Corporate & Public Safety Leadership

Wayne Thompson
Wayne “Steve” Thompson, PhD

Corporate and Public Safety Leadership

Public safety organizational success is hard to define. There are numerous factors contributing to public safety. Social policy, correctional policy, the economy, educational opportunities, and the job market can all have an impact.

The typical method of measuring success is establishing goals and working to meet those goals. The overall goal should be the highest possible levels of public safety. This can only be accomplished if all members of an organization are committed to success.

Public Safety Leadership

Noble goals such as increasing public safety are replaced by attaining statistical performance standards and compliance with policies. Public safety leadership typically identifies the method to achieve public safety and dictates the method it will be accomplished to the followers in the organization.

The followers’ success is based on achieving the prescribed standards. If public safety is not increased, the followers can claim success while the organization as a whole has failed. Organizational goals should be shared and this requires a higher level of support than mere compliance.

Public safety leadership has been dominated by the transactional leadership theory. Transactional leadership is limited by the ability of the leader to administer or withhold an incentive in exchange for compliance.

Transformational Leadership

Higher salary, promotion, and awards are given in exchange for a predetermined set of goals. Punishments are used for failing to meet the assigned goals. This method is very effective in attaining expected outcomes but often fails to achieve excellence.

An example is the assignment of a performance standard of two contacts per hour while working DWI enforcement. An officer can contact two motorists for equipment violations in just a few minutes. The officer can do nothing else and still meet the assigned goal while the real goal is to reduce the destruction of property, injuries, and fatalities caused by impaired drivers.

An officer who buys in to the overall goal may be more proactive in identifying effective methods of removing impaired drivers such as focusing on moving violations and or continuing to make contacts beyond the minimum required.

Corporate Leadership

Corporate entities/ profit based businesses are highly competitive. They require the most effective leadership methods to be successful. Success is much easier to identify in private enterprise. A successful organization will continue to exist while others are eliminated. Public safety agencies do not have competition and therefore are not subject to replacement.

Significant research suggests transformational leadership is the most effective (Chi, Chung, & Tsai, 2011; Dess & Picken, 2000; Friedman, 2004; Hirtz, Murray, & Riordan, 2007; Liu, Siu, & Shi, 2010; Yang, 2012). Northouse (2007) defined transformational leadership as, “The process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower”.

Louisiana State Police

Members of an organization should accomplish shared goals because they support them versus fear of the consequences of failing to meet a performance standard.

Transformational leadership requires an elimination of authoritarian and hierarchical dominance. If a leader’s only source of power is a position, he is weak when compared with the leader who gains the support of followers and empowers them to be successful.

Public safety members are more educated and professional than ever before and desire to contribute to the success of an organization far beyond minimal compliance.


How to Implement Transformational Leadership in Public Safety

The concepts of transformational leadership are not new. They have been the subject of countless window to window patrol car conversations. A challenge to transformational leadership is what works in corporate America will not work in paramilitary public safety organizations.

Studies of military and governmental organizations support the implementation of transformational leadership (Andreescu & Vito, 2010; Deluga, 1990; Kendrick, 2011; Silvestri, 2007; Stricker & Rock, 1998; Tucci, 2008; Yardley & Neal, 2007). The US military is adopting transformational leadership theory in an effort to maintain combat effectiveness. If an organization claims to be paramilitary, it should follow suit.

One agency has taken significant steps to implement transformational leadership theory concepts. The Louisiana State Police has developed a curriculum for leadership training for all current and potential leaders.

The curriculum is based on the relational leadership model and highlights the fact that every member of an organization is a leader. The training treats leadership as a process which includes followers as active participants in decision-making to obtain support beyond compliance.

Words foreign to strict hierarchy and positional based leadership are used such as inclusiveness and empowerment. These concepts are consistent with transformational leadership theory and are a far cry from the typical administrative/management type training of the past.

The training is consistent with best practices identified for private, public safety, and military organizations. The leadership training has rightfully garnered the attention of other agencies and will hopefully become a model program for all public safety agencies.

About the Author:

Wayne “Steve” Thompson, PhD served in the US Army from 1996 -2002. He has been a Louisiana State Trooper Since 2002 and have served in uniform patrol, plain clothes, and SWAT. Steve has a BA from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in Criminal Justice, a Master’s Degree from Troy University of Alabama in Criminal Justice, abd a PhD in Criminal Justice from Capella University in Minnesota. Steve has been teaching at the college level since 2008 at the graduate and undergraduate level.


Andreescu, V., & Vito, G. F. (2010). An exploratory study on ideal leadership behaviour: the opinions of American police managers. International Journal Of Police Science & Management, 12(4).

Chi, N., Chung, Y., & Tsai, W. (2011). How Do Happy Leaders Enhance Team Success? The Mediating Roles of Transformational Leadership, Group Affective Tone, and Team Processes. Journal Of Applied Social Psychology, 41(6).

Deluga, R. (1990). The effects of transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership: characteristics on subordinate influencing behavior. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 11(2), 191-203.

Dess, G.G., & Picken, J. C. (2000). Changing Roles: Leadership in the 21st Century. Organizational Dynamics, 28(3), 18-34.

Friedman, A. (2004). Beyond Mediocrity: Transformational Leadership within a Transactional Framework. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 7(3), 203-224.

Hirtz, P., Murray, S., & Riordan, C. (2007). The Effects of Leadership on Quality. Engineering Management Journal, 19(1), 22-27.

Kendrick, J. (2011). Transformational Leadership Changing Individuals & Social Systems. Professional Safety, 56(11), 14.

Liu, J., Siu, O., & Shi, K. (2010). Transformational Leadership and Employee Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Trust in the Leader and Self-Efficacy. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59(3).

Northouse, P. G. (2007) Leadership: Theory and practice (4th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Silvestri, M. (2007). “Doing” Police Leadership: Enter the “New Smart Macho”. Policing and Society, 17(1), 38-58.

Stricker, L. & Rock, D. (1998). Assessing Leadership with a Biographical Measure of Personality Traits. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 6(3), 164-185.

Tucci, M. (2008). Effective Leadership in Government. Journal for Quality & Participation, 31(1), 31-32.

Yang, M. (2012). Transformational leadership and Taiwanese public relations practitioners’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 40(1).

Yardley, I. & Neal, D. (2007). Understanding the leadership and culture dynamic within a military context: Applying theory to an operational and business context. Defence Studies, 7(1), 21041.

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