Step up to leadership
Step up to leadership

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Step up to leadership

3 Leadership in a policing context

Leadership is one of the most important predictors of whether organizations are able to effectively function in dynamic environments … and as such the need for effective police leadership is greater than ever.

(Pearson-Goff and Herrington, 2013, p. 14)

Curiously, while much energy and effort has been spent on considering leadership in a range of other contexts, leadership in policing has not been studied to the same extent (Schafer, 2009). One recent study argued that there are seven key characteristics and five key activities which define effective police leadership:


Ethical behaviour



Being a role model


Decision making

Critical, creative and strategic thinking ability


Creating a shared vision

Engendering organisational commitment

Caring for subordinates

Driving and managing change

Problem solving

(Adapted from Pearson-Goff and Herrington, 2013, pp. 20–21)

To put this in some context, it is worth considering comments made by Edward Flynn, a former chief of police in Milwaukee, and noted scholar Victoria Herrington, who argue that:

Leaders require a blend of management skills (e.g., planning, organizing, budgeting, staffing and directing), personal skills (e.g. the ability to communicate, motivate and inspire others), leadership skills (e.g., strategic focus, analytical competency and cognitive flexibility), and, in policing, a healthy dose of operational experience. … Leadership requires the organization to support the use of these skills to create a learning environment.

(Flynn and Herrington, 2015, p. 14)

Activity 3 Reflecting on leadership in policing

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

This activity requires you to watch and reflect on the following video, in which Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Constable Michael Allen talks about his experience of leadership in a policing context. In the video, he focuses on the following areas:

  • What is leadership in a policing context?
  • How does this differ from leadership in other contexts?
  • What do good police leaders do?
  • What do bad police leaders do?
  • How can people step up into leadership?
Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 Constable Michael Allen talks about his experience of leadership

Transcript: Video 1 Constable Michael Allen talks about his experience of leadership

As a police constable, we are the first people to be a leader. We are trusted by our community to do the best we can to help the community. And I suppose that's where it comes from. We work with the community. We are trusted to work. And we need to take ownership of an investigation and ownership on advice, both inside with our peers or colleagues but also with the community that we work with.
As a constable, I don't really have a rank. I am just- I am a person who has been entrusted to help people, help the community, and help to do the best that I can. As a constable, to be a leader, I can motivate my colleagues that I work with. If I go to a community meeting, I can motivate the community to help themselves regardless if they are an elected member of a local council. But it's about communities being able to help themselves and to give people that, I suppose, support and empowerment to help themselves.
I think there's a fear. I think one of the barriers is the fear of getting something wrong. It's OK to get something wrong. It's learning from the mistake. So there's definitely that fear. There's definitely that, have I got the ability to do it? Am I a strong enough person to do that, that sort of self-doubt. And I suppose that leads into confidence to actually step up and to use the initiative, to take that, if you want, that calculated risk. And to actually do something.
The most valuable leadership lesson for me is to be open and honest, particularly around decision-making. As I said previously, I'm a constable and human being. And it's acknowledging that at times we can get things wrong.
But it's being able to learn from any mistakes that we have, being able to step up and say, I bet I could do that a different way. I maybe done that wrong this time, and acknowledging that, but also showing respect for the people that you're working with, that you work for, and within the community, within policing- I suppose having someone who will respect you, allowing you to do what you can do, being able to, I suppose, take a calculated risk to say, I can make a difference, and have the ability and the confidence to do that.
Advice I would give about stepping up is, do it. Take the opportunity. Take the chance. Ask the right questions. Ask for help if you need it. Take ownership of an idea, of an initiative. Feel free to use your initiative. Ask for the support. Ask for help if you need it. And just try to do what you can. Do the best that you can, knowing that it can make a difference.
End transcript: Video 1 Constable Michael Allen talks about his experience of leadership
Video 1 Constable Michael Allen talks about his experience of leadership
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

After you have watched the video, take some time to reflect on the points made by Constable Allen. As you do so, consider the following questions:

  • Does Constable Allen’s experience of leadership in policing match yours or would you view things quite differently?
  • If you’re viewing this clip from a policing point of view, what leadership qualities do you admire in a police or police-staff leader?
  • Alternatively, if you’re viewing it from a community point of view, what leadership qualities do you admire in a police or police-staff leader? What could be improved?

Make notes of your observations in the box below.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Leadership is a very personal concept. Our individual views of leadership and leaders can differ greatly and very much depend on our experience of the leadership behaviours demonstrated by each person, not just the title or position that they hold.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371