Participative Leadership in Law Enforcement Agencies

Similar to other organizations, the criminal justice system has to stay abreast with contemporary issues of organizational management. One of the issues that face the criminal justice system is the addition of management techniques that suit their aim of preventing crime, adjudication of criminal offenses, and retribution for offenders (Matison, Hess & Cho 2011). The science of management has evolved over the years, thus, coming up with various management techniques that can be adopted by the criminal justice system to achieve its desired goals and efficiency in its operations has proved difficult. This essay examines participative leadership as one of the management styles that law enforcement agencies are adopting to run their systems.

Effective leadership is crucial to the process of organizational change. The link between poor leadership and corruption, mistreatment, discrimination, and abuse of power often threatens to delegitimize the various agencies of the criminal justice system (Cronkhite 2007). Therefore, one of the most salient issues facing the different agencies in criminal justice is the mechanism of integrating leadership and the delivery of an ethical, effective, and value-based service that offers protection to the society and its cardinal principles (More & Miller 2010).

The criminal justice system is fundamentally different from other organizations. The disparity is orchestrated by the fact that it has a paramilitary structure. This structure encourages the adoption of an authoritarian approach to leadership that is based on old paradigms, which were bureaucratic with the center of the power being at the top (Allen & Sawhney 2009). A common belief is that due to training and experiences, the officers in law enforcement and corrections would be more supportive of an autocratic and transactional style of leadership instead of a participative leadership style. Nevertheless, a consensus is increasingly building among organizational theorists suggesting that the autocratic and transactional style of leadership is outdated and inconsistent with long-term development and changes desired by progressive organizations (Stojkovic, Klofas & Kalinich 2011).

In the place of transactional leadership technique, its place, the transformational leadership style, which encourages participation and open communication, is on the rise. Participative leadership involves consulting by employing, asking for suggestions, and using employee input in decision-making (Hess, Orthmann & LaDue 2011). This style of leadership and management has been proposed for bringing any real change in law enforcement and correction institutions. For instance, in England, the Police Leadership Development Board (PLDB) has already acknowledged the need for transformational leadership throughout the service (Cronkhite 2007). The PDLB has instituted training and selection methods that promote the principles of transformational leadership.

Participative leadership emphasizes the collaboration of the leader. The leader employing this style attempts to involve subordinates in the organization’s decision-making process and assures them of their importance in the organization (More & Miller 2010). Participative leadership is the most effective style of leadership when the individual is highly involved or when the task is relativity unusual and somewhat ambiguous. In such a situation, the leader provides the necessary platform for the subordinate to express concerns about how the task can be accomplished and rewards maximized (Stojkovic, Klofas & Kalinich 2011).

For the implementation of participative leadership to be effective, criminal justice administrators have to acquaint themselves with the path-goal theory. This theory suggests that the primary role of the leader is to provide the paths by which subordinates’ rewards can be maximized while simultaneously meeting the objectives of the organization (Allen & Sawhney 2009). First, criminal justice administrators need to spell out the types of rewards that subordinates can receive, when they follow specific paths designed and structured by the organization (House 1971). Second, path-goal theory suggests, correctly, that no one style of leadership is sufficient for all the situations faced by the criminal justice administrators and supervisors. Third, the theory requires that criminal justice administrators design paths and goals for employees that are reasonable and attainable (Hess, Orthmann & LaDue 2011).

The organizational climate in law enforcement agencies is evolving from the “command bureaucracy” of the past to a climate where police officers are more involved in policymaking and in determining methods of operation (More, Wegener, White & Walsh 2006). While participative leadership in law enforcement does not mean that a law enforcement agency should be run as a democratic organization, it does advocate for more involvement in the decision-making process for officers (Matison, Hess & Cho 2011). To achieve this transition, criminal justice administrators employ several strategies. One of them is individualized consideration. Leaders use this strategy to motivate subordinates to work toward both personal and organizational goals. Studies reveal that subordinates prefer supportive and caring leaders who inspire and encourage them to develop and then recognize and reward their achievements (Cronkhite 2007).

The second strategy employed by law enforcement managers in implementing participatory is idealized influence. This strategy ensures that trust and respect are fostered in the relation between leaders and their subordinates. Subordinates value knowledge and experience in their formal and informal leaders (Allen & Sawhney 2009). The law enforcement’s operating principle must be a reflection of the major values of the larger society, which the organization serves. Police leaders must demonstrate the utmost respect for those values personally and professionally for the participatory leadership style to be effective (Cronkhite 2007).

The third strategy that law enforcement managers use to achieve participatory leadership is inspirational motivation. This is the leadership quality of uniting people around a common tangible benefit that is more than what the subordinates expected to accomplish. A typical exemplar of the use of this strategy is found in community-based policing where police leaders work to inspire and encourage individual officers towards goals that have value in society beyond the rather narrow constraints provided by police work (Stojkovic, Klofas & Kalinich 2011). The last strategy is that of intellectual motivation. This involves engaging the minds of the subordinates, exposing them to thought-provoking issues that force them to think outside the box to identify creative solutions. This strategy is useful in community policing where the leader’s intellectual stimulation initiatives are reflected in training, coaching, and mentoring the subordinates to question assumptions and find new approaches to performing some basic duties (Hess, Orthmann & LaDue 2011).

The above techniques of implementing participatory leadership in law enforcement agencies have far-reaching impacts. Participatory leadership results in improved satisfaction among employees, and increased organizational productivity. In addition, involving employees in the decision-making process fosters employee perceptions of organizational support, organizational commitment, and better labor-management relations (Allen & Sawhney 2009). It also promotes communication at all levels and aids in bridging the typical schism between police management and line officers. As such, participatory leadership is a useful technique for raising the level of service quality, in policing beyond the prosaic usage (More & Miller 2010).

In conclusion, the last decade has seen a renewed interest in the role of leadership in driving organizational changes in the criminal justice system. More specifically, participatory forms of management and leadership have been recognized as vital to effecting any real change in law enforcement agencies. It is increasingly felt that such a participative approach promotes better relationships among officers within an organization.


Allen, J & Sawhney, R 2009, Administration and management in criminal justice: a service quality approach, New York, SAGE.

Cronkhite, C 2007, Criminal justice administration: strategies for the 21st Century, New York, Jones & Bartlett.

Hess, K, Orthmann, C & LaDue, S 2011, Management and supervision in law enforcement, New York, Cengage Learning.

House, R 1971, ‘A path-goal theory of leader effectiveness’, Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 12 no. 4, pp. 321-339.

Matison, K, Hess, C & Cho, H 2011, Introduction to law enforcement and the criminal justice, New York, Cengage Learning.

More, H & Miller, L 2010, Effective police supervision, New York, Elsevier.

More, H, Wegener, W, White, G & Walsh, W 2006, Organizational behavior and management in law enforcement, Upper Saddle River NJ, Pearson.

Stojkovic, S, Klofas, J & Kalinich, D 2011, Criminal justice organizations: administration and management, New York, Cengage Learning.

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DemoEssays. "Participative Leadership in Law Enforcement Agencies." June 21, 2023.