What correctional leaders should expect from their supervisory staff

Part of a supervisor’s duty is to cultivate tomorrow’s correctional leaders while building a more capable pool of staff members for their department


By Sgt. David Cardinal

Supervisors play an important role in the growth and ongoing training of officers and sergeants.

A supervisor must continually evaluate staff for areas of improvement and identify people’s underlying potential. Part of a supervisor’s duty is to cultivate tomorrow’s correctional leaders and build a better and more capable pool of staff members for their department.

Correctional facility leaders should have for their supervisory staff. (Photo/Pixabay)
Correctional facility leaders should have for their supervisory staff. (Photo/Pixabay)

Here are some of the expectations correctional facility leaders should have for their supervisors:

  • They should be a mentor and facilitator, providing guidance and correction in advancing officers’ skills, knowledge and understanding of the overall operations of corrections.
  • They should provide leadership and be a resource for officers and sergeants in determining a recommended course of action.
  • They should inspire officers to learn and grow, instilling within them a desire to advance their career.
  • They should support correctional officers’ decisions when appropriate, providing redirection and counsel when decisions need correction.
  • They should make themselves available and be attentive to staff and inmate concerns over the course of their shift.
  • They should be present in and around the facility, modeling proper interactions with inmates and demonstrating appropriate professional communication methods.
  • They should check on the various activities taking place within the facility, whether they are routine or out of the ordinary, confirming that rounds and other duties are being performed adequately and timely.

Will all supervisors be able to perform these functions adequately and consistently? No, unfortunately not. There are many reasons why they are not always able to live up to these expectations. Supervisors also have secondary duties that often require immediate and direct attention. It is an unusual dichotomy where these secondary duties often require more immediacy of action.

Following are some of these secondary duties:

  • Various emergency and other unexpected incidents;
  • Staffing and human resource issues;
  • Assistance with administrative issues;
  • Assistance with education issues;
  • Assistance with health services issues;
  • Taking phone calls from inmate’s family members;
  • Inmate hearings and incident investigations.

These additional responsibilities are also a major part of a supervisor’s duties and responsibilities. Supervisor’s must be able to adapt quickly and reprioritize tasks that need to be done, when and how they get done, and consider the possibility of tasks being delegated to someone else for completion. 

Administrators understand the need to be flexible and expect there will be occasions when the primary expectations for a supervisor will be unfulfilled. It doesn’t mean that administrators are less concerned about supervisors attending to those primary functions. It just means there are times when patience is required by everyone.

Administrators and supervisors may need to look to sergeants and officers on occasion to fulfill some supervisory tasks and tap into them for additional assistance. That may be challenging, but you will find those who are willing and able to provide the support you may need to complete the necessary tasks required at any given time. It’s important to give these staff the opportunity to take on new challenges and gain new skills. This is how future leaders are discovered and careers cultivated.


About the author

Sgt. David Cardinal has been in the service of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections since 1995. He has served at four different correctional facilities over his correctional career. He has worked in every area of correctional operations within medium and maximum custody levels and has been a strike team leader in an Emergency Response Unit. Additionally, he has been a field training officer helping to train and guide incoming security staff on the facility’s daily functions and operations.

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