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The long arm of leadership

Angela O'Connor, Chief People Officer at the National Policing Improvement Agency, discusses a development of a new leadership strategy for policing...

If you search on the internet under the word leadership you will have over 15,200,000 results to choose from. These results cover academic research, checklists, hints on how to be a great leader and theories that question whether leaders are born or can be developed.

There are definitions of leadership, lists of characteristics, complicated processes for assessing qualities and thousands of competency definitions.

When the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) was asked to develop a leadership strategy for policing, it was clear that it was a potentially difficult job. It was also important to get the full support of;

  • The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)
  • The Association of Police Authorities (APA)
  • The Home Office

NPIA also had to reflect the views and aspirations of 250,000 police officers and staff in the service, as well as tap into the knowledge of the policing HR community.
So where to start?

NPIA decided it would need to:

  • Define the problem that the successful implementation of a leadership strategy would solve;
  • Ask the people who know to both define the issues and articulate the possible solutions;
  • Dip into leading academic research and Best Practice in a variety of sectors but not become wedded to any particular theoretical approach;
  • Consider nothing sacrosanct in our deliberations;
  • Stay true to our belief that no artificial barriers should stand in the way of high aspiration, high achievement and better service to the public.

NPIA also knew that it had to be as realistic as possible. Nothing means more to anyone than knowing that family, friends and neighbours are safe in our communities and most citizens have the same desires. NPIA had to focus first on the outcomes that it wanted to achieve.

Violent crime has fallen year on year since a peak in 1996 and yet the fear of crime continues to rise. This leadership strategy will help police leaders reassure citizens by working with them to achieve safer communities both in reality and in people's perception of their neighbourhood.

NPIA will do this by helping those in the Police Service to gain the skills and confidence to really engage with people and develop a shared understanding of their communities; their hopes and fears, what people want for their children, their neighbours and their friends, and what the local policing issues are.

This strategy will help the Service to focus on the citizen and remember that the call for service might be the 15th call of the shift for the officer on duty but that it may be the first time in the individual's life that they have been a victim of crime and had to call the police. Or alternatively this is the 15th time their offices have been burgled and they really feel that no-one cares or is doing anything about it.

The public wants to know that the police are there, will turn up when called and will be professional. They will also want to be updated on incidents and treated as individuals with feelings and concerns. The increasing expectation from the Police Service matches increasing pressures on other services, and people want to know public money is being spent well and not duplicated across different services. These are significant challenges for the Police Service and its leaders, and therefore focusing on better business skills and partnership working to deliver these outcomes.

The leadership strategy is a plan of action. It has been developed to respond to the business drivers for the Police Service over the next 10 years. These drivers include a number of complex and diverse challenges including community engagement, developing a performance culture, responding to increasing expectations, the demands of modern society and a shrinking hi-tech world, which means new types of crime and international crime.

There are a number of contradictions and juxtapositions such as the need to protect children and the vulnerable and deal with antisocial behaviour whilst responding to organised crime and the terrorist threat. This means that resources are stretched and issues have to be prioritised. NPIA recognises these challenges and seeks to address the leadership issues at all levels within the Police Service and across both officer and staff roles.

This strategy has been subject to extensive consultation and has benefitted from real engagement across the Police Service.

There is a view that there are not enough people coming forward for top roles, which mean that we need to take a national view of talent and address barriers and mobility problems. A national talent management system needs to be open and transparent, and ensure that more women and Black and Minority Ethnic people make it to leadership roles.

A much more integrated programme of leadership products, which build on prior learning and connect with the real world of policing, is needed. This means moving away from a focus on training towards continuous development on the job and via attachments and secondments as part of an ongoing programme of leadership development. This approach recognises that the breadth of experience of senior police officers is often just policing. To address this gap there need to be more secondments to other sectors to get the breadth of understanding needed to run a complex business and work in partnership. This learning needs to continue for everyone including chief constables.
The Police Service does have to do more to attract and keep women and BME officers and staff in the service. This means really examining the barriers whether real or perceived and supporting these individuals to achieve their potential. The whole Service needs to develop and learn to welcome diversity and difference in order to deliver the best service to the public. This will require work on beliefs and values, and be potentially quite challenging for some within the Service.

The different development needs have to be addressed as the Service professionalises. A finance professional needs support to develop their financial skills in the same way that a detective needs support to develop their investigative skills, and this leadership strategy recognises this.

Professionalising the service means formal accreditation and links to academic institutions that specialise in leadership in the public service or in policing. These links need to be reinvigorated so that officers and staff receive formal recognition of their leadership knowledge and skills.
As with all development, it is important to think about how the NPIA will measure the success of the intervention as it is designed, rather than afterwards. There will be resources channelled into leadership development and the Service needs to focus on and know that it is achieving outcomes for the public.

There are three domains that our research suggests should be at the core of policing education:
Professional policing – this is the operational and tactical area. While currently reasonably well delivered, it needs to encompass a broader understanding of the strategic issues evolving in a shrinking world.

Executive policing – includes personal leadership, governance and partnership working. There are improvements needed here such as the ability to connect with communities. Policing leaders need to engage with partners and stakeholders to understand issues, concerns and priorities. There is also a need to develop different leadership styles and flexibilities for different circumstances.

Business skills – this is the area with most need for improvement and focuses on running an efficient and effective business.

The proposals that the NPIA has put forward and had accepted offer a radical change in the world of police learning, development and leadership.

These include:

  • Whole-scale change in the strategic view of the skills required for policing today;
  • An introduction in particular of business skills in the curriculum;
  • A move to career management in the sector;
  • A refreshed focus on graduate and postgraduate education in policing;
  • A broadening of the policing education system to include the learning from and with other sectors;
  • Rigorous assessment of the impact of learning and development interventions on the quality of policing;
  • A philosophy of continuous professional development.

All of these together represent a new approach to learning, development and leadership in policing that positions it experientially, educationally and academically at the leading edge of public sector education.