Kent Probation Chief @sbilliald says Twitter helps her leadership (#WIT31)

Sarah Billiald is Chief Executive of Kent Probation and leads on Communication for the Probation Chiefs Association.


Read your timeline like a magazine

Like many people I am a recent convert to twitter (started January 2012) initially not understanding the appeal, which is odd because I’m a big fan of “communications” and twitter, for me, is all about communicating.

I’ve always been passionate about good communications both within my organisation and between us and others.  Twitter is a crucial part of your personal and organisational communications armour.

The best tip I was given when I first started is don’t try and read everything – treat twitter like a magazine, dip in and out but don’t be a slave to it.

Personal and corporate tweeting

I tweet as the chief executive of Kent Probation (and as Chair of the Kent Criminal Justice Board) and there is a separate twitter feed for @KentProbation itself.

This was a conscious decision as it allows @KentProbation to tweet corporate news but I tweet opinions on both local and national issues.

I took the view early on that I would stick mainly to professional tweets although the odd one about FulhamFC or Surrey County Cricket do sneak in.  I’d like to tweet more personal stuff but I think it’s hard to know where to draw the line (and my 2 yr old means that I don’t have much of a social life to tweet about) so I’ve played it safe and kept mine corporate, though I really admire tweeters such as @ProfLAppleby who manage to give something of the personal to enhance the professional.

Twitter is succinct

When I joined Kent probation five years ago I think I was the first probation Chief to write a blog for staff – I’ve now modified this to a weekly internal “tweet” on our intranet as I’ve realised that short and frequent communication ticks the box for most people – and that’s one of the reasons I tweet.

Over many years doing jobs where drafting reports was an art form (value for money reports at the National Audit Office then progress reports at the Prime Ministers Delivery Unit) the ability to state findings and opinions clearly but succinctly is a skill that I envy in others and aspire to myself.  Twitter helps me practice this skill.


Sarah Billiald


Twitter as rapid research tool

As someone who became a #probation Chief Executive in Kent without any prior experience of working in Probation or working in Kent, twitter also helps me keep in touch with both communities: the news, views and research.

In particular I have a very short attention span, so bite sized research articles is a great way for me to understand latest evidence to inform policy without having to wade through long articles.

I’ve really loved getting to know, first virtually then in person, a variety of people who are experts in criminology (lots of car journeys to and from Gatwick with @fergus_mcneill spring to mind).  Even though I’ve never studied criminology getting retweeted by Shadd Maruna (@criminology) was a personal twitter highlight

Twitter helps read the zeitgeist

It also helps me sense the mood of probation staff across the country at a given point in time and triangulate this with my own staff (it’s nearly always in sync) which is important particularly for my role as communications lead for the Probation Chiefs Association.

I never cease to be amazed by the positivity of probation staff and their appetite to learn from others and share best practice, twitter is perfect for this.

You can also sense when probation is having a bad time particularly from usually positive tweeters who suddenly have a note of doubt or caution in their tweets.  Sensing this, and acting upon it is invaluable in my leadership role and for getting the tone of @probationchiefs communications right.

Twitter is a leader’s friend

Finally twitter is your friend, as the old adage says “it’s lonely at the top” and twitter keeps you both grounded and connected with others leading similarly difficult changes.  It’s amazing what a success story or kind word via DM can do for morale: before Christmas my response to an inaccurate Daily Mail article on Probation was not only therapeutic to write but it received some lovely feedback from colleagues both known and unknown.

It won’t get as many views as the Daily Mail article but it’s important that the evidence and great work Probation do is out there to inform the debate.  Long may it continue.

My Twitter hate

Oh, and my twitter pet hate?  Lots of exclamation marks, I prefer dots instead…


This is the 31st post in the criminal justice/legal Why I tweet series. Read the others here.

Next week: Michael Brown, @mentalhealthcop, award-winning Blogger on why he tweets.


If you’d like to develop your tweeting skills, check out my online Twitter coaching service which includes an individualised profile of your Twitter style.


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