Words of wisdom for new correctional supervisors

From developing your personnel to being primed on department policy, here are some steps to success for new correctional supervisors

By C1 Staff

Newly promoted correctional supervisors face many challenges. From understanding the intricacies of department policy to supervising employees you recently worked alongside as a line officer, the first few months can feel like you are walking a tightrope. To help you steer your way, we asked several Corrections1 columnists and contributors to share their tops tips on how to have a successful career as a correctional supervisor.

Follow your mentors

In this April 15, 2015 file photo guard towers are seen at High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nev.
In this April 15, 2015 file photo guard towers are seen at High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher,File)

The advice I would give new supervisors is to recall the best supervisors you worked under as a line officer and remember their good traits, then think about what you learned from them as you progressed in your career. Try to take positive characteristics such as fairness, respect and availability to you and your colleagues, and do your best to not only perform the same way, but to improve on them. This means not only to imitate but to innovate. The first supervisor I worked under was patient, caring and a good mentor who helped me learn and improve. That is what I tried to do as I moved up the ranks. I have never forgotten him.

The one thing I wish I had when I first was promoted was an effective stress management plan. I was promoted from the line to corporal and started to work my way up. It was a stressful time. Supervising the same deputies who I used to equally share duties with and handling employees who did not get promoted and resented that, proved to be draining. I learned how to handle the stress and keep positive people in my life. It was one of the reasons I became a stress management trainer and author.

Lt. Gary Cornelius (ret.)

Understand how you fit in

See the bigger picture! There are a lot of moving parts in corrections, each one very dependent on the other. As a supervisor, you need to understand how all the parts – both individuals and departments – interact with each other.

Remember as a supervisor, you are responsible for your team. At all times you are your brother and sister’s keeper and, as much as they depend on you, you depend on them. True leaders remember their roots and remain humble as they move up the chain. They give respect where respect is due; they never micromanage, but rather empower; and, most important, they recognize the importance of their support staff.  

Anthony Gangi

Develop your personnel

The most important thing you can do as a supervisor is to develop your personnel, building both new skill sets and employee morale. As often as you can, you should conduct operations with your people to do contraband interdiction, STG identification and validation, intelligence gathering and other security-based actions. Assign each person on your crew a specific function or two. After each operation, conduct after-action reviews of the efficiency, successes, failures and possible improvements. Eventually put those staff in charge of those operations and have them teach their specific functions to each other. Do this and you will groom them to be the future of your department. They in turn will begin doing what you have taught them and helping to reach a critical mass where new talents and skills become self-sustaining and there is a never-ending pool of talent that can really help your facility or your department. Development of your personnel is the most forward-looking action you can take, yet it is all too often neglected in the correctional realm.

— Russ Hamilton

Lead by example

Supervisors should work each day to lead by example. Their conduct should exemplify what it means to be a professional and what it means to be a model employee. Whether it's personal appearance, work attendance or the manner in which they interact with inmates, supervisors should set the standard. Supervisors who fail to maintain high standards for themselves lack credibility when trying to enforce those same expectations with the employees they supervise.

Rusty Ringler

Be primed on policy

Know your policies. Read them and memorize them. If you come across a question on a policy or a policy isn’t clearly written, email your direct supervisor and advise him or her that it’s not clear, then be prepared to offer up clarifying language, as a good boss will ask for your opinion. Emails are important as they help with a paper trail to protect future decisions based on sometimes murky policy. 

Zohar Zaied

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