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4 ways to foster professional development in a small agency

Here are four strategies to foster the professional development of your officers even when you cannot offer them a promotion


There are many individuals who possess the innate ability to lead regardless of their position within the organization.


This article originally appeared in the October 11, 2018, PoliceOne Leadership Briefing. To read the full briefing, visit Collaborative policing | Small agency leadership | Strengthen homicide investigations, and add the Leadership Briefing to your subscriptions.

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding leadership in law enforcement is that leaders must possess a title; however, this is not the case.

Throughout my law enforcement career, I have witnessed many individuals who possess the innate ability to lead regardless of their position within the organization. These individuals are the ones their shift mates reach out to for advice before contacting a supervisor. These individuals can often be found providing new innovative strategies and techniques via the chain of command to help better their organization. These individuals tend to have the belief that their organization comes before self. Their demeanor reflects these beliefs, which appeals to their peers and sets them apart as natural-born leaders.

In a large agency, these individuals typically rise through the ranks. But what is a smaller law enforcement entity to do with individuals such as these when opportunities for advancement are limited?

Here are four strategies to foster the growth of these leaders and contribute to their professional development even when you cannot offer them a title.

1. Listen

Rising leaders want their ideas to be heard, they want to feel vested in the organization that they serve. You would be surprised how taking a few minutes out of your day to listen to the ideas that these individuals have to offer will go a long way in boosting their morale.

2. Empower

While you may not be able to offer these individuals a formal title, you can provide them with opportunities to take on an active role within your agency that will not only help your agency progress, but it will also let these future leaders know that you value them and that you entrust them to take on additional responsibilities. Certify them as field training officers, allow them to assist with grant funding projects, task them with developing a crime stoppers program, or assign them to organize a community event such as National Night Out.

3. Mentor

Take these leaders under your guidance and provide them with mentorship that will assist them in furthering their law enforcement career. The ultimate compliment to a leader is to have contributed to the success of a mentee and watch them succeed in their careers.

4. Praise

Do not hesitate to let these individuals know that they are valued. It is easy to put out someone’s fire by ignoring this key factor; however, it is nearly impossible to re-ignite someone’s fire to lead in their agency once it is gone.

Dr. Jonathan B. Flores is a law enforcement and city government professional with over 22 years of service. He serves as the Assistant City Manager and Chief of Police for the City of Alton, Texas.

Dr. Flores is a 2023 National Law Enforcement Hall of Fame Inductee and has received international, national and state-level recognition for his leadership.

He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Trevecca Nazarene University in 2021, his Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2018, and his Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Phoenix in 2017.