The Power of Supportive Supervision

Author: Sonny J Provetto, MSW. LCSW
Author’s Email Address: CLICK HERE to email Sonny Provetto
Author’s Agency or Organization: Law Enforcement Consultant/Psychothrapy
Author’s Web Site: N/A

Police supervision is a challenging and nearly impossible task given the environment that patrol officers work in and the nature of the work itself.  Nonetheless, supervision is a critical element for agencies trying to shape and guide their employees in the delivery of modern police services (Engel, 2001). A resilient organization begins to take shape when administrators and supervisors start caring about their people.   According to a recent study, first line supervisors are the most influential member of the administrative staff especially when they are perceived to be supportive in their interactions with subordinates (National Institute of Justice Research, 2011).  The powerful effects of social relationships between front-line supervisors and subordinates can be used to control negative behaviors, influence future actions, and help organizations move towards establishing a positive and more resilient environment.   First-line supervisors are therefore a critical component of successful organizational change, accountability, performance, and the achievement of the agency’s goals.  Their role and function is vital to establishing a sustainable, supportive environment.

Supportive supervision is a key element in enhancing an officer’s feelings of competence and in a time of crisis, a supervisor’s support and personal connection can mean the difference between finding an event manageable or having the crisis turn problematic and pathological.  Supportive supervision also draws the attention away from the negative and engages the officer in positive and active problem solving.   This permits them to derive meaning from the situation and enhances their ability to exercise more control in the process (Patton & Stephens, 1996).

Through this approach, supervisors are in a unique position to shape how officers view stressful events and challenges in their careers.  The supervisor who—through example and discussion—communicates a positive construction or re-construction of shared stressful experience may exert an influence on the entire group in the direction of his/her interpretation of the experience (Patron & Violanti, 2008).  Alternatively, supportive supervisors may simply encourage officers through praise and recognition, or show support by establishing trust and good relations with them.  Officers functioning in trustful relationships are left feeling more empowered and more likely to experience meaning in their work (Violanti, 2010).  This is especially true for the police organization as a whole.  Officers who feel committed to their work have the ability to find difficult situations worth working for and see them through to completion. (Maddi & Khoshaba, 1994).
Supportive supervisors who practice resiliency also demonstrate how to exercise control over individual events and situations.  This practice is rooted in the belief that, with effort and commitment, officers can influence the events around them.  In a supportive and trusting environment, officers are not helpless and can be effective proponents of their own fate—in control of their own responses and the responses of others (Maddi & Khoshaba, 1994). As a result, a supportive climate will render officers more likely to take control, influence the course of events and ask for help without risk of reprisal or hesitation when work related stress becomes overwhelming.

Sonny Provetto, MSW, LCSW


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