Leadership for Wellness

Wellness Leadership

Leadership for Wellness: A Strategy for Developing Police and Public Safety Leaders 

Stu Bartels

In 2019 I attended the International Association Chiefs of Police (IACP) in Chicago. I was there confronted with the sad statistic that over 80 U.S. police had been killed in the line of duty to that point of the year. Even more confronting was to learn that over 120 had lost their life to suicide. I further learned that this trend of suicide outstripping deaths in the line of duty was playing out across the police and public safety world. Not long in to the conference I met Dr Jacki Drew, who was presenting on her work with Queensland Police - “Profiling police leadership: Developing leadership capabilities for contemporary police challenges”. It was in that moment Dr Drew and I began to wonder about the direct role leaders could play in supporting the health and wellness of their staff, and, how we could support and develop those leaders in doing so. Joined by Dr Vicki Herrington, the ensuing journey of discovery soon led us to some inalienable truths about the source of harm, the essential and direct role of leaders, and a gap in leader development we wish to start to fill. The result, to this point, is the White Paper Leadership for Wellness: A Strategy for Developing Police and Public Safety Leaders.

This paper is not about secondary and tertiary responses to mental health. It is not about policy, or organisations, or “the system”. It is about you, the leader, caught in the growing complexity of policing and public safety, needing yourself to stay healthy whilst every day creating a healthy workplace that can sustain your people. “I lead for action”, “I lead for results”, “I lead for change” – all natural statements for a leader to make. We hope that one day you will just as naturally say – “I lead for health”.

A short synopsis:

The paper asks the reader to accept the premise that workplace factors are a significant contributor to mental health outcomes. In policing, research shows that organisational and operational factors are causing two to three times the harm when compared with wellbeing outcomes that are related directly to trauma experiences.

From that platform we seek to hone in on the central role of leaders in the creation of healthy workplaces. This involves creating healthy leaders who in turn positively influence the workplace factors that impact on the health of their staff. The health of leaders themselves is a critical pillar.

The health of leaders, the role of leaders, and taking a workplace reform focus, places the emphasis firmly in the preventative space.

Whilst all leaders are critical, we focus on the role of “middle managers” – those leaders who are in direct contact with large numbers of staff within agencies and who have a hands on ability to shape the workplace daily.

We draw on a model created by Franke and colleagues, the Health Oriented Leadership approach; an approach that is essential in developing leaders for wellness not simply just 'good' leaders.

We believe that we can teach leaders Health Oriented Leadership, uplifting leaders to do what we are asking them to do; we seek to move the conversation from one that might traditionally focus on responsibility or blame to a conversation rooted in collaboration.

To this end we propose a three-pronged Leadership for Wellness Strategy. Incorporating a bespoke and targeted leadership program, embedment in existing leadership programs, and thought leadership through a range of digital channels.

Please have a read and join the conversation as we look to move to the next stage.

Stu Bartels

Read the full paper here: Leadership for Wellness: A Strategy for Developing Police and Public Safety Leaders.