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Tackling the supervisor/subordinate exam

This article deals with the Supervisor/Subordinate – sometimes referred to as the employee conflict – examination

Ed Note: This is the next in a series of articles intended to help you achieve a high score on police promotional examinations and follows several previous pieces on the Assessment Center testing process. You can check those out here.

An “Assessment Center” is a testing process in which candidates for promotion participate in a series of simulations of what they might be called upon to do in the real world. As previously discussed, promotional testing is intended to predict whether (and to what degree) a candidate has the traits to become a successful police supervisor or manager. In an assessment center, candidates are observed and evaluated by subject matter experts while participating in a series of systematic, job-related, real-life situational exercises. Trained evaluators – called assessors – observe candidates, individually and in groups, performing exercises and scenarios that simulate conditions and situations a police supervisor or manager would encounter in their job. The more the exercises reflect performance and behaviors that will be required on the job, the better the ability of the tests to predict later job behavior. It’s this attempt to simulate actual working conditions that separates assessment center testing from the academics of written exams and the subjectivity of oral tests.

My last article provided a practice “in-basket test” along with a methodology to grade it. This article deals with the Supervisor/Subordinate – sometimes referred to as the employee conflict – examination. Remember, in an assessment center, candidates are provided a schedule and move from one testing situation (exercise) to another throughout the day. Typically, candidates are working on their in-basket test and at some point are required to interrupt working on their in-basket to report to another room for a different testing scenario such as the supervisor/subordinate exam.

The Supervisor/Subordinate Examination
When you report to the assigned room, you’ll usually find a desk with a manila envelope on it and two or more assessors seated unobtrusively in the room. In this exercise, you’re given written information placing you in a specific police supervisory or management role. The test creates a scenario in which a subordinate has a problem-for example, a discipline problem, personal concern, or poor work performance – which necessitates your interrelating with the subordinate or others. In this exercise, you must analyze the situation, develop a plan of action, and then interview one or more role players who are waiting outside of the room for you to call them in. The role players are told to react as an actual subordinate would behave under the circumstances outlined in the situation. The role players are not from your department, but are usually in police uniform.

The objective is to simulate a real- life situation that you have to deal with. Since the assessors observe everything you say and do – from your facial expressions and command presence to your voice control and management skills – all the dimensions being tested for are important here.

The following is a practice supervisor/subordinate test. It will not do you much good for me to merely supply you with the test and then give you the correct answers in the same article. In order to improve your test-taking ability you have to actually take the examination. So, find a quiet place, give yourself thirty minutes, and write out exactly what you would do. Specifically, what would you say to Officer Thomas? Some hints are located at the end of the article. Our next article will discuss what you would have had to do and say in order to achieve a high score.

Practice Supervisor/Subordinate Examination


You are responsible for budgeting your time during this examination. You have a total of thirty (30) minutes to complete the entire examination process. At the end of twenty-five minutes (or earlier, should you conclude before the allotted time) the assessors may or may not ask you questions.

Officer Frank Thomas is outside of this room right now waiting for you to call him in. Read the “Background and Facts” and “The Problem” sections of this examination before calling Officer Thomas in. When Officer Thomas arrives, take whatever action as a police sergeant you deem necessary to resolve the situation outlined in the scenario.

“Assessors” will be in the room and observing and grading how you handled the entire supervisor/subordinate examination. You are to handle this situation and take the steps that would be required if you were a Sergeant in the Anywhere Police Department.

You are Sergeant John D’Amico and currently assigned as to the patrol division in the Anywhere Police Department. Officer Frank Thomas works directly under your supervision. Officer Thomas is a 10-year veteran of the department. During the past six months, Officer Thomas’ job performance has significantly deteriorated. He is often late to work, has failed to submit written reports in a timely fashion, and the reports he does complete contain obvious errors and must be redone. Officer Thomas has become argumentative. His appearance has deteriorated. He has lost more than twenty-five pounds in the past six months, has difficulty moving from point to point, and his uniform doesn’t fit properly and is often dirty. He has used five six days in the past two weeks. You suspect he may be a functional alcoholic.

Two weeks ago you had meeting with Officer Thomas to discuss his job performance. Officer Thomas advised you he was having “family problems” and would “shape up.” He also reminded you of his excellent past record and that he “broke you in” when you came on the department.

Officer Frank Thomas is on duty right now. He has a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, was thirty minutes late for work, and is not in uniform. Officer Thomas is outside of this room right now waiting to see you at your request. Call Officer Thomas in and take whatever action you deem necessary as a police sergeant to resolve the situation.

The Assessment Center test dimensions often use to score the supervisor/subordinate exam are: DIMENSIONS FOR THE POSITION OF POLICE SUPERVISOR

1. Technical and Professional Knowledge
Knowledge and understanding of the concepts associated with technical and professional police information. Includes knowledge of federal, state, and local laws; rules and regulations, and procedures of the police department; labor contracts and personnel rules and procedures; investigative principles and procedures; and court decisions that relate to policing.

2. Oral Communication
Clear and effective oral expression of ideas to individuals and groups, includes body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

3. Written Communications
Clear and effective organization and presentation of concepts in writing. Includes style, vocabulary, grammar and format.

4. Meeting Management
Skill in meeting with individuals and groups to accomplish departmental objectives. Includes communication ability, group dynamics, and effective meeting-management techniques.

5. Organizational Integrity
Behavior that indicates active support for the objectives and standards of the police department. Includes willingness to accept and project the policies of the department as your own, ability to put personal feelings aside for the good of the
organization, ability to maintain good media relations, ability to foster interpersonal cooperation, and the ability to maintain confidentiality.

6. Planning and Organizing
Ability to formulate a plan of action for self and others. Skill in determining how to accomplish a job task with finite resources and documentation of appropriate records.

7. Controlling
Inspecting, monitoring, evaluating, and correcting subordinates. Includes establishment of acceptable performance levels, application of corrective techniques, and skill in recognizing and working with an employee who has a personal problem.

8. Environmental Awareness
The gathering and use of information about situations and events inside and outside of the police to identify possible concerns and opportunities. Includes the recognition of potential crisis situations, the recognition of symptoms of good
and bad morale, and the ability to adapt to change.

9. Judgment
Ability to develop a specific, goal oriented course of action based on information and observations. Includes analytical thinking, recognizing and understanding the underlying issues of a problem, problem solving skills, and the ability to make
decisions and accept responsibility under pressure.

10. Professionalism
Specific behaviors, actions, and attitudes which display the highest standards of the police profession. Includes personal appearance, professional demeanor under stress, ability to display confidence, leadership and authority, ability to receive
constructive criticism, and projecting a positive, professional image.

Which of the above test dimensions do you think the supervisor/subordinate examination will test a candidate for? How will you plan for your meeting with Officer Thomas? What communication style will you use? Will you be taking an autocratic or democratic approach? Will you recommend negative discipline or positive discipline? Our next article will discuss the answers to these questions and provide a model response.

Be safe out there!
Larry the Jet

Career expert teaches how to prepare for and excel on police promotion examinations.