4 ways correctional leaders can motivate personnel

How can leaders motivate their COs to perform at optimal levels?

By Shaun Ward, D. Mgt
C1 Contributor

Today’s public safety community deals daily with incidents that negatively impact relationships between agencies and communities. It is more important than ever that department leaders focus on maintaining the morale of those men and women wearing the uniform.

I recently published a study that focused on identifying how first-line law enforcement supervisors motivate their subordinates. Ten supervisors participated, ranging from 8–25 years’ of experience supervising personnel, with an average of 13 subordinates. Each supervisor participated in a one-on-one interview, where they answered 11 questions about their daily interactions with personnel.

When correctional leaders motivate their subordinates, they improve the quality of service in their facilities.
When correctional leaders motivate their subordinates, they improve the quality of service in their facilities. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

While responses varied, certain themes emerged. Each supervisor expressed commitment to keeping his or her subordinates motivated in order to effectively deal with stressors of the job, both internally and externally. Based on the information shared by the survey participants, here are four ways correctional leaders can help motivate employees.

1. Leading by Example

Supervising officers should not ask a subordinate to do a task, assignment, or duty that the supervisor would not be willing to do her or himself. This sets a standard of expectation to the subordinate officer. The supervising officer then becomes a person others want to follow. Supervising officers strongly believed that forcing a subordinate officer to do something the supervising officer would not do erodes trust, with trust being one of the most critical elements of productive leadership.

Tip: Rather than managing your officers’ tasks, walk the tiers with them. Set high standards and adhere to them. If you talk it, walk it.

2. Treating correctional Officers as People First

Effective supervisors have a sense of empathy for the stress of the profession and its impact on their subordinates’ job performance and motivation. Empathy is far removed from sympathy – it denotes the ability to understand and share the feelings or experience. Furthermore, it denotes support with compassion.

Tip: Encourage a balanced work-life structure among your officers by encouraging and supporting employee engagement activities outside of the job. Be flexible with days off requests, offer additional down time at work, and create team engagement activities with their peers. Take interest in and help with the subordinate’s personal problems, aspirations, successes and losses.

3. Being Self-Aware

A self-aware supervisor recognizes that his or her leadership approach may not work for every subordinate.

Tip: Attend additional supervisory professional development training to consistently remind yourself that as a supervisor, you have to adapt to the learning styles of each officer, rather than each officer adapt to your leadership style.

4. Providing the right reward system

It is important for supervisors to focus on small successes as much as bigger ones.

Tip: Often officers are only recognized through an officer of the month program or at a yearly awards ceremony. Compensating an officer for her/his meal from time to time, allowing the officer to come to work later or even leave earlier are ways to celebrate the small successes.


When correctional leaders motivate their subordinates, they improve the quality of service in their facilities. Understanding and defining motivation as it relates to work performance in the context of correctional officers helps increase productivity, facility security and safety, and employee recruitment and retention. 

About the Author
Shaun Ward, D. Mgt., is a law enforcement professional with over 15 years of strategic and leadership experience who received his Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership degree. Dr. Ward has contributed extensively as a program manager of community policing initiatives and professional development. He is dedicated to researching occupational health and safety, relational process, and employee well-being to produce evidence-based best practices that are meaningful to scholars, practitioners and communities at large. Connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaunlward.

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