The Effects of Supervisory Styles

Most practitioners and scholars usually agree that the role of supervising corrections and police officers is at times tremendously challenging and seems to be such an insurmountable task at times. This tends to be given the environmental constraints and also the general nature of the patrol work (Tifft, 1971; Van Maanen, 1983). Although having the first line supervision is considered critical to the success of most corrections and police organizations, there is remarkably little that can be known about the actual activities and roles that get performed by the street -level patrol supervisors. Furthermore, differences in supervisory styles have not been described adequately or examined. It is troubling that most policing communities know extremely little about the activities, styles and roles of corrections and police supervisors, who tend to be the American corrections organization’s backbone. This paper reviews the supervisory styles. It also studies the effects of supervisory styles by different supervisors and how the different styles affect the officers, who work under them.

Supervisory and Leadership Styles

Dobby et al. (2004), carried out a research that regarded leadership expectations of the police. The research conducted also had focus on the impacts of the leadership expectations in the reform agenda. The research used questionnaires and interviews as research tools. The study proposed that any single officer that has line management that is direct of the other staff in the same line should have a transformational style of supervisory and leadership employed. The supervisory role allows them to serve as role models and be trusted, admired and respected by their followers. In addition to that they should hold persistence, extraordinary capabilities and sheer determination. Some supervisors, who do not use these styles of leadership may destroy the motivation and morale of the staff, which may also see the level of quality and efficiency of the services go down. According to Hancott (2005), he made a report that the transformational leadership styles have been slowly validated against some numerous outcome variables. This includes the impact on the followers extra effort, satisfaction, organizational commitment and perceived performance. Loree (2006), made a note that supervisory has a critical role in promoting integrity and combating corruption. The corrections officers in some leadership positions wield some influence that the organization would be considered to be essential. This happened directly in terms of their inactions or actions and indirectly in how they and their own actions get perceived. There is always a tendency to eradicate some leaders in the officers in the senior management positions and while these individuals get considered playing a hugely significant role, mostly at the macro-organizational level, leadership within this organization within the community considered to be the large one can also be highly effective in dealing with some issues of the corrections integrity and corruption. Huberts et al. (2007), made some investigations that the impact of the three aspects of supervisory and leadership role had on the integrity violations committed by police officers which will apply to corrections officers as well.

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The three aspects that they investigated include role modeling, strictness and openness. They made an observation that the influence of the three aspects may vary. They concluded that all the three aspects have an impact that tends to be significant on the frequency of corrupt behaviors. They observed that external corruption is influenced mainly by strictness. They also noted that the aspect of leadership which can be considered to have the strongest impact on internal corruption in the workplace, was strictly modeling. Openness is also considered to be playing a role internally; where else they considered strictness to be less influential. They concluded that some supervisory and leadership roles in the policing community leads to the behaviors the corrections officers have in most parts of the world ( Skogan & Frydl 2004).

Engel’s Four Supervisory Styles

Engel (2001), after studying some patrol officers, sergeants and lieutenants in two agencies simply identified four supervisory styles that get used among the patrol supervisors. He labeled them as innovative, traditional, active and supportive. Three of the discovered supervisory styles, especially the traditional, supportive and innovative were some variations of the transactional style of leadership. It tends to be believed that the traditional style of supervision can be usually characterized by supervisors, who always expect their officers to often produce measurable outcomes. The measurable outcomes that the corrections officers are expected to produce include arrests, citations and reports. The traditional officers usually expect their officers to have aggressive enforcement always, but they also expect remarkably little relative to life issues quality or related issues in community policing. The supervisors are more likely to make the required decisions as they took over calls or inform the officers on how to handle their calls. In the corrections environment, this applies to the supervisor coming in to take over a situation in the corrections facility between two inmates or an inmate and an officer. The main concern for the supervisors is to have total control of their subordinate behavior (Gaines, 2011). The innovative supervisors always expect their subordinates to engage themselves in community-oriented policing and for corrections the officer should take an active role in the corrections community. The supervisors are usually less concerned with report writing, enforcing rules and other tasks that are deemed to be important by the traditional supervisors. They excel as coaching and mentoring their subordinates. The main roles of the supportive supervisors are to encourage and offer praise to their officers more so as to maintain good relations and healthy ones with them. The supervisors might produce a buffer between the officers under their departments and management so as to protect them from discipline and criticism. These supervisors are more likely to shower praises to their subordinates rather than being task-oriented (Engel, 2000). Johnson (2006) also makes classifications of these three styles as variations of the transactional style of leadership.

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Transactional supervisors usually achieve compliance from their subordinates, which is done through an exchange of rewards for their services. A good example is that, transactional supervisors will offer promotions and offers for their higher work productivity from their officers. The only weakness from this supervisory leadership is that the officers do not get invested in their work. Thus, when the rewards and offers become unavailable to them, it is rather difficult to motivate them. A transactional approach is deficient, and hence, not suitable for long-term development. This normally entails significant individual and significant organizational change. While most leaders utilize transactional leadership often, they fail to apply this behavior constantly because of inadequate opportunities to observe, lack of time, doubts regarding positive effectiveness as well as lack of skills ineffective appraisal systems. The negative aspects of these behaviors are most time connected with the transactional leadership (Allen & Sawhney 2009).

Through, some extensive work done with the patrol officers and the patrol sergeants in an urban corrections department that is large, Van Maanen (1983), made some identification of two distinct types of patrol sergeants. One of them was the street sergeant and the other one was the station house sergeant. The first type, which he identified as the station house sergeant personified the characteristics which are much common to the transactional leadership style. The station house sergeants usually spent most of their times in their stations. They dealt with the administrative issues like the processing paperwork. They rarely supervised their subordinates directly in the field. They always preferred to control their officers behavior through the authority they had to grant favors like giving out some days off, ability to earn overtime pay and assignment choices. Van Maanen (1983) discovered that if the patrol officers were given a choice, they would obviously prefer to work as a subordinate to the house type sergeant. In this position they get offered less pressure to be proactive, less direct supervision, but more opportunities to conduct some personal business when on duty. This in corrections would apply to the supervisor who also never left his office to check on the officers under him. The second sergeant, who they discovered was the street sergeant. The street sergeant personified the characteristics which are particularly common to the transformational leadership style and are later discussed in this paper (Van Maanen, 1983). The “street” supervisor in the corrections would actively go to each cell block and check in on what his officers were doing. Under Van Maanen’s theory of Station House sergeant and street sergeant, the patrol officers from the station house were found to be significantly less productive and made fewer complaints with the rules and directiveness than the street sergeant employees. The four supervisory style theories, Engels (2001,) suggest that the active supervisor has the most influence over the behavior of their subordinates.

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Types of Supervisors

Traditional Supervisors

The traditional supervisors always expect their subordinates to produce an aggressive enforcement rather than engage themselves in community-oriented activities or to policy minor disorders. The traditional supervisors are more likely than any other supervisors to make a sound decision, as they tend to take encounters with the citizens in their area of rule and are responsible to instruct officers how to handle the incidents (Siegel 2012). The traditional sergeants and lieutenants are highly task-oriented and always expect their subordinates to produce measurable outcomes. The traditional supervisors tend to give more and more instructions and are rare to give rewards, and hence, they are more likely to provide punishments to their officers. The main concern of the traditional supervisors is to control the behavior of the subordinate. The traditional supervisors are remarkably much likely to give support to new policing initiatives, if only they are consistent with aggressive law enforcement. Most of the supervisors agree strongly that law enforcement is the most significant responsibility of a corrections officer by far. Along with their approach to policing that tend not to be nonsensical, the traditional supervisors make sure that the rules and regulation are enforced strictly, and they adhere to the chain of command (Engel, 2003). The corrections supervisor in this same capacity would follow the same pattern as applied to corrections officers.

Innovative supervisors

Innovative supervisors tend to be often characterized by a relationship tendency. This means that they consider more and more officers to be friends. They usually have a very low level of task orientation, and usually have more positive views concerning their subordinates. The said supervisors get considered as innovative since they usually encourage their officers to embrace new philosophies and policing methods. The innovative supervisors are defined by their expectations for the community policing and problem solving efforts by the subordinates. The innovative supervisors agree strongly that a good officer will try to always find out what the residents think of the problems that are in the neighborhood (Engel, 2003). In the case of the corrections aspect, the good corrections officer will try to find out what the problems in the cell blocks are so to prevent an uprising. One of the main goals of innovative supervisors is to give help to the subordinates in implementing community policing and some problem solving strategies by mentoring, coaching and facilitating them. The innovative supervisors are truly much less concerned with rules and regulations enforcement, report writing and other activities that are task oriented than the traditional supervisors. Innovative supervisors do direct their subordinates on how to handle a situation and they do not take the over the situations themselves, unlike the traditional supervisors. They tend to be more likely to delegate decision making (Engel, 2003).

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Supportive Supervisors

The supportive supervisors just like their name give support to their subordinates by giving them protection from the discipline punishment which gets perceived as unfair. They do this by providing inspirational motivation. They usually serve as a buffer between the officers and the management, to protect the officers from discipline punishments and criticism. The supportive supervisors always have a belief that this gives their subordinates some space to perform their duties without constant worry of facing disciplinary action for mistakes considered being honest. Supportive supervisors in some cases do not have positive relations or strong ties with the management. They may make an attempt to protect the officers from the administration. This means that some officers which are classified as supportive may have to function more as protectors than supporters (Gaines, 2011). The supportive supervisors believe that their most vital function is to protect their officers from facing unfair criticism and punishment. They are remarkably less concerned with the enforcement of rules and regulations. They are also not particularly much concerned about dealing with paperwork or ensuring that their subordinates do their work. They may encourage the officers using praise and recognition, and they sometimes act as counselors and display concern for the subordinate’s personal well being. Supportive supervisors reward or praise their subordinates more often during a normal shift, which is 3 times per shift while other supervisors give praise to their subordinates only 2 times per shift (Gaines 2011).

Active Supervisors

The active supervisors always embrace a leading by example philosophy. Their main objective is to be involved heavily in the field alongside subordinates. They do this while controlling the officers’ behavior; thus, the active supervisors perform two functions at the same time. In the corrections aspect, they will be leading by example and dealing with the inmates just as his or her corrections officers do (Gaines 2011). They act as street officers or corrections officers and as supervisors. Almost every active supervisor reports that he often goes on his own initiatives to the incidents that his officers are dealing with. The active supervisors give importance to engaging themselves in patrol work and corrections work. They spend more time in the general motor patrol than any other supervisor. They usually attempt to strike a balance between being active in the field and taking control of the subordinate behavior through constant and direct supervision (Van Maanen 1983). The corrections supervisor spends more time in the guard tower and in the cell blocks too. The supervisors, who have an active style, are characterized much by their direct decision making and a sense of supervisory power. They are also characterized by their positive view of the subordinates. The active supervisors believe that they have a considerable influence over their subordinate’s decision making. However, they are less likely to give encouragement in team building, mentoring and coaching. A good explanation of this is that they are reluctant to become hugely much involved that they alienate the subordinate’s officers. A thin line makes a separation of an active supervisor from being seen as micromanaging and over controlling (Gaines, 2011).

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Effects of Supervisory Style on Corrections Officers

Arrests and Citations:supervisory style does not affect the fact that officers would issue citations or make arrests in either non traffic or traffic situations. In encounters that the mere presence of a field supervisor regardless of the style used, may influence the behavior of the officer. The longer the supervisor is present, the more the officer is likely to make an arrest. In the case of the corrections supervisor being present for an incident, I do believe that the longer the supervisor is at the scene of the issue in the prison, the corrections officer is more likely to enforce the rules or place the individual in solitary.

Use of Force: officers with supervisors that are active are likely to use force twice more often as compared to the officers, whose supervisors use other styles. Active supervisors use force themselves against suspects, much more than the other types of supervisors (Van Maanen, 1983).

Self Initiated Activities: police officers with the active supervisors usually spend most of their times engaging in self initiated activities than the policy with other supervisors. These self initiated activates includes time which gets spent on dispatched or time spent on supervisory directed activities, travelling to a location, personal business, general patrol and administrative activities (Siegel & Worrall 2012). In the arena of the prison, the corrections officer will be proactive in searching inmates and with speaking with them to see what is going on under the eyes of the corrections officers.


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Community policing and Problem Solving: The police officers that spend time with active supervisors spend more time per shift engaging themselves in problem solving and other community policing activities than the corrections officers with other supervisors. Corrections officers can do problem solving and community policing as well inside their “city”. If their supervisor is active as well they will do the same as the police officers (Siegel & Worrall 2012).

Administrative Activities: the police officers with the active supervisors spend less time on their shift doing administrative work.

Personal Business: supervisory style has extremely little effect on the time the patrol officers usually spend when conducting their personal business, including meals and restroom breaks (More, 2010). This is an area where it does not the supervisory style for corrections officers does not really apply unless the personal business is on the phone or a computer.


It is clear that the supervisory styles which tend to be used by the supervisors have significant effects. From the four supervisory styles discussed in the essay, each and every style has some effects to the officers involved. Under Engle’s (2001), all four styles influenced the subordinates to some degree, but there was only one supervisory style that could be qualified as a transformational leadership type. It is the active supervisory style which tends to be the most powerful motivator for the officers. The corrections officers, who worked for active supervision style can be found to be significantly most likely to engage themselves in some proactive enforcement activities. The different supervisory styles have helped in defining the better supervisory type. For example as discussed above, the officers, who are under the active leadership, tend to be more active than those that are under the traditional supervisors. It is necessary for researchers to find out the effects the supervisory styles have on an average citizen, regarding the influence they have on the officers.

The major issue with this topic is the research is extremely limited on the corrections aspect of the supervisory styles but one can deduce from the generic styles that they will apply to the corrections aspect with a little change due to the different tasks in their position. I think this would be a great area for a research proposal.

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