Bluelines…. Operational Leadership

What I have learned about operational leadership in the Police (so far…)

The Army Sergeant Major, WO1 Glenn Haughton, the British Army’s Senior Soldier (@ArmySgtMajor) recently published his Green Lines for Non-Commissioned Officers within the British Army that sets out his expectations for how they will behave. I’ve copied them at the end of this blog and they are well worth a read.

It got me thinking about what matters to me so far as a junior Sergeant within Police Scotland: my own Blue Lines if you will. I am sure I will add to it over time but for now these are some of my initial observations about what is important to me as a frontline leader. Perhaps they may resonate with you and I’m very sure you’ll be able to add to my own observations.

My Personal ‘Blue Lines’

A hunger for technical proficiency. You have to want to learn your trade. Cops deserve to be led by someone who knows how to do the job. That’s not to say you will know everything and you need to be humble enough to admit when you don’t and seek advice or time to research what you need. But once you identify a knowledge gap you better be researching it so you know it in future.

Related to that, you need to be good at the things you do most regularly. For us its missing persons, domestics and mental health issues. I have worked hard to get to know that stuff proactively and I consistently look for other areas of policing to improve my own knowledge. Get stuck into getting better.

Developing your team. I think frontline leaders should be passionate about developing their team. Don’t be selfish about holding onto cops who deserve to have the chance to meet their potential in policing. Encourage them to look further than where they are now and develop their own policing interests. Secondments, courses, job applications, or self study opportunities; these should all be actively encouraged. Help them prepare for interviews, review their forms and link them with mentors. Invest in the team.

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. This is a straight lift from Green Lines because it is as relevant to policing as it is to the British Army. I think whatever behaviour you walk past is the standard your team thinks is acceptable. Don’t challenge a team member belittling someone? Must be acceptable right? A bloke looking like he has slept in his uniform? Well that must be okay too. As one of my colleagues puts it, you can’t be afraid to deliver a ‘sad chit’ occasionally when it is needed.

A wise leader once told me: check for welfare issues, if it’s not welfare, check for training deficiencies, if not training then what is left is performance. Frontline leaders have to have moral courage to challenge poor performance.

Recognise great work. Linked to the above to me its just unacceptable not to recognise good work. When I was in my mid 20’s (in you know, the last century) I had a mini-epiphany that folk didn’t give each other enough compliments. I resolved that if I was thinking something nice about someone I would simply tell them. I have tried to live by that ever since and have done my best to take that into my work. Reward good work. Write commendation recommendations, give flyers, publicly recognise cops in your team in front of the team and definitely, definitely tell cops directly that you think the job they did on a call was a great one. If you’re thinking its good police work tell your cops.

Value add. I learned something recently that I really liked from a Sgt who has only just come to my team. He does his best to clear calls where he can on the phone where it’s clear that police attendance is likely not required in person. It’s a small thing but doing it daily helps the team manage the workload. I have seen him take half an hour on the phone providing great advice to a reporter and clearing the call. I try to do it now too (though not as well as him!).

It’s just one example of value adding to our shift. When we attend calls my colleagues and I try to value add too. It might be transporting a prisoner back while the crew gets statements, it might be clearing simple calls that won’t tie us up but helps manage workload. It might be getting stuck into checks while a crew is off to a call to help inform their response. Value add to the team performance.

Advocate for the frontline. Sergeants and Inspectors are in a great position to identify points of friction in day to day business. I think it’s a frontline leader’s duty to look for opportunities to reduce that friction by liaising with more senior management to make things better. You’ll get a lot of knock backs (we certainly have) but you may make things better for your own team. Make doing the job as painless as possible.

Remember the ‘Individual’ in Team, Task and Individual. I found when I became a cop that leaders were very task focussed. I also found in particular some leaders who seemed to enjoy saying ‘no’ to any request for no particular reason. If a cop makes a request and you can reasonably facilitate it just say yes. I mean, it’s not rocket science is it? There will be times when you can’t but if you have a reputation of saying yes when you can cops won’t resent when you can’t and you explain why. Say ‘yes’ when you can.

You’ll get it wrong.. try not to get it wrong more than once. Frontline leaders are not going to get things right all the time. I certainly don’t. I do spend a lot of time reflecting on my performance and how to improve on it (generally after every shift on the way home). I do my best not to make the same mistakes again. It’s okay to get it wrong sometimes… once!

Frontline Leadership should be done from… well, the frontline! Some frontline leaders spend all their time in the office and given we are a bit of a slave to our IT systems I can’t blame them. I really think though we need to fight to get out and lead from the road. We shouldn’t be afraid to show that we can still get the job done ourselves and the best way to do this is for leaders to be visible and active. I still arrest my own suspects and write my own cases (recognising that my own personal workload comes second to looking after my team – but that’s as it should be and for me a responsibility of leadership).

I find it harder to do this on some shifts than others but at the very least critical calls should have a supervisor on the ground directing them. Even the Sergeants who feel they can’t get away from the screen for the bulk of the shift recognise this and I think in my force they do it well generally. Fight to get out of the office.

Always Learning….

I don’t live up to all of the above all of the time. I have my ‘off’ days like everyone. But I try to aspire to all I have written. I am lucky to work in a great team with a supportive boss, a couple of other top notch Sgts who I learn from and a team of cops who are competent and effective. I hope you are fortunate enough to have the same opportunities as me to lead in an environment where you get as much support as I feel I do.



Author: West Coast Response

I'm a Police Sergeant here on the West Coast of Scotland. I love the job and the folk that do it. I enjoy polite debate on policing and criminal justice and am particularly interested in the practical impact of policing policy, police leadership & making the job better for frontline officers.

4 thoughts on “Bluelines…. Operational Leadership”

  1. Excellent work sergeant! Particularly like seeing reference to Prof John Adair’s three circles leadership model of Team, Task & Individual, which has sometimes been lost in the myriad of new paradigms like emotional intelligence and now mindfulness. Thanks for all you do for your community and team.


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