Are you ready to be a correctional supervisor?

The decision to become a supervisor should not be made lightly

When I am not a night shift supervisor at my jail, I am an adjunct professor for a local college. My recent class is on managing police personnel. What I found interesting in preparing for the first class was that right away the first lesson was on ethics and values.

The chapter began with a great quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.” (Whisenand and McCain, 2011)

This got me thinking of being a supervisor and how I would speak of what I do and what I am responsible for to my students. It also got me thinking of explaining the inevitable questions from my students about the wrongdoings of supervisors that have been in the media of late.

Corrections and law enforcement are professions that have high expectations of ethics and accountability. The public and communities we serve place a higher degree of integrity and morality on us, deserved or not, and therefore a breach of that expectation is felt throughout the entire profession.

How do you react when you hear about misbehavior at another institution? I often think: where was their supervisor and why was there no intervention? Were the supervisors complicit? I would like not to think so, but recent accounts of supervisors lying and other mishandlings are contrary to that ideology.

The decision to become a supervisor should not be made lightly. While the raise in pay is always a nice incentive, a realization of the responsibility and willingness to convey your values and the values of the organization to your staff should be at the forefront of your decision-making process.

Once you become a supervisor, the officers you are in charge of now look to you for guidance and example. A question I ask myself everyday is “how do I want my officers to see me – as someone who is honest, trustworthy, motivated and principled? Or do I want my officers to see me as indecisive, dishonest, unmotivated and unscrupulous?” Part of being a supervisor is being an example, as many people say “walk the walk and talk the talk.”

All people will at some point in their careers come to an ethical dilemma. This is a situation where there are many ways to handle a situation and how it is handled has more to do with comfort level and willingness to stand up and do what is right rather than what is easy. According to Whisenand and McCain, “two basic rules of leadership are: (1) whatever you allow you encourage, and (2) whatever employees do for you, they will do to you.” (2011) If supervisors show a willingness to allow for questionable ethical behavior, (i.e. falsifying reports) or engage in this behavior themselves, how can they expect officers to not do the same thing?

How can you as a supervisor ensure that you are being a good leader? Go back to the basics. What are your values, ethics and morals? Are you conveying those to your subordinates in what you say and do on a daily basis? We as supervisors can make sure that we set the example and be the mentor, teacher, coach and leader that show how it can and should be done.

Be attentive to your staff as well as show a commitment to responsibility in ethical conduct by your employees. Show you trust them, continually communicate with your employees, not only the values of the organization but what your expectations are of that employee.

Have a welcoming environment to help resolve ethical conflicts and dilemmas so that employees will not resort to misbehavior.

Last, make sure that employees get the recognition and reinforcement for those resolutions of ethical challenges and the importance that integrity and ethics are in the organization and to you.

It will not only benefit the employee, but you as the supervisor.

Whisenand, P. & McCain, J. (2011). Managing police organizations, 8th Ed. New York: Pearson Education.

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