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Future leaders need new skills and be 'less risk-averse'

Chief constables will need a wider skillset to meet future challenges, senior leaders have warned.
Published - 26/02/2021 By - Chris Smith

'Safe appointees' leading forces they have spent years with will be ill-equipped to meet future policing needs, according to policing experts.

Delegates who joined the online Police Foundation annual conference heard from senior policing figures that the current recruitment and training for leaders won’t be enough to run the service in future.

Former Number 10 adviser Tom Gash said leaders had to ignore the pull of operational issues and lead beyond their organisation's  boundaries – a key finding from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“You only have to see how much the police have supported other organisations during COVID to appreciate the public sector is an ecosystem,” he said.

“The scrutiny environment in policing, in my view, is such that people feel they’ve got to do everything right in every stage of an incident. That is one big challenge that we need to think about. How do we build leaders that resist that pull?”

The Home Secretary has begun a review to look at how Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables work together. Mr Gash said the relationship needs clarity.

“It can create some ambiguity about who sets the organisational objectives, especially if there are tensions,” he said.

He also questioned the merit in recruiting senior leaders from within a force they have stayed with. It’s a concern also raised by HM Inspectorate.

“We’ve got a problem where the leader has come from within their own organisation. We’ve seen a big drop, particularly with Chief Constables, in people coming from outside. There’s a tendency to go for people that they know and trust. That does mean leaders don’t have the ability to experience lots of organisational context,” he said.

One solution could be reviewing the strategic command course to build experience.

Jon Parry, Head of Research at Skills for Justice, said that to meet future challenges, forces needed to accept that technology must now be a priority – and COVID-19 has accelerated that demand.

“People are coming in with different abilities. Presume digital by default; if it can be done digitally, make it digital. If it happened once then it will happen again. Don’t try to remember what you did, plan for what you will do.”

Over-caution is one of the reasons why forces are lagging behind on digital advances, the event was told by former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir George Hamilton.

Most senior teams believe cloud technology is an unsafe data storage system rather than something that enables agile working he said. 

Sir George said: “COVID has been an accelerator because it has forced us to collaborate more. The rest of the world has moved to the cloud and policing needs to catch up.”

He also referenced his own experience with PSNI: “The training requirement in technology was to retrain generally newer officers in older technology they weren’t familiar with. Chiefs don’t get sacked for using old technology that is antiquated but sturdy and fit for purpose. I suffered from a bit of that myself.”

He added: “The IT people in policing know where we need to go. It’s actually senior police risk aversion and governance that are holding us back.”

Police Superintendent’s Association president Paul Griffiths said leaders in future will need to understand and respond to communities that are both physical and virtual.

He added that Chief Constables and the Home Office could not ignore the challenges of future policing when there was an influx of new officers coming into the Service who will be setting their career objectives.

“What are the skills and standards that we need for decades to come? If we

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