Look down - Look out

“To lead is to serve – nothing more, nothing less” (Andre Malraux 1901-1976, French writer and Minister).

Police leadership gets a qualified thumbs up from HMICFRS this week. Forces, inspectors say, are promoting ethical leadership, overseeing cultural change, workforce development and taking effective action. That much is welcome.

What is more interesting is what inspectors do not say, and perhaps cannot say, about leadership. Leadership is notoriously hard to define. Doubtless we can be reassured that ‘police leaders are committed to the fair and ethical treatment of both the workforce and the public’. But is that the measure of leadership?

So, what should PCCs and those responsible for policing be looking for in today’s leadership?
Here’s our advice.

Look down.

Start at the bottom. It is notable that the one recommendation in today’s report refers to making better use of performance reviews (PDRs) for staff development. Only three forces could evidence their consistent use.

PCCs appoint the police’s senior leadership but they should be just as concerned about the junior leadership. PDRs are a long-standing part of modern management. They help the staff who receive them and they develop the leaders who write them. If they are not being done, or are being done badly, then each leader is failing their subordinates.

Scrutiny excludes no one and doesn’t stop until you get to the chief constable. PCCs should make their expectations clear. Regular reviews of their chief constable are a start. Effective structures and robust performance information are vital.

And strong leadership needs to be a two-way street. That means the workforce being able to challenge upwards, not just that senior leaders challenge performance downwards. Policing leaders might rightly be worried if they hear too many complaints from the junior ranks, but they should be equally concerned if they don’t hear any at all.

Junior leaders are the incubators of an organisation’s culture. They are the ones who face ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. They encapsulate the corporate health of an organisation and are its future leaders. They need development but all too often get scant attention in our excessively hierarchical police structures. As the report sets out, the whole workforce wants and deserves fair access to development and progression, the future-proofing of a quality police force.

Look out.

Focus on the public. Police leaders must serve the police but they must serve the public first. No one wants to cause a backlash, but hunkering down in a bunker is no place for an elected representative either. Sometimes that will mean asking uncomfortable things of the police. Inspectors, rightly, worry about workforce wellbeing. PCCs should worry about the public peace.

Lastly, Inspectors have much to say on strategy but little on character. Leadership requires both. But, as Norman Schwarzkopf said, “if you must be without one, be without strategy.” Character – judgement, courage, morality – may not strike an inspector’s eye but they do strike the public’s.

Good governance and corporate health matter. At Crest Advisory our experts in performance and leadership are ready to help. To chat to us about how we can help you contact us on contact@crestadvisory.com



Chris Salmon. Chris is an established leadership figure within UK policing, having served as a Police and Crime Commissioner and contributed to a number of high profile criminal justice policy projects. A former soldier, Chris led the transformation of governance for Dyfed-Powys Police from an unelected police authority to a high performing Office of Police and Crime Commissioner which increased the number of frontline officers and commissioned innovative victim services.