Respect, transparency, positivity are key
As the Executive Officer, Jennifer Shaffer manages the daily operations and implements policies of the Board of Parole Hearings (the Board). The Board conducts parole suitability hearings and nonviolent offender parole reviews for all eligible adults in CDCR custody. Shaffer takes her leadership role very seriously, as the Board’s decisions must balance the important work of rehabilitation and reentry with public safety and respect for victims of crime.
Shaffer’s path to leadership
Shaffer’s journey to CDCR began by working for the state as an unpaid intern with the Attorney General’s (AG) Office. While attending law school at night, she also worked full-time in retail. The AG’s Office hired her as a graduate student assistant, which then transitioned into a full-time paid position. She worked in that position until she graduated from law school.
Shaffer served as staff counsel to the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Then she served seven years as staff counsel and deputy executive officer for the State Board of Control (now the Victim Compensation Board).
She came to CDCR to serve as Assistant Secretary over CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services. Lastly, her work with the Board began in 2011, after working a few years at the Office of the Inspector General.
‘We are here to serve the public’
You are part of CDCR history, as the longest-serving and only woman Executive Officer of the Board. How do you approach that responsibility?
With enthusiasm! The Board is a truly remarkable place to work. We respect the law governing our decisions and we have compassion for the people whose lives we impact daily. I think it is important to remember that we are here to serve the public. In short, we have an obligation to be respectful and transparent in how we carry out our duties.
We try hard to make the best, most informed decisions possible. It helps that I am surrounded by a team of very competent, thoughtful, professional, and genuinely kind people.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Imperfect. I find there’s always a better way of handling situations. The Board’s mission is extremely meaningful. We have been vested with an awesome responsibility. I try my best to lead with integrity and respect for staff, those who appear before us, and the public. I think one important job of a leader is to give people the tools they need to do their job and to figure out ways of motivating people to want to do what needs to be done.
Over the years I have adopted three tenets of management: (1) seek first to understand, (2) speak up, and (3) do the right thing. I also like to empower and encourage people to take responsibility for their morale at work. It is my belief we can choose to complain and contribute to a negative environment, or we can choose to give people the benefit of the doubt and contribute to a positive environment. I try to encourage a positive environment.
What is a piece of advice you’ve received that helped you in your career?
There is no one kind of successful leader. Working hard, being authentic, and simply caring about what you do can make a big difference.