As part of my studies I recently came across an article by Robert Katz (Harvard Business Review 1955) who states that effective leadership is dependent on three variables or personal skills. They are - Technical skills; Human skills and Conceptual skills.
Katz defines technical skills as knowledge or proficiency in a specific type of work or activity. Technical skills, according to Katz, are of greater important at lower levels rather than at levels of seniority. Human skill is about having a knowledge of and being able to work with people as opposed to technical skills which is about working with ‘things’. This skill area relates to working with peers, subordinates and superiors in order to accomplish the organisations goals. Leaders with human skills create an atmosphere of trust where employees feel comfortable and feel encouraged to become involved in planning. In other words, Human Skill is the capacity to get along with others as you go about your work.
Finally, conceptual skills, this is described as the ability to work with ideas and concepts. Whereas technical skills deal with ‘things’, human skills deal with ‘people’ conceptual skills deal with ‘concepts and ideas’. Katz explains that conceptual skills are central to creating a vision and strategic plan for an organisation. As opposed to ‘technical skills’ leaders with seniority require greater levels of Human and Conceptual skills, whereas lower level leaders require greater levels of ‘Technical and Human skills’ rather than ‘conceptual skills. It is important for leaders to have all three skills; however, the balance of the skills depends on position within the organisation.
The reason that I found this so interesting is that they are particularly applicable to policing in these days of austerity. There is an increased requirement for creative problem solving to provide solutions to internal as well as external issues. Looking back at my time in charge of the Citizen Focus Dept. of my police force we were stepping into an area that was a bit of an unknown and used many creative solutions to improve performance. Have a leader who was creative and had good human skills spurred us on. That level of support from a senior officer was essential to our successes. Take this a step further and look at how the number of police forces using The WOW! Awards as a part of the Citizen Focus/community engagement strategy is increasing. This is a low cost – high return strategy the creative leaders are recognising is a key part of their focus on recognising the good work of staff thereby motivating them to continue to deliver.
Having the technical skills to determine how best to use initiatives like The WOW! Awards is the responsibility for department heads. They will be the ones to determine how to champion the product and ensure that it is used to achieve maximum potential; however, the overall strategic responsibility lies with a creative Chief.
Another area that Katz’s theory applies to is Problem Oriented Policing (POP). Developed by Professor Herman Goldstein in the 1970s, POP is now a part of policing throughout the world. I am know that Professor Goldstein would agree that an emphasis on POP waxes and wanes over time, but I believe that we are about to see a resurgence of POP as a prt of mainstream community policing. POP is currently being taught to policemen and women in United Arab Emirates and the UK is seeing an increased focus thanks to champions and academics such as Dr Stuart Kirby at Lancaster University.
As communities require greater access to policing services, and police resources reduce, conceptual and human skills will become essential. Questions will be asked such as how can we do this differently and who can help will become the norm. There is logic to taking risks and trying new ideas or ways of working or new partnerships. Strategies should focus on what could be done rather than on what is being done and creativity should be rewarded as much as operational bravery. It is a question of thinking differently and applying an ethos of ‘let’s give this a go’.
So I think that almost 50 years after Katz posited his theory that he may just have been on to something.
Further reading in Leadership; Theory and Practice 4th ed by Northouse 2007