Soft Skills You'll Need to Be a Successful Police Officer

These intangible qualities can make or break your career

The nature of jobs in law enforcement, corrections, and other criminal justice careers demands that you interact with a variety of people at any given moment—and many of them are not going to be happy to see you. The best way to bring such encounters to successful and peaceful conclusions rather than potentially dangerous use-of-force situations is to rely on your cognitive and emotional intelligence. Perfect these soft skills to be truly effective in your day-to-day job as a police officer in particular. 


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


Compassion begins where empathy leaves off. If empathy is an understanding and sharing of other's feelings, then compassion means putting that understanding into action.

Showing compassion to individuals, whether they're witnesses, victims or suspects, can help 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 his daily interactions.

Nonverbal Communication

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

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 use. Police officers must be aware of how their nonverbal communication signals might be interpreted by the people they encounter if they're going to mitigate conflict and ease tension.


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

Police officers should 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

Unfortunately, conflict is 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're 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 an 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. Officers should have the ability to quickly and efficiently evaluate and analyze facts, observations, and information so they can make sound decisions. Officers must be able to think critically if they're going to help members of the community solve problems and resolve conflicts. 

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 so they're happier both at home and at work. Finding hobbies and ways to balance their work with their personal lives is a must for officers who want to achieve real success in their careers.

Soft Skills Win the Day

The environment is changing across all careers, not just in law enforcement, and soft skills are becoming a greater focus for employers across the job spectrum. The need to hone and develop these skills is perhaps much more pronounced and acute in law enforcement, however. 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 they are the keys to success in your own career.