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Policing leadership: The high costs of failures in organisational leadership

How to prevent bad things from happening to good police officers


Choose any common law enforcement scenario: Officers are responding to an armed robbery in progress, or they’re arriving on the scene of a flash mob that has turned violent. As they approach these situations, what will shape the outcome? Is it the vehicles they’re driving, the weapons they’re carrying, the body cameras they’re wearing—or the skills and values they’ve acquired through a formal leadership development programme?

In today’s highly dynamic environment, leadership competencies are a key determinant of officers’ success in the field. Effective leadership development creates and strengthens the right capabilities at every level of the force. It makes leadership a shared process, engaging all stakeholders in elevating organisational performance, and developing the competencies needed to succeed.

As police leaders consider how to allocate budgets—and where to focus to improve services and prepare for increasing challenges—there needs to be a much stronger commitment to building a leadership culture. This requires a strategic, ongoing effort to prepare every officer to deliver on the mission.

With that commitment, police leaders can reduce the likelihood of bad things happening to good officers, while increasing the odds of better outcomes for all stakeholders—and strengthening public trust and support.


Leadership Perspectives
Police leaders share insights on what's most important in preparing future leadership at the 2016 Public Safety Summit at Harvard University.


Why does this matter? For starters, police on the front lines are operating in a fast-moving world, facing split-second decisions with enormous implications for protecting life and property, plus individual rights.

On a daily basis, they’re dealing with the effects of poverty, addiction and mental illness. They’re facing increasingly sophisticated crime, with new challenges. And more than ever, what they publicly say and do can easily be recorded—and scrutinized.

At the same time, there’s a growing realisation that the public no longer wants police officers to reduce crime at any cost. Citizens are increasingly interested in the “how” and “why” of police work. It is now crucial for every officer to exhibit appropriate attitudes and behaviours to preserve community trust and to make the right decisions, even under tremendous duress.

Building those competencies and critical decision-making skills requires time and focus—and isn’t likely to occur if a leadership development programme only targets the top ranks of a force.


“Creating a leadership culture that fosters the right mindset and skills may now be the most effective 'protective gear' for police officers out on the street.”

Key Findings

Building a leadership culture motivates staff to take responsibility for their own development and individual achievement, inspiring performance at all levels and maximising the potential of the entire organisation.

An effective programme also empowers police leadership to address a host of key goals:

  • Developing new capabilities and capacity

  • Improving decision-making skills

  • Facilitating change

  • Enhancing collaboration

  • Maintaining public trust and legitimacy

  • Creating a pipeline of future leaders

"Investing in leadership development is far less costly than paying the price of police misconduct."



The potential advantages are clear. But how, exactly, can a police organisation start the journey toward effective leadership development? Based on Accenture research and practical experience, a logical starting point is to outline a strategy and identify the behaviours, qualities and competencies crucial to collective leadership success.

While general principles and practices can be leveraged, it is also important to remember that leadership development is not “one size fits all.” The skills and style of leadership must fit with each organisation's unique culture, focusing on the capabilities that align with its needs and goals. In general, however, an effective leadership development programme should include these steps:

  • Develop a leadership strategy and architecture

  • Conduct a 360 leadership development assessment

  • Create the programme, guided by key principles



James Slessor

Managing Director, Global Public Safety

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Jody Weis

Jody Weis

Director, North America Public Safety

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Breck Marshall

Managing Director, Talent & Organization Practice

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