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Saturday, 8 October 2011

The skills of a senior police officer

My doctoral studies have recently introduced me to interesting concept of Leadership Skills.  The piece that I have been reading is from Katz (1955) whom suggested that in order for leaders to be effective they need three skills.  They are technical, skills, human skill and conceptual skills.  The work of Katz has been supported by Mumford et al (2002), but it is worth exploring the skills further to see whether they apply within policing.

The first skill area is technical skill.  This relates to the depth of knowledge that each leader has about the business being conducted by the organisation.

The second area is human skill.  This relates to inclusion, empowerment and motivation of offenders

The third area is conceptual skill.  This relates to creativity and innovation.

This blog will focus on the Technical Kills and the relevance to policing in postmodern times.

The interesting point is that Katz suggests that Executive Leaders do not require technical skills as they should be looking at the organisation from a strategic perspective and the technical aspect should be understood by those lower down the hierarchy with tactical responsibility.  To some extent there is merit in this argument and it certainly resonates with policing from 20 or 30 years ago.  However, I would argue that senior police officers of today need technical skills for two reasons. 

The first relates to the pressure on senior officers as part of a recognised performance regime.  This has meant that they cannot rely on those with tactical responsibility and need to have technical knowledge of the systems and processes of the organisation. The second is that my research points to the fact that those senior police officers who do have technical skills develop what I refer to as 'organisational confidence.'

Let me break these themes down a bit further.  Since the introduction of New Public Management in the 1990s the UK police have been set crime reduction and detection rates.  As a result most UK forces have some sort of performance management a meeting where heads of profession are held to account.  The chair of the meeting, often a Chief Officer asks senior leaders, including Divisional Commanders, a series of challenging questions in order to ascertain why performance is below target or get an understanding of what is happening in the event that the performance is over target.  There are two key points here.  Senior officers who do not have technical skills, or a detailed knowledge of the issues surrounding performance, often called 'knowing your business' will be found wanting and cannot defend his or her position.  The result, again from my research has been likened to a middle age punishment. The senior officer is exposed and often subject to ridicule or even worse a verbal flogging.

However, in the event that the ‘Chief Officer’ does not have technical skills, or does not know  their business, there is confusion as the Chief Officer, not knowing what he or she is talking about is seen in a derogatory light and can  result in subordinates feeling less valued and losing confidence in the leader - organisational confidence.

But why is this point important?  Throughout the interviews for my doctoral thesis respondents differentiated between those chief officers who knew their business and those who did not.  The former was seen as having a positive impact as people, having confidence in the leader, wanted to work for the chief officer and felt as though they were being supported in their role to implement organisational change.  When the leader changed to one who did not display technical skills it was felt that momentum was lost due to the lack of emphasis on attention to crucial detail.  In fact the emphasis changed from one of transformational change to one that focused on transactional management issues such as sickness and budgetary factors.  Without the required level of support the transformational change programme faltered and lost impetus.

So contrary to the idea posited by Katz, technical knowledge, especially when implementing a transformational change programme is essential if those involved in the transformation or  are subjected to it are to have confidence in the person who is leading it.  My research indicates that high levels of technical skills allow Chief Officers to challenge subordinates who in turn increase their own technical skills which, once they gain a greater understanding of what is required, leads to increased performance as people gain an in-depth knowledge of the drivers and nuances of their business.  This is due to the fact that there is great pressure on senior officers within the police not to be seen as 'failing.' It is often the case that careers are made or broken on levels of performance and levels of knowledge. 

Next time I will assess the requirement of a leader to have Human Skills

1 comment:

  1. Great post. One area that you don't cover is the changing nature of the technical skills required in a modern police force. There was a time when all you needed was police technical skills as a leader; now you need HR, ICT, political, financial...perhaps an argument for widening the leadership pool in UK policing?