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In Defense of the Police Manager

Written by Andrew Borrello

In law enforcement, we are inundated with articles, books, training courses, advice, and a diverse cadre of talented speakers all touting the need for and benefits derived from leadership. Ask 10 officers what serves the greater purpose, being a leader or a manager, without hesitation, all 10 will choose leadership. We study the lives of great leaders, and we find inspiration in their historic quotes, but who has ever heard of a great manager in history?

There is a stigma attached to being just a manager. Leaders are called charismatic, influential, and dynamic. Managers are called bean counters, paper pushers and desk jockeys. Managers are not popular, and while talented leaders are blessed with the admiration and support of followers, talented managers receive no such honor. Leaders have high self-esteems, fulfilling relationships, and a vision for the future. Managers have high blood pressure, a full in-box, and needs assessments for future budget projects.

Managers are considered bosses, and bosses are not people oriented. They are cold and only care about getting results, getting the job done, and the bottom line. A police manager will say, “I will direct my subordinates to handle that task.” A police leader will say, “I will empower the professionals under my leadership to accomplish our collective goals.”

In many law enforcement agencies, a lieutenant or captain will command an administrative or services position. In this position, the manager pays bills and makes purchases—everything from Post-It notes to tactical command vehicles. The manager deals with risk, applies for grant awards, and makes sure things get fixed or serviced.

These police managers research technology, update policy, and plan needed training. They are detached from human resources in patrol; they are uninvolved with operations occurring in investigations; and they are disunited from the enforcement of traffic. Even patrol lieutenants are often tethered to their desk—separated from their officers in the field—to complete their staff work, update shift scheduling, or perform a variety of problem-solving efforts.

Most leadership definitions don’t include such things as finances, infrastructure improvement or facility maintenance. While a manager’s persona may pale in comparison to the image of a leader, aren’t police managers an important part of the organization too? Why are managers vilified while leaders are glorified? There are no statues erected to honor great managers. The difference may be in a manager’s role and responsibilities and the actual mechanics of their job. Leaders deal with people. Managers deal with things.

The above list illustrates some of the common contrast and comparisons made between those who tend to be pro-leadership and anti-management.

A Manager’s Value

In police work, a lieutenant with solid management skills and few leadership skills can still be successful; however, a lieutenant with solid leadership skills and few management skills will surely fail. One of the best ways to determine the value or necessity of a manager is to envision the success of a police organization where management was non-existent.

Imagine a patrol shift being managed by a captain who had poor management skills. This captain would be disorganized and would lack time-management skills, causing him to fall behind in his work and overlook deadline-driven, critical tasks. His memos, evaluations, staff work, and proposals would be unacceptable, as he lacks proficiency in written communication. What if the captain had trouble making decisions, and his failure to understand technology excluded the beneficial use of Excel, advanced word processing, PowerPoint, Outlook, or hardware that promoted communications and interoperability?

If this managerial inability existed, scheduling and deployment considerations would become problematic. A leader’s vision is nice, but what if the captain was unable to conduct pre-planning, scan current trends and events, or effectively forecast where we will be or what we might expect in the next two to five years? The captain would certainly have substantial problems if he did not understand the dynamics and legalities of internal investigations, how to facilitate an effective meeting, or how to successfully deal with budget issues.

This brief description depicting a substandard captain who has no management skill illustrates nothing less than a disaster. Management skills serve as the lubricant that makes an organizational engine run smoothly. Managers may not be dynamic, charismatic, or influential, but without them, a police department would simply fail to operate.

How long could a police department last without copy paper? How much money would be lost if an agency ran out of parking citations for several weeks? If the network servers were not maintained and a few terabytes of memory was lost, what would be the consequences? Managers solve problems; they get the job done; and they are essential to every aspect—big and small—of operating a successful police organization.

The above list illustrates some of the common contrast and comparisons made between those who tend to be pro-management and anti-leadership.

In the contrast and comparison between leaders and managers, it is apparent that both roles are important in law enforcement. A leader may be in the center of the spotlight, but it was a manager who researched the light, authored the proposal to purchase the light, and keeps the light serviced and operational. While a police manager’s role or position may dictate, in part, how much or how little he can lead, the best of us have found ways to integrate the two and serve both as a leader and a manager. Choosing one over the other based on popularity over necessity is a recipe for failure.

Andrew Borrello is a lieutenant and 19-year veteran with the San Gabriel, CA Police Department. He currently serves as the Administrative Services Division Commander. He can be reached at promote411@aol.com.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2009

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