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Back to Archives | Back to January 2006 Contents 

Leadership Tactic: Personal Strategic Planning for Professional Development

By Tracey G. Gove, M.P.A., Sergeant, West Hartford Police Department, Connecticut

Personal Strategic Planning: What Is It?
At its core, strategic planning requires a backward thinking process. First, a vision of what is to ultimately be accomplished is determined, then goals are identified that will help to achieve the vision. In order to accomplish each goal, action plans are developed using strategic thinking and methods. Finally, the new strategies are implemented and evaluated to ensure success.

The desired outcome of the plan is limited only by the imagination and motivations of the individual. Some may plan for promotion, while others may seek specialized assignments or polish supervisory skills. The possible outcomes are as varied as the characteristics of each police agency and supervisors who provide leadership.

Benefits of Personal Strategic Planning
At times, most supervisors feel as though their job is to put out fires. Reacting to problems, issues, and crises take up the majority of a workday. Little time, effort, or energy is left to spend on a more proactive approach to management and supervision. This can lead to an supervisor's low morale, reduced performance, and, in drastic cases, burnout.

Strategic planning serves to identify long-term issues that need to be addressed but are often ignored for sake of time. Often, everyday problems, which are typically the symptoms of larger issues, are addressed because they are more pressing and require a quick resolution and the larger issues are ignored. The remedy chosen is short-lived and typically acts only as a Band-Aid. Taking the time to examine and fix long-term issues may have an immediate impact by alleviating more current, more pressing problems. Relieving such an issue can increase the performance of both the supervisor and the officers who are directly affected.

Supervisors who work in a hectic environment or who have been supervising for many years may lose sight of where they are going in their personal careers. In these environments there is simply not the time to consider one's personal goals. A department- supported personal strategic planning process can help to restore focus and fight boredom. A new outlook on the direction of one's career can serve to raise morale, improve work performance, and reenergize a stagnant career.

Another benefit is that the pursuit of a strategic plan requires introspection and a thorough examination of the internal and external work environment. Through such study, supervisors will learn more about themselves, improve problem-solving abilities, and gain a laser-sharp focus on what is truly important in their police calling. They will also learn more about their work environment and how it can be used to their advantage. This will help with daily supervision and lends itself to resolutions of future issues.

There are benefits for the police agency as well. Supervisors who are more focused on career direction or improving the workplace gain a stronger sense of loyalty to the organization. Similarly, work takes on increased importance; it is completed more efficiently, and productivity increases. The agency will also gain a leader whose performance is motivated by a clear vision and goals. Much of this motivation will benefit peer supervisors and will trickle down to lower levels.

The Personal Strategic Planning Process
Strategic planning requires that the supervisor take a step back and look beyond daily demands. The focus shifts to what is possible for the future and the perspective is one that becomes broader. A personal strategic plan should look two to three years ahead. Anything shorter typically requires more immediate attention, and anything longer may not be practical for this endeavor.

Ideally the entire plan should be written down as it then becomes more tangible. Many people are visual learners and find it easier to absorb, modify, and review a written plan. Committing the plan to paper can also have the effect of making the planner more committed to the plan.

First Step: Create a Vision
The first step is to answer the question, "What is the preferred future?" To properly answer this question, only a few ideas should be formulated. This makes the process feasible. Only those issues or aspirations that will have significant meaning should be considered-improve working conditions, obtain a transfer to a special division, or get promoted. To be feasible, a vision must be

  • consistent with the environment of the specific police organization to ensure it is achievable;

  • consistent with personal beliefs, values, morals, and abilities;

  • positive, constructive, and meaningful; and

  • precise and easy to delineate.

The proper vision will help to provide a sense of direction and purpose, both of which are vital to justify expending the time and energy required. Further, the vision will help ensure commitment to the plan and, most importantly, stimulate creative thinking.

Second Step: Establish Goals
The second step is to establish goals that will act as stepping-stones to reaching the vision. Attempting to achieve an end result without identifying specific goals is akin to setting sail for a distant island without the use of a map, compass, or any type of navigation system. It is possible to get there without them but very unlikely.

  • Keep goals to a minimum, so that only those with value are chosen.

  • Make goals realistic and attainable.

  • Prioritize goals by level of importance.

  • Set goals that so that each one leads to the next.

Third Step: Develop and Implement Action Plan
The third step is to develop and implement an action plan that will help attain the goals. This is where creative thinking really comes into play, and where it is necessary to think in unconventional terms. Any and all methods of fulfilling the goals should be considered no matter how outrageous or unlikely they may seem.

The list should then be pared down to only a few action steps that will help to achieve each goal. For example, a supervisor who aspires to be promoted and whose goals include increasing confidence and leadership skills should consider taking a class in public speaking. Being able to express oneself clearly and confidently in front of a group is a desirable quality and one that will help during an oral board or assessment center. This scheme utilizes creative, strategic thinking and an idea that might not have otherwise immediately come to mind.

Planners should develop a timeline for achieving each goal in concert with the action plan. This will be useful later during the review and evaluation phase. The time horizon needs to be realistic and achievable; otherwise, the plan is doomed to fail from the start.

Planners should also make contingency plans, as changes in vision, goals, or the organization itself may arise. Usually these changes happen without warning, but contingency plans can help planners deal with the unexpected. Playing what-if games may shed light on some of the possible obstacles and hurdles.

Finally, the plan must be implemented otherwise it becomes a to-do list that will sit in a drawer somewhere forgotten. Implementation is the biggest step because it creates the momentum for reaching the vision. Prior to implementation, a lot of planning has taken place. Now, an actual step toward achieving the vision must be made for victory.

SWOT Analysis
Strategic planners use the term SWOT analysis to refer to a survey of any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats they may face. This tactic provides an examination of the internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external environment (opportunities and threats). Characteristics of each category will vary depending on the supervisor's personal vision or goals.

Strengths: This includes any resources available in the police agency and personal capabilities or assets of the individual supervisor that will help achieve goals.


  • Training programs for personal growth and job knowledge

  • Mentors with whom thoughts, ideas, and plans can be shared

  • Education, knowledge, network of contacts

Weaknesses: This includes any obstacles or vulnerabilities in the agency or person. These can also include a lack of any strengths previously identified.


  • Negative coworkers or confrontational employees

  • Change in the administration o Weakness of personal abilities such as communication skills, people skills, leadership skills

Opportunities: This includes any advantages, resources, or help from such external sources as other police agencies, town and state government, local community, and the private sector. Examples:

  • Changes in technology

  • Recent court decisions

  • Changes in public policy which affect police work

Threats: This includes any obstacles that are external to the agency and the supervisor.


  • Budget cuts

  • Negative publicity in media

  • Local events

Obviously, depending on the goals and specific circumstances, what is seen as a benefit to some may hinder others. For example, a court decision could help or hurt the strategic plan, depending on the outcome and the impact on the vision. The environmental analysis helps to identify areas where focus is needed and is critical to the success of any strategic planning program. It allows for a roundup of all resources available for success and   Figure 1. SWOT Analysis

Once all factors-strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats-have been identified, considered and listed, a SWOT matrix will help formulate strategies for superior attainment of the vision. Figure 2 illustrates the SWOT matrix.

  • S-O strategies: Identify ways that strengths and opportunities can be paired for maximum effectiveness.

  • W-O strategies: Identify weaknesses that can be overcome to ensure full access to opportunities. Figure 2. SWOT Matrix 2

  • S-T strategies: Identify ways that strengths can be used to reduce vulnerability to external threats.

  • W-T strategies: Establish a defensive plan to prevent the susceptibility of weaknesses to external threats.

Review and Evaluate
Crucial to the attainment of a vision is a regular review and evaluation of the strategic plan. Police work is a dynamic occupation that requires a supervisor be flexible, adaptable, patient, and ready to use contingency plans when required. Remember that the plan is not set in stone and that minor modifications are likely along the   way. A tactical approach dictates that if something does not appear to be working or likely to help achieve a goal, it should be dropped.

Timelines need to be followed, but modifications also may be necessary. Planning is not an exact science and unanticipated issues or hurdles will dictate whether changes in time frame are necessary. An extension of time is permissible as long as the reason for the delay is not based on the supervisor's hesitation or procrastination. Extensions made on these grounds assure that the program will not be a success.

Regular review and evaluation will help to prevent the plan from stalling and will keep a forward progression.   

Think Strategically
A true leader needs to think tactically and strategically to get ahead, to fight complacency, to motivate others and to persevere. Many great leaders and supervisors have already created a personal strategic plan without realizing what they have done. It is innate to some and can easily be learned by others. Supervisors, subordinates and the police agency can reap great benefits simply by focusing on that is desired and spending some time on how to get there.   ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 1, January 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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