Police Promotion what is the role of a Police Sergeant?

As promised in my last blog Police Promotion: The Knowns and Unknowns, this article and the one that follows, will focus on the Sergeant’s role.

First Things First

“The best way to predict your future is to create it” – Abraham Lincoln

First things first, a thought once crossed your mind. Something similar to: ‘I believe that I have the potential to lead others in a formal leadership position as Sergeant’. Anyone can think it. You took action. You studied for months to move a step closer, towards making the jump. Converting that initial belief into reality. You’ve passed the Sergeant’s promotion exam.

Momentum maintained you might already be through the application and/or additional assessment tests.

There’s just the interview to go. It’s time. You’ve just sat down. Introductions over. The Chair of the board speaks:

“How would you describe your understanding of the Sergeant’s role?”

If this initial question identifies a gap in your knowledge, that’s good news because you can get to work on filling it. You have a fantastic opportunity right now, today, to develop your own response.

I’ll sometimes ask this question in coaching to help ascertain where individuals are in terms of preparedness. In my experience of helping officers to achieve promotion, I find initial responses to this question fall into two approaches.


“Silence is more eloquent than words.” Thomas Carlyle

Silence. Tumbleweed blows by. A church bell could chime in the distance. You get the picture. It feels a bit like being in a Spaghetti Western!

But there’s a lot of thinking going on when it’s quiet. Silence can be a good sign, certainly in coaching sessions.

Silence might precede a well-considered response or the realisation that though you might be performing the role in acting or temporary capacity, your confidence is low when talking about it. Of course, it may also mean that the right words are not there…yet!

It’s OK. After all, no one walks around in a state of readiness for a promotion board!

The Al Capone Response

“Deliver your words not by number but by weight” H.G. Bohn

The other response I see is a ‘verbal scattergun’ approach. This is where a candidate machine-guns words in the hope that they are saying the right things. It’s sometimes nerves or manifestations of one of the biggest fears people have about interviews: drying up or having nothing to say.

The good news is that a scattergun approach can be refined with practice, into a more considered response aligned to the role functions and responsibilities!

Role awareness

“Simples” – Alexander Meerkat

In footballing terms the question “Would you please describe your understanding of the Sergeant’s role?” is an open goal. They don’t come any easier.

It’s the kind of question that could be presented to you on a velvet cushion. With a pink bow, some sprinkles and a cherry on top. It’s a real gift! But there’s a caveat: It’s only an open goal or a gift for the well prepared.

You may be thinking: ‘Really? But that’s such a simple question!’

Most people will gladly have a go at answering this question. Outside the interview room it’s easy peasy. Or is it?

Try and find someone, anyone, who can answer this question well, off the top of his or her head. You’ll hear a wide variety of responses ranging from guesses, through to quite articulate waffle that might cause you to regret asking in the first place!

Knowing the role, spending time to develop your understanding around it means that even if you don’t get asked directly about it; you can be on the front foot and proactively communicating in interview what you do know about it.

Board members want candidates to do well, so it’s a pleasure when they get to hear professional responses from candidates who have clearly put some work in beforehand.

Take a few moments to think about and then describe what kind of behaviours and values a sergeant should be demonstrating. It’s a good place to start.

Role – ‘The behaviour pattern that an individual presents to others”

The Role of Sergeant…

Being a Sergeant is less about working in the spotlight yourself and more about focusing it on your team. Being able to link the role to performance outcomes is crucial to preparing examples of competence you may have; especially to convincing a board that you will manage performance.

But where is the Sergeant’s role written down? Where do you start? You’d think that would be the easy part. In some ways it is. Every force has role profiles, job descriptions and responsibilities for supervisors. You may also be provided with packs as part of your force promotion selection process to get some ideas.

In a nutshell, I would say the role is to set, communicate and reinforce standards in the organisation.

You can also get an overview from your force promotion framework. However, there are various aspects to the Sergeants’ role. It’s why there are different frameworks. It’s also why I encourage my clients to look at other force frameworks to help develop a wider appreciation of the role.

All things considered there’s quite a bit of information to think about.

Here’s one example or overview of the role from the Policing Professional Framework (PPF). It describes ‘personal qualities’ under various headings of a competent supervisory manager. It states a Sergeant must be able to:

Conduct intelligence driven briefing, tasking and debriefing
Prepare for, monitor and maintain, law enforcement operations
Supervise the response to critical incidents
Supervise investigations and investigators
Manage your own resources
Provide leadership for your team

The College of Policing’s new Competency and Values Framework (CVF) also sets out behaviours and values of the Sergeant’s role:

The CVF has 6 competencies.
Each competency has 3 levels describing what behaviours look like in practice.

The competencies are underpinned by 4 values.Then there’s the Metropolitan Leadership Framework (MLF):

This describes 4 main behaviour groups
There are 11 sub competencies
Competencies are underpinned by 4 values

Can You Spot The Difference!

If you saw a Sergeant walking down the street would you be able to tell if it was a PPF, CVF or MLF Sergeant? Could you spot the difference? Of course not, but there are various different descriptions of the role.

You’ll see that there is no shortage of information out there. So when you are asked about the role there’s a wide range of potential responses to the question: “How would you describe your understanding of the Sergeant’s role?”

Here’s a sentence to get you started.

“As a leader, manager and supervisor, I understand the Sergeant’s role as being critical to setting, communicating and reinforcing standards in the organisation….”

(How would you develop this response? What will you include?)

Here are some more questions to trigger some thinking and get you started:

What are your own expectations of the role?
What do you believe the public expect and deserve from this role?
What does your force expect from Sergeants?

In part 2, I’ll focus in more detail on some of the wider functions and responsibilities of the Sergeants’ role. Until then, wherever you are on your promotion journey I hope I have provided you with some food for thought.


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