Does your promotional process pass the test?

You have a key role here, Chief, in promoting the next generation of leaders to enforce the rules you have put in place


EMS graduates can climb the career ladder quickly, arriving in leadership positions with minimal life or professional experience, and even less management training. Supervision is as different from clinical medicine as auto repair is from plumbing. Even a smart, motivated individual will need additional skill sets to succeed in the new role.

In this special coverage series, learn how to equip field supervisors with the skills they need to be effective in their roles.

Gordon Graham here again. Today’s article is a continuation from my last installment on the key role of the supervisor in a public safety agency. So here is a question for you, Chief: How do you select, train, mentor and develop your cadre of supervisors?

Before you answer that question, here is the process I’ve seen in too many public safety agencies: You announce a test, you give the test, you establish a list of eligible candidates and you select people from this list – or you promote excellent clinicians.

I guarantee you there are better ways to promote people, but my experience tells me that when you approach the Human Resources people you will likely be greeted with all the reasons you cannot put a more efficient and effective process into place.

"You have a key role here, Chief, in promoting the next generation of leaders to enforce the rules you have put in place – and to develop the future policies and procedures of your organization long after you have retired from the department," Gordon Graham writes. (Photo/Getty Images)

Maybe, then, it is time for you to make changes in the parts of the public safety promotional process you control.

Let’s start with recruitment. You are the chief. What have you told your command staff about identifying those women and men who will be the future supervisors in your organization? Or are you simply hoping the “best of the best” will apply for these supervisory positions?

After you recruit and encourage great people to attempt to promote, what are you doing to prepare them for rising through the ranks?

After they have been promoted, do you have a training program (external or internal) for new supervisors to attend while they are on probation? This is a very important step to ensure they have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to do their new job.

And finally, have you considered bringing back the “best of the best” to help further develop your new supervisors? You did not just end up a chief. You worked hard and you learned from those who stepped up and guided you.

I had the greatest sergeant in the history of my organization. He knew everything about how to be a great sergeant. But when he retired, he took his “one million memory markers” with him. Why don’t we identify these great retirees and bring them back to impart their institutional knowledge to the newest generation of supervisors? If we do not understand the past, we will continue to make the same mistakes in the future.

Let’s revisit a comment I made in an earlier article: On any given day, no one knows where the chief is, but everyone knows who the supervisor is and what she/he is doing right now. And some of your people will modify their behavior based on which supervisor is on duty.

When I look at pursuits that end up in a fatal collision, I ask, who was the supervisor on duty and what was he/she doing during this chase? When I look at a jail facility use of force report that ends up causing us to lose a civil lawsuit, I ask, who was the supervisor who signed this report, thus approving it as to form and content? When I look at a successful lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment, I ask, who was the supervisor in this unit and what were they doing to enforce the harassment policy?

Too often, the proximate cause of the tragedy was the behavior of a given employee –but the real “problem lying in wait” was a supervisor not behaving like a supervisor – or alternatively, a supervisor who tried to behave like a supervisor and was not supported by management personnel.

You have a key role here, Chief, in promoting the next generation of women and men to enforce the rules you have put in place – and to develop the future policies and procedures of your organization long after you have retired from the department. This is your legacy!

I look forward to our next chat. Until then, please work safely.

Timely takeaway: Think about the high-performing women and men you know who have retired from your agency. Give them a call and ask them if they want to help improve the performance of your supervisory personnel. I am confident the “best of the best” will step up to the plate and pass on what they have learned to the newest generation.

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