Chief Susan Ballard

chief Ballard w Val Pam.jpg

As the year is quickly coming to an end, 2018 was resoundingly the Year of the Woman! We were honored to hear from one of our most admired women leaders, Captain Susan Ballard, the Honolulu Police Department's eleventh Chief of Police, and the first woman to serve in that position. Her long road to the top leadership position in the HPD presented many challenges in a traditionally male-dominated career, but Capt. Ballard's steadfast mindset of never giving up, keeping her eye on her goals, and meeting new obstacles head on became guiding principles as she shattered this glass ceiling.

November 1 marked Capt. Ballard's one year anniversary as Chief, but it could have also easily have been her first year of retirement. She had just put in her papers in 2017, to retire after a 32-year career, when the Police Chief scandal that rocked HPD opened up an opportunity for new leadership. Encouraged by her fellow officers to apply for the job, Capt. Ballard went for it and made Hawaii history.

Destined to be a leader
Growing up poor with divorced parents in North Carolina, she made up her mind very early on to always be independent and learned to take care of herself. After earning bachelors and master's degrees in health and physical education, she landed in California working in physical education and sports medicine fields. Desiring a change, she bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and never looked back. At the urging of police officers that worked out with her at the Central YMCA she took the police application test and joined the force as just one of three women from her recruit class.

Easily bored and always up for learning new things, Capt. Ballard took on assignments working in many of the HPD Departments, including patrol, information and IT. After 28 years on the force and because of her willingness to speak up for change, she found herself among a group of outcasts  and ended up in the Central Receiving Desk which was considered a place for the "excommunicated." Instead of withering, she took it upon herself to turn the department into one of the best places to work.

Dream or nightmare
One of the first things Capt. Ballard faced in her new role as Chief was to bring together a fractured and demoralized work force. She set the tone right away of forgiveness and a shared goal of moving forward. She acknowledges that building trust internally and in the community is an ongoing process that starts with taking care of the people who work for you. Other goals she hopes to accomplish is growing the police force through recruitment, advancing the use of technology and putting in place a leadership succession plan through promotions. She credits her own successes to many mentors she has had along the way. They showed her respect and a way of leading that gave her confidence in herself.

Lessons of leadership

  • What she learned from her three dogs and a blind cat - "If you can't eat it or play with it, pee on it and walk away."

  • No matter how high you go, remember where you came from

  • You are always representing the department

  • There is no balance, only priorities

  • Do it anyway

  • Self-care, working out and doing yoga first thing in the morning

Finally, she recounted a story about a time a woman asked her to pose for a photo with her daughter. Her unimpressed daughter resisted, asking her mother, "Why?" When she told her daughter that it was the Chief of Police, the daughter said "So, what?" Capt. Ballard's take away was that this was the legacy so many women who came before gifted to us...when young girls don't think twice about what a woman can achieve. Thank you Capt. Ballard, you are truly inspiring!