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The role of police leaders in developing the profession

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The challenge of delivering effective policing when there is constant change in both crime patterns and the structure of our communities is perhaps more demanding than ever before.  The review of police leadership currently being conducted by the College of Policing looks at what is needed to ensure staff at all levels are motivated and skilled to deliver the best possible service in this changing world.  We wanted the review to be informed by the broadest possible range of perspectives not only from within policing, but also from successful leaders outside policing.  In the last few months I have been meeting with leaders from all walks of life to hear their thoughts and views on what makes leadership effective currently.

We have heard from a wide range of people. They include members of the Committee on Standards in Public Life as well as figures from business, banking, academia, public services, and the military.  What has struck me first and foremost is the wide agreement of the need for leaders who can inspire and empower others and create a shared purpose. The age of deference, where ‘command and control’ is the default style, is considered to be well and truly over for successful leaders.

Whether they expressed views in terms of the importance of a strong brand, in creating values alignment, in building compelling narratives, or a common vision, all agreed that effective leaders must inspire and motivate people to work collaboratively towards a shared purpose. Good leaders are needed at every level in an organisation. They must listen to others, actively encourage challenge and welcome difference, create space for reflection, and think about the health and wellbeing of their staff as well as the organisation. They must create teams that work together well recognising the importance of values and how people operate as well as what they deliver.

People across policing are striving to deliver a professional service to the public without the support that, in more established professions, is taken for granted. If our review of leadership is successful, it will help policing develop the kind of culture that will support individual members of the policing profession to make the very best decisions.

Some of the things that are currently missing or that are better developed in most other professions are:-

  • Use of a knowledge or evidence-base in setting standards and making key decisions
  • A clear system of licensing, skills accreditation and / or qualifications
  • A code of conduct to guide the professional in making complex and ethically difficult decisions
  • A framework for continuous professional development (CPD)

All four aspects are key to professional confidence. For those in the police service, when these are in place there will be increased recognition and value placed upon training and CPD across all roles, clearer and shared frameworks and information for decision making.  For the public there would be greater consistency in service delivery and confidence in the skill and professionalism of those delivering the service.

There are some huge cultural, structural and financial challenges to achieving this shift that I don’t under-estimate, and this is where recommendations from the leadership review will be tested. But there is also great professionalism within aspects of policing already, as well as a workforce full of people motivated by their desire to keep people safe and deliver the best possible service.

The leadership review is an exciting opportunity to build on the professional behaviours that already exist, but it will also be a vehicle by which we can develop and invest in the leadership that will be able to deliver the next phase of professionalism that the service deserves.  We need leaders who can model all that it is to be a part of a profession, and in doing so lead policing through a time of complex and exciting change.


Professor Dame Shirley Pearce is the independent Chair of the College of Policing.

​Shirley Pearce is a clinical psychologist by profession and has a career in the health service and higher education. She was Vice Chancellor of Loughborough University before joining the College of Policing as independent Chair of the Board.

She has worked across a number of professional environments and was an inaugural commissioner of the healthcare commission responsible for the regulation of health care providers in UK. She currently also holds board membership of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and is an independent member of the University of Cambridge Council.

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