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Developing the New Sergeant

Written by Robert Roy Johnson

One of the primary responsibilities of captains on large departments and chiefs or their middle managers on smaller departments is preparing the newly appointed sergeant for the transition to a supervisory role.

As the chief, you perceived the leadership capability in that dedicated officer and promoted him. For captains, the recently commissioned sergeants probably earned those stripes through a promotional process that recognized and rewarded their supervisory potential. These fresh, eager novices to the supervisory ranks present a challenge and an opportunity for chiefs and captains.

Those who have progressed to the rank of lieutenant and above generally regard the passage from patrol officer to sergeant as the most challenging in the supervisory pantheon. After all, while each promotion beyond sergeant entails new and distinct responsibilities, essentially, it is still supervision. On the other hand, proceeding from patrol officer to sergeant assumes considerations unique to supervision, which are never, or at least rarely, experienced prior to promotion.

Consequently, guiding that neophyte supervisor through the transition to the rank of sergeant is a crucial responsibility. Chiefs or captains fully understand the important role sergeants assume in the success of any police department. They are the first line of supervision.

It is sergeants to whom the rank and file will turn for most of their questions, problems, and issues. It is the sergeants who are looked to for guidance. And, it is the sergeants who will essentially determine the efficiency and effectiveness of the patrol function. Captains are tasked with shaping the leadership style these new sergeants will employ in their new positions.

That first promotion is, literally, a heady experience. To paraphrase, power can corrupt. The captain must be vigilant for signs of an inflated ego that might be affecting the inexperienced sergeant’s judgment. A deputy chief related how, years ago, as a freshly minted sergeant, she noticed the regard in which she was suddenly held that was not afforded her as a patrol officer, even though she was the same person.

She related how, to her surprise, she became more interesting and amusing with each promotion. As a patrol officer, when she would relate a droll experience to her fellow officers, they could be expected to heckle her if it was less than amusing. As a sergeant, however, they chuckled at each yarn. By the time she was a deputy chief, she noticed, every humorous thing she uttered resulted in uproarious laughter.

Captains need to counteract the intoxicating effect that this kind of esteem has on new sergeants. It is incumbent on captains to bring the new sergeant back down to earth, as it serves neither the sergeant nor the rank and file well for the sergeant to be so full of himself that there is nothing left for the troops.

Captains must guide the new sergeant through the conversion from the law enforcement function to the role of supervisor. Old habits die hard. Often, recently appointed sergeants continue to perform many of the duties now best assigned to subordinates. Consequently, when needed, they are not available to perform the supervisory function. Captains must demonstrate how delegating responsibilities and task direction free the supervisor to assist his subordinates in matters requiring the specific attention of a sergeant.

Also, captains need to assist novice sergeants to understand that, in their new capacity, they may not always enjoy the same camaraderie they once did as members of the rank and file. Sergeants are management and will not always be liked as such. Supervisors often have to make unpopular decisions. The new sergeant, experiencing occasional grumbling from his former fellow officers, will likely have a difficult time adjusting and will need the captain’s support. Captains understand that supervision is not about being popular. Rather, it is about being respected.

Finally, an essential element of supervision to be impressed upon the new sergeant is the function of role model and mentor. Prior to promotion, the officer could be cavalier about his comportment with fellow officers. Now, these same officers will often fashion their behavior on the example of their new leader.

There can be no more flippant or derogatory statements about department policy. The occasional goofing off or clowning around is no longer appropriate. The sergeant’s demeanor must be professional. Additionally, while as an officer he might hesitate to offer advice or guidance to a fellow officer, it now becomes incumbent upon the sergeant, as mentor, to do exactly that.

Many patrol officers stand out as natural leaders. Hopefully, these are the same officers that are promoted to sergeant. Nonetheless, much of what it means to be a leader must be learned, and the captain is best positioned to provide this education.

Captains need to recall their own tenure as inexperienced sergeants. Then, in stepping up as role models and mentors themselves, they help the sergeant mature into an efficient and effective professional leader.

Robert Roy Johnson is a 33-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, currently at the rank of captain. He can be reached via e-mail at robroyj@sbcglobal.net.

Published in Law and Order, Aug 2005

Rating : 9.8


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