|The First Line Supervisor: Where the Rubber Meets the Road|
|By William Sturgeon|
In the field of criminal justice, there is a group of dedicated men and women who receive very little recognition for their hard work - and they are The First Line Supervisors. The first line supervisor is the first rung on the supervisory ladder and most often leads to management positions in the future. It is the first line supervisors who ensure that the agency’s policies are followed by their subordinates and that the agency’s procedures for conducting business are adhered to by everyone working in the field.
The first line supervisor is the bridge between the line staff and management. The first line supervisor is the person who communicates with both of these groups on a continuous basis. It is the first line supervisor who is first to be able to sense the morale of the line staff, find a policy or procedure that is not working as written, improve incorrect staffing patterns, or to observe changes in the make-up of the offenders, etc.
In the majority of emergency situations, it is the first line supervisor who is first on the scene and the one who has to take immediate action. While these incidents are taking place, the first line supervisors will need to depend on their training, education, and experience. Whether it is a law enforcement or correctional situation it is the first line supervisor who must direct his/her subordinates as to what actions they should take. For a period of time, the weight and future implication of the incidents fall upon the shoulders of the first line supervisors.
In the military, the importance of maintaining a strong, well trained and educated Non-Commissioned Officer Corps is extremely important. Most agencies, in my opinion, do not fully appreciate the importance of its first line supervisors as much as the military does. It has been my experience that agencies that have experienced and well trained first line supervisors have few internal and external problems, and the morale is higher.
How Are Great Supervisors Developed
I believe that developing first line supervisors is a process through which a person must progress. There are several crucial steps that, I believe, compose a detailed first line supervisor training program:
It is important for management to understand that its first line supervisors are “The Spark in the Engine” that keeps an agency performing at its highest level. Management should do everything possible:
While it is unpleasant, it is absolutely necessary to deal with ineffective, burned-out, or disruptive first line supervisors. A first line supervisor who is out of touch with the agency’s Mission and Goals and who breeds discontent is like a cancer within the agency.
It is also important for management to replace first line supervisors who are not:
If management is having issues with a certain unit or division, it might be a symptom of a breakdown in First Line Supervision. It is not unusual for a unit whose first line supervisor is not doing his or her job to start having operational problems such as these:
As budgets tighten and the public demands more “measurable productivity” from criminal justice agencies, the importance of first line supervisors will become more evident and these positions more demanding.
I believe that management has a special duty to its first line supervisors to understand the many difficulties associated with their positions. Additionally, many of these first line supervisors will become the managers in the future. The better these first line supervisors are prepared, the better managers they will become.
A personal note to all first line supervisors - Thank you!
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