actively listening to the concerns and perspectives of their officers, community members and stakeholders, leaders build trust and create an environment that encourages collaboration. They prioritize effective communication not only within their agencies but also with the public, proactively engaging in community outreach programs, forming partnerships with local organizations, and ensuring that community needs are addressed.

Through effective communication and relationship building, police leaders gain invaluable insights, establish trust and bridge the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Simply put, policing is about relationships.

Emphasis on professional development

Successful police leaders recognize the importance of continuous learning and professional development. They invest in their own growth and that of their officers, providing access to relevant training opportunities, workshops and conferences.

By staying updated on best practices, emerging technologies and evolving legal frameworks, leaders ensure their agencies remain at the forefront of policing. They encourage their officers to pursue higher education, obtain specialized certifications and develop new skills that align with the changing needs of their communities. Successful leaders then empower people to apply the ideas presented in training by being an example and through direct mentorship.

Furthermore, successful police leaders create a culture that values personal and professional growth, fostering a sense of pride and commitment among their teams.

Ethical leadership and accountability

Ethical leadership is a cornerstone of success for police leaders. They lead by example, modeling integrity, fairness and respect in their interactions with officers and the community. They prioritize transparency, ensuring that policies and decisions are made with integrity and are aligned with the values of their organization.

Successful leaders establish robust accountability mechanisms, holding themselves and their officers responsible for their actions. They address misconduct promptly, impartially and transparently, reinforcing trust and maintaining the credibility of their agencies. By upholding the highest ethical standards, police leaders inspire confidence and foster a positive organizational culture.

Successful police leadership in action

The implementation of the concept above manifests in the following manner.

Consider the story of a chief, a police leader in a city grappling with high crime rates and strained community relations. Upon assuming leadership, the chief recognizes the urgent need to rebuild trust and improve public safety. Instead of adopting a traditional, reactive approach to policing, the chief builds a command staff team through mentorship, coaching and training, and implements a community-oriented policing model. The chief personally engages with community leaders, listens to the concerns of residents, and collaborates with local organizations to address the root causes of crime. Through these strategic efforts, crime rates decrease, community members begin to actively participate in crime prevention initiatives, and trust between the police force and the community is restored. This chief’s story exemplifies how effective police leadership can transform not only the safety of a city but also the perception of law enforcement in the eyes of its residents.

Police leaders who succeed in their roles exhibit visionary leadership, effective communication, a commitment to professional development and a strong ethical foundation. By embodying these qualities and implementing sound strategies, they create positive change within their organizations and establish meaningful connections with the communities they serve.

Police agencies must prioritize leadership development programs, promote effective communication practices, invest in professional growth opportunities, and emphasize ethics and accountability. By doing so, law enforcement organizations can cultivate a new generation of successful leaders who drive innovation, build trust, and ensure the safety and well-being of their communities.

Discussion points

By asking ourselves some hard questions, we can evaluate where we are in our leadership journey now and help develop a plan to evolve our organizations, personnel and ourselves.

  • Leadership accountability: The importance of holding police leaders accountable for their actions cannot be overstated. Discuss the role of internal affairs systems, external oversight mechanisms, and transparency in promoting accountability within law enforcement agencies. How can effective accountability measures contribute to the success of police leaders? How does “enough” accountability appear?
  • Community engagement and trust-building: Explore strategies employed by successful police leaders to engage with communities and build trust. Discuss the significance of community-oriented policing, establishing strong relationships with community leaders, and implementing proactive outreach programs. How can these efforts contribute to crime reduction and improved public safety?
  • Leadership development programs: Highlight the need for comprehensive leadership training and professional development opportunities for police leaders. Discuss the importance of incorporating leadership skills, ethics, conflict resolution and communication training into law enforcement training curricula. How can investment in leadership development programs enhance the effectiveness of police leaders? Who are the potential leaders of tomorrow in your agency?
  • Diversity and inclusion in leadership: Examine the benefits of promoting diversity and inclusion within police leadership ranks. Discuss the impact of diverse perspectives and experiences in decision-making, community relations, and overall organizational effectiveness. What strategies can be implemented to increase diversity and inclusion in law enforcement leadership roles?
  • Collaboration and partnerships: Successful police leaders often foster collaboration and build partnerships with community organizations, advocacy groups, and other government agencies. Discuss the advantages of collaborative approaches in addressing complex social issues and improving public safety outcomes. How can police leaders effectively engage with external stakeholders to create meaningful partnerships?
  • Innovation and technology: Explore the role of innovation and technology in supporting successful police leadership. Discuss the importance of staying updated with emerging technologies, data-driven decision-making, utilizing artificial intelligence within your agency and leveraging advancements to enhance operational efficiency and effectiveness. How can police leaders foster a culture of innovation within their organizations?

Click here to access the entire Leadership Development Series.

James Beyer is a deputy chief with the Irving (Texas) Police Department, currently assigned over field operations. He has 18 years of experience and has trained first-line supervisors from several agencies inside the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex for several years. Prior to law enforcement, he was a chiropractor.