Soft Skills You Need to Be a Successful Police Officer

These Intangible Qualities Can Make or Break Your Policing Career

In law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice careers, the nature of the job is such that you're going to interact with a variety of people, many of whom are not happy to see you.  

For police officers in particular, the best way to bring such encounters to a successful and peaceful conclusion - as opposed to a potentially dangerous use of force situation - is to rely on your cognitive and emotional intelligence. You'll need these soft skills if you want to be truly effective in your day-to-day job as a police officer. 


Police cameras and videos
A police officer on camera on a traffic stop. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Empathy is the ability to not only understand someone else's feelings but to share those feeling as well.

This allows for a deeper appreciation for what other individuals are experiencing, which in turn can lead to more positive interactions and communication between police officers and the people they encounter.


Whereas empathy is an understanding and sharing of other's feelings, compassion is putting that understanding into action.

Showing compassion to individuals, whether witnesses, victims or suspects, helps to build a rapport and bring healing to dangerous and traumatic situations.

Compassion is perhaps the most important attribute for the modern police officer in her daily interactions.

Nonverbal Communication

When people make complaints about their interactions with police officers, they very often express the sentiment that "it's not what he said, but how he said it."

Nonverbal communication - those cues we send through tone, facial expressions, gestures, and enunciation - often carry far more weight in how our messages are received than the actual words we choose to use.

Police officers must be wary of how their nonverbal communication may be interpreted by the people they encounter in order to help mitigate conflict and ease tension.


The day-to-day job of a police officer is far from routine. In fact, each individual call for service is often very fluid and dynamic.

Police officers need to be flexible and adaptable not only to the changing social climate and evolving technologies but to individual situations as they unfold.

Officers must be able to anticipate, adapt and overcome challenges in order to provide real service to their communities.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is, unfortunately, a huge part of what a law enforcement career is all about.

Whether police are called to respond to an argument in progress or they are taking enforcement action against an individual, the nature of the job is such that it inevitably invites conflict to some degree or another.

Because conflict accompanies much of the officer's job, he must have the ability to resolve that conflict peacefully.

Critical Thinking

There is no such thing as a routine call in law enforcement, and officers need to have the ability to evaluate and analyze the facts, observations, and information available to them and make sound decisions.

In order to help members of the community solve problems and resolve conflicts, officers must be able to think critically.

Work-Life Balance

Between shift work, long hours and the stresses of the job, there are a lot of potential threats to a police officer's health. Officers must be able to find ways to reduce that stress in order to be happier both at home and at work. 

Finding hobbies and ways to balance their work and their life is a must for officers to achieve real success in their careers.

Soft Skills Win the Day

The environment is changing across all careers, not just just in law enforcement, and soft skills are becoming a greater focus for employers across the job spectrum. In law enforcement careers, though, the need to hone and develop these skills is perhaps much more pronounced and acute. As society demands more compassion and understanding from their officers, emotional intelligence and soft skills are increasingly more important in recruiting, training and retaining police officers, and are the key to success in your own career.

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