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So you made Sergeant – Now what?
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 04/21/2014

Boss Congratulations, you just received your first big promotion. Chances are you worked hard for such an achievement and you're ready to get to work doing what sergeants do. But wait, before you go to work as a new sergeant let’s take a look at your skill set and readiness level to be a new supervisor.

First you have to refrain yourself from criticizing the agency you work for as you inherited a responsibility that puts you out there as an agent for the organization and all your subordinates. What you say on your own time is your private moment but in uniform or while on duty you will be held accountable for what you say and do all of the time.

Talking badly about the officers that have left or quit can get you into hot water with others. Remember there are friendships still intact and those that work for you expect you to be fair and talking badly about others only makes them think what you might say about them one day. Being gracious and polite to those that have departed will get you a long way in the field of respect.

Favoritism would be shown if you were to begin replacing the old team with a “new” team made up of friends and others that favor you as a person or friend. Eliminating others from the team will create a division and poor morale and can emerge into feelings of discomfort or unwanted friction and conflict on the shift and in the workplace.

Promotions mean more responsibilities not less. Ignoring the needs of the officers around you and the inmate population can create messy and unorganized things that will come back and haunt you. Ignoring what you did so well before should be eliminated and avoided at all costs.

Making solo decisions and failure to consult with the “team” may result in sub optimal performance and communication breakdowns. This does not apply to all cases but in those where it is wiser to gather feedback, it is essential you do it. Although strategies are good to have, it is important that you remain open and available to you team so you can get their buy in for your plans or tactics. Being someone that decrees a not so well strategy can be detrimental to your effectiveness as a team leader and your reputation.

Then there is your demeanor and what you say. You must realize that now, as a sergeant, your words carry more weight now than they used to. This means that your mood, tone, body language and words are now subject to interpretation as a boss and saying the wrong things can cause conflict or anxiety and stress. It is better to think twice before you say it or make a joke as it will be perceived to come from a command position that is much more authoritative than before.

Realize you are not “bulletproof” and don’t act like you are invulnerable. There are times where you may be dead certain what to do or what action to take but take into consideration you recognizing the uncertainties in any situation and don’t take an attitude that may in fact be dead wrong. While you are in this position never forget where you came from and don’t compete with the previous sergeant assigned to the team. There is no need for competition.

The most common mistakes is talking too much and not enough listening. Getting too big for your own britches can and does create attitudes and changes the behaviors around you. Don’t use a tone that is offensive when a normal tone will do the job. Be considerate of others and don’t give out orders while you sit behind the desk acting all mighty and powerful. Know when it’s time to talk and time to listen and you will be a successful communicator.

Paying attention to these rookie mistakes will help you avoid some difficult times ahead. Don’t pretend you know it all and don’t forget to ask for input from others. Make it clear how you perceive your role to be within the workplace, the shift or among your team members. Following these rules will allow you not to be seen as a rookie sergeant being a jerk and making rookie mistakes.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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