An empirical examination of special operations team leaders' and members' leadership characteristics Academic Article uri icon


  • Purpose Law enforcement special operations teams (e.g. Special Weapons and Tactics Teams, Swift, HRT, and Strategic Response Teams) are charged with resolving difficult situations that pose a threat to all involved. Recent tragedies strengthen the idea that law enforcement special operations teams play a critical role in the maintenance of public safety. Despite the importance of police special operations teams, there is virtually no empirical research specifically addressing leadership within these teams. The paper aims to discuss these issues.Design/methodology/approach A review of literature was first conducted, identifying authentic leadership, emotional intelligence, and self-efficacy to deal with potentially life threatening situations as being core concepts underlying effective leadership in law enforcement special operations teams. The Authentic Leadership Questionnaire, Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire, and the Crisis Leader Efficacy in Assessing and Deciding Scale were then administered to US local, state, and federal special operations team members and leaders (n=99). Results were analyzed according to formal team roles.Findings Findings reveal members and leaders differ in regards to scale scores representing relational transparency, moral and ethical, sociability, and disaster self-efficacy.Originality/value Much research on special operations teams is highly theoretical and does not seek to understand team leadership in a testable manner. This is especially true of the relationships between the formal roles of leaders and members. This study is the first to use established leadership instruments to assess the differences between team members and leaders. It provides a starting point for future research and reinforces the idea that there are identifiable differences between special operations teams and members.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Arnatt, M. J., & Beyerlein, M. M.

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Arnatt, Michael Josiah||Beyerlein, Michael M

publication date

  • May 2014