An interview with South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Stephen Watson

As Yorkshire’s leading Executive Search firm, we at Parkinson Lee are proud of our professional networks and working partnerships across the region. We act as trusted advisors to business leaders within some of the most established organisations across our region. And this year, we aim to inform our network with local industry news and celebrate some of the great success stories in the region by bringing you a series of exclusive interviews with some of Yorkshire’s most influential leaders.

As we are currently partnering exclusively with South Yorkshire Police in the appointment of a Director of Resources, our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, held an exclusive interview with Chief Constable, Stephen Watson to gain an insight into what makes South Yorkshire Police one of the leading forces in the UK and why the people who work for them are key to their success.

South Yorkshire Police have been through a significant, positive transformation over the past four years and are now one of the top four police forces in the UK.

In this interview, South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, reflects with Lee Bhandal, on his 32 years in the police force and how he transformed South Yorkshire Police in the past four years.

When and why did you decide to join the Police Force?

I joined in 1988 almost accidentally as I intended on a career in the Royal Navy. Policing was initially meant as a stop-gap. However, I realised what a fantastic career it was, how much I enjoyed it and that I was reasonably good at it. The rest is history!

Can you give us a summary of your career within the force? Highlighting any key significant achievements.

I have carried out a wide variety of roles in policing, and South Yorkshire is my 5th force.

There are a number of notable highlights of my career:

Whilst as a Chief Superintendent in Liverpool, during the aftermath of the shooting of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, I orchestrated fundamental reform in the North of Liverpool; reducing crime over three years by 31% and substantially improving public confidence.

I was Commander in the Metropolitan Police with responsibility for East London during the events of 2011 and the most significant riots seen in 30 years (nothing to do with me!). This provided a challenging backdrop against which to manage 9 boroughs. I am extremely proud of the success, in particular against gang-related and serious violent crime. I also held an integral role in the delivery of the 2012 Olympics which was such a privilege.

However, the best job I have had is the one I’ve got!

I can imagine the roles you have held in your career are very intense and high pressured, what do you do to relax outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my family, and I am a keen outdoorsman with a particular passion for sailing. I take a keen interest in contemporary affairs and modern history.

Given the history of the SYP, what made you apply for the role with SYP?

It was a job that needed to be done and needed to be done well. Given the damage done to public confidence more generally, it was in the interests of the public and British Policing to get it right. I felt I had the skills, experience and determination to do the job and do it well.

What did you inherit, and what needed fixing? What key issues needed addressing?

I inherited several thousand fantastically talented, able and committed people. There were a number of organisational issues, not least in respect of what had become a very reactive operating model, preventing our people from realising their individual and collective potential. Addressing these issues through root and branch reform has transformed the fortunes of South Yorkshire Police.

The force has gone from bottom of the UK League Table to a TOP 4 Position – how have you achieved this?

The progress of the force has been hugely satisfying and the rapidity of improvement has been unprecedented. Underpinning our progress is a refreshed leadership team, a clear recovery strategy and the development and implementation of a proactive operating model. This, replete with sensible performance management and accountability frameworks and a real focus on innovation and cultural and organisational development, has ensured our success.

Have there been any stand out moments in the last 4 years?

Our journey in South Yorkshire Police has been consistently positive. The highlights being the noticeable improvement in public confidence, an increase in morale and pride of our officers and staff, as well as receiving as part of the last HMIC inspection report, the ultimate 3rd party corroboration of our progress wherein the force was adjudged to be good across every single measure in the inspection regime. This was with the exception of the lawful and ethical behaviour of our staff – an area where South Yorkshire Police is the only force in the country to have been graded as outstanding. This provides the impetus to our continuing and very realistic aspiration to become an outstanding organisation.

What do you feel your legacy at SYP will be?

If I am able to achieve any sort of legacy then it will be that I have helped to put the force very firmly back on its feet, and will have seeded real opportunity for those who are to come to sustain and improve upon anything I have been able to do in my tenure. I am a firm believer that Chief Constables merely borrow the rank for a period and I principally aspire to hand it on in better shape than I found it.

Do you have any particular message for the people of South Yorkshire?

Fundamentally, if our public are not proud and confident in their Police then we are simply not achieving what they have a right to expect. We, therefore, hold ourselves to a really high standard, and I would wish the public to know that we genuinely care about their wellbeing. Not least because all our officers and staff are part of the public and their communities.

We all share a common interest in keeping communities’ safe and providing the right environment to nurture our families in safety and security.

Speaking about the Director of Resources opportunity, Lee Bhandal added, “This is a pivotal role for South Yorkshire Police which will help them develop their long-term sustainable approach to the delivery of Commercial Services ensuring value for money. This is an exciting time for South Yorkshire Police with this appointment being part of the most significant recruitment drive into the force in living memory. Parkinson Lee are the preferred Executive Search firm to deliver on appointments such as these, due to our enviable track record of placing outstanding candidates in Senior, Executive and Board level appointments time and time again”

“Our continuous successful delivery of outstanding Executive placements within the public sector gives us the opportunity to work with organisations and candidates that have a positive impact on our local communities and people’s lives. The social impact of this work is something we are really proud to continue to deliver upon and we are extremely proud to be partnering with South Yorkshire Police for the appointment of this role.”

If you’d like to know more about this opportunity, contact Imogen Kane on 01709 730 330 or by email i.kane@parkinsonlee.com or visit parkinsonlee.com

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