Police Federation

Retention and Leadership – Moving from the shade into the light

Paul Matthews and Ray Clare look at the past mistakes of leaders in policing and present a new path to forging excellent, standardised, leadership practices across all forces.

10 October 2023


The retention and leadership session was introduced by National Board Member Paul Matthews, PFEW professional development lead.

The session at Annual Conference 2023, sponsored by the College of Policing, began with Paul’s introductory speech, in which he took an examined look at the failings of current and historic police leadership that goes someway to explain why policing is at the crossroads it finds itself at today.

Next up was Ray Clare’s, head of leadership and progression at the College of Policing (CoP), presentation that looked to the future of leadership in policing and what the CoP is undertaking to ensure policing has a fit for purpose future leadership.

Paul shone a light on the lack of a supportive, compassionate, loyal and inspiring leadership that is prevalent in police forces today up and down England and Wales.

It is vital for officers to have leaders that use their experience to lead by example, and who will listen to, and adapt to, new ideas, rather than promote change for its own sake.

In order for leadership to flourish we must end the continual promotion of those who challenge and delegate down, instead of those that have the confidence and ability to challenge upwards.

Leadership must be taken seriously, something Baroness Casey suggested is not happening.

Paul noted that Casey highlighted the absence of clear structures, systems, expectations and two-way communication in policing allowed for poor cultures to grow.

Paul argued this can only change with fundamental reform that can challenge old cultures and embed new cultures that can begin to take policing in the right direction.

But as Paul pointed out, much of Casey’s work has largely been ignored by senior leaders who have focused on the extremes her work highlighted and not the more mundane failings in leadership she went to great length to expose.

Leadership has for too long looked to increase regulation and oversight rather than look to its own failings and put leaders under the scrutiny they see fit for others.

Paul argued policing cannot sack its way out of a crisis but must now look to replace those under whose watch failings and poor culture has been allowed to embed.

This is why there is so much concern over new powers handed to chief constables in misconduct hearings. If they are deciding what conduct matters are to be investigated how can they be challenged without fear of reprisal.

Paul noted that Casey pointed out, the response to problems in policing is often more regulation and oversight, rather than focusing on boosting professionalism and leadership.

That there is such a large number of misconduct and disciplinary hearings to be heard highlights leadership has failed to oversee and manage those they were in charge of. Again, policing cannot sack its way out of problems.

Paul went on to challenge the idea the Police Uplift Programme was a success, indeed he called out leadership for being too keen to hit recruitment targets rather than concentrate on meeting objectives to address demand pressures, broaden the skill base or improve diversity, or how the uplift contributes to a workforce plan.

Paul rightly asked the questions on how this has been allowed to happen, looking at recruitment, vetting, management, training and promotion within a culture in which poor performance, behaviours and attitudes have been allowed to go unchallenged.

Perhaps most revealing is the disconnect Paul mentioned, between senior officers and the rank and file.

Casey pointed out her review team met with senior leaders at the start of the day who talked about empowering their officers and staff, the opportunities they had to move around, their high morale and how well they were managing probationers and trainee detectives. But the reality when they spoke to constables and detectives was the polar opposite with many feeling trapped, exhausted, unable to meet their workload and not understood by their leaders.

Whilst this paints a poor picture of the current state of leadership in policing, Ray Clare, head of leadership and progression at the College of Policing, focused on the future of leadership and what the College, in partnership with PFEW, is doing to ensure great improvement going forward.

CoP has set up a National Centre for Police Leadership (NCPL) with the immediate aims of setting clear national standards for leadership at all levels, something that can act as the benchmark for leadership performance across policing; equal to this is to provide leadership development opportunities for all in policing and further, to develop the function of the leadership centre as a centre of excellence that builds a positive leadership culture and promotes sharing good practice in policing.

The principal areas of work that the NCPL will look at, Ray explained, are leadership standards, leadership development for everyone, promotion and progression, talent development and the sharing of good practice.

By focusing on these five key areas, it is the aim to develop skills and capabilities under the following:

  • Understanding and challenging systemic issues in policing; leading and positively influencing cultural change
  • Leading in a rapidly changing operating environment
  • Leading continuous improvement in competence and performance
  • Responding pro-actively to the challenges faced by policing, current and future
  • Taking opportunities, setting direction and driving progress in policing
  • Building expertise, innovating, sharing good practice and lessons learned; collaborating effectively

The College will work closely with PFEW and other staff associations to ensure dedicated support throughout for the successful implementation of these development programmes.

There exists key initiatives that are in various states of progress. Already being implemented are the adoption of new national leadership standards, an integrated Police Leadership Programme, locally and nationally, and importantly reform of chief officer development and progression programmes.

The College has planned the reform of current promotion process at sergeant and inspector levels and has scope for the development of a national promotion framework at chief inspector, superintendent, and chief superintendent level.

The Retention and Leadership session highlighted the failures of the past and the failure of leadership to accept and respond to these, but also looked to the future.

Ray explained the way forward that CoP is carving for leadership based around the creation of a NCPL.

For more information on the National Centre for Police Leadership, visit the College of Policing website.

Watch the session back below.

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