There may come a point in your career when you consider moving into a position of leadership in the criminal justice field. It is common to look at other leaders in the field and wonder how they achieved their positions and what makes them so successful.
One critical consideration on the path to a leadership position in criminal justice is whether to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice. This degree is required for several leadership positions in criminal justice, but it is only the first step of several on the path to a leadership role.
Traits of Successful Leaders in Criminal Justice
Leadership requires competency. Before you can assume more responsibility, you must first establish yourself in your current position. Understanding the roles of each person on a criminal justice team is essential to effectively managing and coordinating their efforts. Beyond knowing what part each person must play, there are key character traits that stand out among successful leaders. Recognizing and cultivating these traits is another important step on the path to leadership.
- Humility — For criminal justice workers, courage is part of the job; however, humility and the ability to be introspective are just as important. Leaders who examine, admit and address their own weaknesses and flaws openly can improve their own performance while helping others realize the benefits of active self-reflection. This conveys strength and honesty to the entire team. Similarly, acting with humility when sharing team successes fosters trust and collaboration.
- Competence — In order to gain your team’s respect, they must see you excel in your current role and demonstrate the knowledge and skills to succeed in your next one. Mediocre performance and inexperience do not inspire confidence or convey a readiness for leading others.
- Collaboration — The strongest leaders look at how a team can collaborate to accomplish shared goals. This requires strong communication and clear objectives — everyone must understand the part they play and how it contributes to the team’s success.
- Innovation — A leader with strong communication skills who supports critical thought and creativity fosters an environment of innovation, where others feel empowered to share their ideas to solve problems and make positive changes.
- Development — One of a leader’s most important roles is developing skills in others. It is essential to recognize areas for improvement in those you lead while also recognizing their strengths. This can help you determine which opportunities will most effectively help your team members develop. A strong leader understands that a good team is continually evolving.
- The Drive to Learn — If you want to support and facilitate the development of your followers, you must do the same for yourself. By nature of the position, a leader is a role model. A leader who demonstrates their own desire to learn and improve helps create a culture of continuous improvement. This is an essential component of transformational leadership, wherein leaders become agents for positive change in their organizations.
- Ethics and Emotional Intelligence — The exceptional criminal justice leader bases decisions and actions on a strong foundation of ethics and emotional intelligence. Along with the traits described above, this means being empathetic to the experiences and needs of the community you serve and the law enforcement officers you oversee. In the current environment of calls for criminal justice reform, leaders must prioritize connecting with communities and building trust to develop policing models that make everyone feel safe and respected.
As a criminal justice worker, you may be seeking new career opportunities, perhaps even in leadership. As you consider a master’s degree in criminal justice, keep in mind the key characteristics of criminal justice leadership and choose a program that can help you develop the skills you need.