Assessment centers: These vary widely in content but often include such exercises as role-playing, tactical problems, impromptu speaking, written or in-basket tests and a personal speaking presentation by each candidate. The assessors, who are most often law enforcement managers from other agencies, attempt to gather information under standardized conditions about each candidate's abilities to carry out the tasks of a first-line supervisor.
There are, of course, some "generic" preparations the candidate should undertake to get ready for the rigors of an assessment center. Getting really familiar with his selected study material is one of them. Practicing, practicing, and yet more practicing of his oral presentation and impromptu speaking skills is another.
At the same time, each assessment center exercise calls for its own, special preparations.
For the tactical, the candidate can prepare by developing a solid background knowledge of his department's emergency operating procedures and available resources.
For the written or in basket challenge, the well-prepared candidate will watch his spelling and grammar and take care to present his thoughts and observations clearly, succinctly and in a logical fashion.
For the role-playing exercise, a top candidate will meet the designed crisis with patience, tact and self-control. He will display sound decision making, excellent "people skills" and the ability to think on his feet. He will not be overbearingly authoritarian, but neither will he permit the other "players" to gain control of the interaction.
For the oral presentation, in whatever form it presents itself, he will mentally outline what he wants to say, maintain eye contact with his audience, keep an erect yet comfortable body posture and speak clearly at an appropriate, natural volume and pace. His facial expressions, controlled hand gestures and other body language will help communicate that he is enthusiastically working to connect with his audience.
Learning by Experience
The secret to earning that coveted promotion is learning by experience. The fact is that most officers do not gain the top slot on the promotional list their first time out. The smart ones make the effort to find out where they fell a little short and what they could do better the next time.
The really sharp promotional candidates keep asking questions after the process has ended. Where possible, they interview those who supervised the testing. What did they think the candidate did well? How about the oral presentation, if there was one? Where were the perceived weaknesses? What recommendations would they make for an improved performance the next time?
The serious candidate for promotion will have given a great deal of careful thought to the pending career milestone before he elects to take the plunge.
He will have conducted an honest self assessment and determined that he's making the right choice for the right reasons.
He will have looked carefully at what his agency expects of its first-line supervisors and reached the determination that he is both willing and able to measure up.
He will have examined his former peers who have preceded him into supervisory ranks and concluded that he would fit in well as a contributing member of the work group.
Having decided to compete for promotion, the in-earnest candidate will accept as a given that even his best friends on the department will not treat him exactly the same as they did before he donned the sergeant's chevrons. Likewise he will acknowledge the changed outlook, the need to see the bigger picture, the mandate not to engage in mindless criticism of the agency and its leaders that will be expected of the first-line supervisor.
He will remain mindful, too, of the absolute requirement that he always lead by example and serve as an excellent role model for his subordinates.
Assuming that he is willing to meet these tough expectations, the prospective police leader will throw himself 100 percent into the effort to prepare himself for the promotional competition in whatever forms it may present itself.
The leap from line officer to first-line supervisor generally represents the single, most radical change in a law enforcement officer's career. By making sure that he is ready to meet the challenge, he will have answered in the affirmative that he (or she) is indeed, ready for promotion .
Capt. Gerald W Gamel; a 28-year veteran of policing, is a captain with the Lakewood (Colo.) Police Department. A member of the Advisory Board for POLICE, Garner holds a master's degree lit Administration of Justice and writes and lectures widely on law enforcement topics, including officer safety, management and police-media relations. His book, Common Sense Police Supervision (Charles C. Thomas, 1995) includes a discussion on promotion.