Typically, the responsibilities of a firstline supervisor stem from one of four broad categories: personnel policies and procedures, staffing, employee training and development, and employee performance management. Each agency creates a set of tasks from those broad categories that, in turn, become the job description of a supervisor. It seems logical then that if you complete your list of tasks, then you are doing your job. Life would be great if things were really that simple. Unfortunately, just doing your job is not enough. You have to fulfill your role as a supervisor, which encompasses much more.
In order to understand what is meant by job and role, we can refer to their differences in terms of hard and soft skills. Supervisors who don't understand the importance of each focus on the hard skills (job) and glance over soft skills (role). In order to rise to your full potential, you need both.
Supervisory hard skills are those pure management tasks like preparing time sheets, writing performance appraisals, filling staffing requirements, performing vehicle inspections, and making sure policy and procedure are being followed.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are more subjective because they are people oriented and fall more on the leadership side. In other words, soft skills relate to the way you interact with people in order to accomplish goals and objectives; yours and theirs. Examples of soft skills include your abilities with written and oral communication, motivation, problem-solving, how you protect institutional knowledge, and how you bring about teamwork.
There is always a high level of expectation in your role as a supervisor. For example, you are supposed to coach and mentor your subordinates, be an advocate for your agency, and at the same time be an advocate for your subordinates. In order for you to meet these expectations, you have to be willing to put yourself out there in the middle of things. You have to be willing to challenge the status quo. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to do that and many keep a low profile by embracing the safety of mediocrity instead. Many of the ills we see in law enforcement today stem from supervisors ignoring their role and failing to engage.
In order to further understand, let's stop and reflect for a moment. What's been your experience with supervisor roles? Have any of your supervisors mentored you in the past? Is your current supervisor mentoring you now? Has any supervisor helped you achieve any of your career goals and objectives? Has any supervisor ever stood up for you when necessary? Have you ever had a supervisor you enjoyed working with because they set a positive tone and led by example? Do you know of a supervisor who is well respected in the community? If you are shy on answers, somebody should be asking why.
In today's world, there is a tendency for the quick fix. We look for short-term solutions and forget about establishing long-term goals. Law enforcement is no exception. We tend to forget that today's rookies are tomorrow's command staff. We have to improve in this area or we'll suffer the same mediocrity or, in some cases, incompetence.
The only way to have supervisors and a command staff that are worth having is to make sure that as officers rise up through the ranks, they are made to understand the importance of the roles they play in and out of the agency. They have to be given the opportunity to develop both hard and soft skills. We have to put a premium on making a difference by creating a culture of engagement. And one of the best ways to do this is for supervisors to lead the charge.
Supervisors need to become more involved with their agencies and the communities they serve. The only cure for inexperience is experience, so it's extremely helpful for supervisors to get involved with things like serving on agency committees and hiring boards, and in helping evaluate promotional exams. It's also important to volunteer in various in-house programs like Police Explorers, citizen academies, and Crime Watch. And it wouldn't hurt to become an agency or police academy instructor to share your experiences and help your agency grow.
The argument for doing your job is a simple one; do the minimum and you still get paid. The argument for fulfilling your role is more complicated. It's only compelling, however, to those who want to rise above mediocrity, set high standards, and make a difference.
Amaury Murgado retired a senior lieutenant from the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office with over 29 years of experience. He also retired from the Army Reserve as a master sergeant.