Free Police promotion steps

“The path to success is always under construction.” – Jim Miller

There are various steps to police promotion within the Federated ranks, with UK police forces each having a ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix Promotion Process. Whatever your process, the first step is always your desire or aspiration.

It is not usual (for most of us) to walk around in a state of readiness for a promotion process. It takes significant preparation and some smart hard work. This three-part blog maps out and summarises the broad stages of the journey to police promotion. It also provides signposting and direction for further help, along with a bespoke map charting your journey through the myriad of obstacles (below). I wish you all the very best on your journey!

Free Police promotion steps

Step 1: Your Aspiration

Police Sergeant and inspector badges

“Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don’t count on harvesting golden delicious.” – Bill Meyer

The first step is your decision to seek a formal leadership position as a Sergeant, Inspector, or Chief Inspector. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, but some ambition must drive you from the outset.

Aspiration. It’s just a small thought at first. A fleeting moment. But it crosses the mind of every one who believes they are capable of leading others. Leadership is delivered of course at all levels of the police service, but police promotion to Sergeant and Inspecting rank vacancies are subject to formal selection processes.

Gaining permission to apply and study for the law examination is your declaration of intent. It marks an important first step on the journey to a formal leadership position. Those with ‘high potential’ might be invited on a ‘Fast Track’ shortcut through to Inspector. I believe all determined leadership candidates have high potential, which is why I advocate reading materials on the fast track scheme.


Step 2: Study

Police promotion mnemonics

“You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” – Indira Gandi

Step 2 is your commitment to studying for your legal exam (NPPF Step Two) or other qualification. Time, determination, focus and discipline are all required to successfully pass the legal exam. Note that in Police Scotland, this instead is a leadership qualification. Either way, it’s the first real leg of your promotion journey, a significant test of your personal commitment.

Formally known as ‘OSPRE Part 1’, the examination of law and procedure is Step 2 on the National Police Promotion Framework (NPPF). There are various resources that can help align your personal drive and energy with a structured approach to studying, thereby ensuring comprehensive preparation through the considerable syllabus. Whether it’s Blackstone’s manuals or others, the key is to study and practice.


Step 3: Exam

NPPF step 2 legal exam

“Being defeated is a temporary condition. Giving up makes it permanent.” – Marilyn vos Savant

Step three is to sit (and pass!) your legal exam. Finding out as much as possible about your exam (or the leadership diploma if you’re in Police Scotland!) beforehand can be very helpful. The College of Policing (CoP) provide a detailed ‘Candidate Handbook’ on their site to get you started. The exam is something all candidates have in common.

Pass or Fail: What did you learn? How you react if you do not pass says a lot about you and how you might respond to setbacks as a leader, manager and supervisor. It can be incredibly disappointing, because it can set you back another year or more. Some officers have sat the exam 5 times or more before succeeding, so a growth mindset is useful.

The recent move to an online Inspectors exam for 2020 police promotion processes by the CoP attracted great criticism after many frustrated officers couldn’t submit their responses, there was a system overload and the CoP had to postpone the occasion for those affected. Yet there will always be another chance to attempt it.

Having passed the exam successfully, for some officers the qualification will expire. This can be a bitter experience, especially when there has been no opportunity to convert the qualification, e.g. via an interview board or other selection process held within the time limit. Others might have a selection process, yet they started preparing only when the process opened and so fell short of the preparation required (the single biggest mistake most make).


Step 4: Evidence

UK police promotion processes

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart

Concerted effort to build the evidence you need to support your application. The brutal reality is that different forces have different processes at different ranks and at different times. A summary is shown above. Regardless of what your force police promotion process might be, something you can do right now is start answering the following questions: What evidence do you have now? How is it structured? Is it almost ready to go if needed? If you don’t have any, where will you start?

Collating and drafting evidence of work and operational experiences, taking time to understand how it aligns to the CVF rank behaviours and values can help a lot. Sometimes, but by no means always, evidence comes from acting or temporary duties, projects or secondments. Other candidates acquire evidence without doing any of these and still succeed.

When a process does open ‘unexpectedly’, it can catch out (otherwise) good candidates who are simply unprepared and/or don’t have evidence ready or at the standard required. Working against a tight deadline they put together what they can, submit it and hope they get through to the next step. The promotion journey for this cohort of ‘the unprepared’ ends here… until the next time. This is completely avoidable.


I hope you found this blog useful and see you back for part 2! For more support on your UK police promotion journey in the meantime, here’s more free blog content, regular YouTube videos plus the in-depth Rank Success digital toolkit, covering the role at Level 2 of the CVF, providing example evidence, including all stages of the promotion process and much, much more! You can also use code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion toolkits or bundles.

Kind Regards, Steve