So, You Want to Be a Supervisor?

Here are 30 suggestions you can adopt so you’ll be a more effective manager in campus law enforcement and security.

So, You Want to Be a Supervisor?

Who wouldn’t want to be a supervisor? There is more money and the additional prestige that comes with higher rank. More satisfying, perhaps, is the opportunity to have a positive effect on your campus and your department. You will assume greater responsibility, impart your knowledge to junior officers, improve their morale and job satisfaction, and have a forum to share your expertise and ideas with senior officers.

But, beware. The supervision coin has a dark side. First, you are no longer one of the troops. You are now a “company” man or woman. You are no longer responsible only for yourself. Now, you are responsible for what others do or don’t do. And, when your people screw up, you share responsibility, to include a write-up and even legal liability.

Further, you’ll face the unpleasant task of reprimanding and even punishing a former colleague you considered a friend. If this isn’t enough to dissuade all but the most lion-hearted, you will have to make a daily ascent up a mountain of paperwork. It was fun working the street, being on the front line of “protect and serve,” which included making traffic stops, arresting bad guys and serving warrants with your fellow officers. Now, you must abandon that for training records, evidence logs, personnel matters and every manner of documentation.

But wait, there’s more! In his book Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm identified some downsides of increased freedom (i.e., control over one’s environment). In the world of law enforcement or any endeavor of command, the responsibilities that accompany greater authority create uncertainty and stress.

Why would anyone ever want to become a supervisor in light of these negatives? Surely, the slightly larger paycheck doesn’t adequately compensate the irregular schedule, the aggravation, and the separation from the fun things that initially drew you to law enforcement.

The acceptance of the responsibilities of supervision must be based on four commitments:

  1. To your own excellence
  2. To your department
  3. To your officers
  4. To making a difference on a larger scale than can be made by a single officer.

So, what should you do and what shouldn’t you do to increase the chances of success as a supervisor? From the outset, you must understand that there is more to supervision than simply managing personnel. You must also become a leader who develops people and who imparts in them a passion for this exciting profession.

Success as a supervisor depends on your ability to achieve three goals: your own development and self-discipline, positive and productive relationships with your subordinates, and successful integration within your agency’s overall structure.

Here are some rules to help you succeed in each of these areas.

Self-Development and Discipline

  1. Continuously seek self-improvement. Your officers will have greater respect for you and follow your directions if they think you know what you’re doing. Learn your institution’s administrative procedures. You will become involved in things you never had to do as a “slick-sleeved” officer; things like video policies, grievance adjudication, threat assessment teams and public speaking.
  2. Become tactically proficient. You want officers to follow you because they have confidence in your decisions and abilities to keep them safe; not because they want you in front as a bullet-soaking shield.
  3. Set an example and lead by it. What you say and do should be one in the same. You must “walk the walk” in addition to “talking the talk.”
  4. Be consistently beyond reproach. If you break the rules (e.g., talk about others, tell inappropriate jokes, use profane language, wear a sloppy uniform, etc.), how can you discipline others for doing these things? Further, your behavior will be the first thing cited in a grievance after you have disciplined someone else for wrongdoing.
  5. Listen! Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said most people do not listen with an intent to understand, they listen with an intent to reply. If you don’t listen to people, you will undermine your ability to address their problems, understand their perspectives, and present yourself as a supervisor who cares. Failure to listen to someone is disrespectful and something that engenders resentment. Ultimately, people who are not listened to stop communicating altogether. And while you’re at it, also pay attention to others’ non-verbal cues (e.g., crossing their arms in a meeting, turning away from you), which may convey more meaning than their words.
  6. Don’t become awed by your seniority. As you acquire more rank, you acquire more responsibility and authority. You have the right to make decisions. However, your ascent also puts you further from the trenches. In a dynamic social environment, things change, so what worked for you five years ago may no longer be effective. Pay attention to new officers in the trenches; they are a source of information and innovation.
  7. It’s imperative to act. When someone tells you something or you see a problem, you may need to take action. As a supervisor, knowing about and failing to address misconduct can create serious issues with discipline and liability. “It’s not the problem that’s the problem; it’s failing to address the problem that gets people into trouble.”
  8. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Officers recognize phonies and will call you out.
  9. Seek responsibility and be responsible for your actions. Your boss is not interested in hearing why you failed. He or she presumably gave you the means to succeed. If you didn’t succeed, accept responsibility and tell your superior what you intend to do to fix it. Your willingness to accept responsibility is key to engendering within your subordinates the willingness to be responsible for their actions.
  10. Learn to communicate. You will spend more time explaining what you do and what you want than actually doing it. Perfect your ability to write pithy and cogent prose, and learn how to speak in front of others. One who cannot express himself or herself clearly and convincingly will go nowhere.
  11. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Unless someone is shooting at you, your problems aren’t so bad. The battles may be vicious but only because the stakes are small. Have fun. (Article continues on next page.)

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