5 ways to prepare for the role of lieutenant

Simply being a first line supervisor may not adequately prepare you for the role of lieutenant – here's how you can prepare for the duties of middle management


So you want to become a lieutenant. Whether you are a newly promoted sergeant or have years of seasoning, you can prepare yourself for your next role and be better equipped for the transition. Putting a plan together and actively pursuing opportunities to improve your skill sets will put you leaps and bounds over the rest. 

Sergeants are first-line supervisors. They are the workhorses of the supervisory staff and take care of a majority of the day-to-day operations. Sergeants supervise officers and ensure that calls are handled, reports are written, and arrests are made. 

Lieutenants take on the role of manager. They must think broadly about the entire organization and its impact on the community. Their concerns include policy and procedure development and distribution, civil liabilities, public perception, strategic planning, and staffing. With these differences in mind, you can begin shifting the way you view police operations. Start thinking like a lieutenant by imagining yourself in those shoes. Getting the proper perspective is a great start in preparation. 

At a minimum, a Bachelor’s degree. Better yet, move to the head of the pack by obtaining a Master’s degree.
At a minimum, a Bachelor’s degree. Better yet, move to the head of the pack by obtaining a Master’s degree. (Getty Images)

Strategies for preparation

Without a doubt, those who prepare themselves for promotion will be more likely to win the race. Promotions don’t just happen, you must work for them. Here are five ways to get started:

1. Get educated.

The debate is ongoing as to whether a formal degree should be necessary for police work. Don’t sideline yourself by siding with the naysayers. The fact is, and always will be, a degree for upper levels of management is a necessity. Not only does it show that you have the cognitive abilities to perform the job, but it also provides you with critical thinking skills and writing abilities that others may not have. 
So what level of education should you achieve? At a minimum, a Bachelor’s degree. Better yet, move to the head of the pack by obtaining a Master’s degree. Degrees in business, public administration, criminal justice and management will all serve you well in the position you seek. 

Work towards getting specific training that will prepare you for the position, such as attending training on leadership, budget management, strategic planning, and police management. 

2. Make your career goals known.

Don’t assume you will stand out as a top candidate for a promotion. In larger departments, there will be many others who are also viable candidates. You need to let those who can have an impact or input on your promotion know what your career goals are and what you are doing to prepare yourself. Key persons may include supervisors and administration. Ask them for pointers and suggestions that may guide you in your efforts. Not only will your name pop up in their mind when promotions are discussed, but these key persons will also know that you are working hard to earn the promotion through merit. 

3. Attend key meetings.

City council meetings, community meetings, diversity meetings, and city or county planning meetings are all examples of gatherings you should attend for two purposes. First, you will begin to see a bigger picture of what matters to the community you serve which broadens your thinking beyond fighting crime. The further up you go in your organization, the less you will be dealing directly with crime and criminals. Second, you will become well known to influential people inside and outside of your organization. Networking in this way will become vital to your career success. 

4. Seek the right positions.

Some positions are better than others to prepare you for a middle management role. While being on SWAT may be thrilling, it does little to prepare you for the administrative responsibilities that you will face. Choose positions that allow you to work with upper management and see the inner workings of the police department. Key positions include internal affairs, planning, research, and budgeting. Within reason, obtain as many positions as possible so you have a broad knowledge of all aspects of the department. Specializing in any one position should not be your goal. 

5. Prepare for the promotional process.

You’ve worked hard for many years to get to this point so don’t blow it by not preparing. Most departments have one or all of the following: internal boards, assessment centers, and written exams. The first step in preparing is to find out what each step consists of and the weight (percentage points) given to each. Keep in mind that there is oftentimes very little difference in the scores of the participants in boards and assessment centers, so it may be that you throw a tremendous amount of energy into the written exam to pull away from the pack. 

You can prepare for internal boards by knowing departmental policies, memorizing your department’s mission statement, and perusing the strategic and operations plans. Know your department’s operational budget and staffing levels, and find out what the direction of the department is that may not be listed in formal plans. 

You can prepare for generalized questions by searching online for ‘police lieutenant promotion interview questions’ or something similar. You will get a plethora of possible questions that you can be prepared to answer. Write down possible questions and the answer. Even if those exact questions are not asked, you will be prepared to answer questions that require you to dig deep into your memory or do on-the-spot strategies. Don’t miss this aspect of preparation. Most participants will not prepare to this degree, so you will shine in the interview. Don’t wait till the last minute to start preparing. The sooner you begin the more ready you will be. 

Never stop preparing 

If your goal is to progress in your chosen career, then you owe it to yourself to put time and energy into making that happen. Just as cream rises to the top, well-prepared, professional sergeants rise to the top and are easy to spot. Look professional, speak professionally, and act professionally at all times and remember to prepare, prepare, prepare.

This article, originally published in November 2015, has been updated.

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