The Up, Down and Out of Leadership: Lessons from the World of the Municipal CAO - Canadian Government Executive
Uncategorized
June 7, 2018

The Up, Down and Out of Leadership: Lessons from the World of the Municipal CAO

“Local government touches all of us intimately every day of our lives: the water we drink, the transit system that takes us to work, the first responders who keep our cities safe. Those services are only as good as the people who deliver them, and the quality of the people at the working level is determined by the quality of the leadership they receive,” concludes David Siegel in his excellent review of municipal leadership in Canada, Leaders in the Shadows. The focus of the book is on the municipal Chief Administrative Officer, but its lessons in leadership apply throughout the public sector.

This book is a rich source of insight about leadership in government. It explores what leadership is and the ideas over time that have shaped our thinking about it. Siegal gives us five case studies of CAOs who have had an impact on their communities they have served. From those cases and that theory, he draws important lessons about leadership in government. They apply well beyond the municipal sector.

There are many characteristics of municipal government that make it unique and challenging. That can be said of any part of the public sector. Municipal governments have a high degree of transparency. Advice is seldom provided in confidence. There is a complex mesh of stakeholders. It is highly service oriented. The CAO also serves many masters, being appointed by the Council and working within its decision-making framework, which is quite different from the Westminster model. The election cycle is set and relatively short. The responsibilities of the CAO are diverse. That person can never be master of them all so must build a team of experts and create a unifying strategy for them.

CAOs are expected to not lead the political masters, but serve them with advice, expertise and implementation. As Siegel says, “In municipal administration, things that work well are invisible.” And, central to his theme, they lead in the shadows, ensuring that those above provide the democratic leadership they are elected to do, those to the side – the stakeholders and partners – have their interests addressed and those below bring their expertise and action capacity to the game.

Siegel’s model of up, down and out leadership resonates with how public sector leadership has to be practised to be effective. One element of this leadership that the literature does not do a good job of describing is understanding that the upward leadership is such a unique feature of the public sector leadership. Catherine Aulthaus of Australia and New Zealand School of Government has called this the Administrative Sherpa role of leadership, in which the public servant, through expertise, analysis and advice, leads decision-makers towards their public policy decision, providing the best evidence for them to choose their course of action. Here is how I have tried to interpret Professor Siegel’s model graphically:

Reading the case studies is highly instructive. All the individuals have practised their leadership in municipal government, some large, some small. Siegel documents each journey and draws lessons from each. All these cases show us a leader leading a multidisciplinary or multi-business organization. This is often the case in government. Some of the lessons reinforce findings that we have seen elsewhere. Siegel just makes them more real and grounded.

Some of the lessons learned from these cases and Siegel’s analysis are:

  • “Great Man” and “Command and Control” are unworkable notions of leadership in this context – and in most of government.
  • There is a place for command and control but that is not leadership.
  • Leadership is about building motivation and building agreement on action.
  • There is a variety of ways to get things done as long as you know have clarity on the problem to be solved and the goal to be reached.
  • Leaders orchestrate expertise. They do not replace it.
  • The degree of influence and trust is a key metric of leadership.
  • A leader works with many people, with different interests and views.
  • A public service leader is not a political actor, but must act with political sensitivity.
  • Leaders monitor performance but do not micromanage it.
  • The many aspects of culture are a preoccupation of a leader. For a public sector leader, this involves many cultures, not just the bureaucratic one.
  • Leaders leading in three different directions will vary the intensity of their focus based on their assessment of where they are needed, where the greatest risks are and the urgency of the issue.
  • A public sector leader leads upwards as a trusted professional, not as a political actor. Building trust – upwards, downwards and sideways – is key to being successful.

Siegel says “I intended this book to contribute to the literature by identifying the specific traits, skills and behaviours found in senior municipal managers in Canada and to serve as a roadmap for mid-career public servants who aspire to become senior managers.” He has done this and more. He has documented for all to read the complex and demanding world of municipal public administration. But, for any government executive, he has given some models to emulate and some real insights into the world of public sector leadership.

 

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Uncategorized
 
The federal government has dramatically increased the scope and scale of its consultations and engagement in the past two years. The goal is to make it easier for public servants, citizens and stakeholders to work together to solve common problems and improve outcomes. My team at the Privy Council Office monitors the success and impact...
 
“Local government touches all of us intimately every day of our lives: the water we drink, the transit system that takes us to work, the first responders who keep our cities safe. Those services are only as good as the people who deliver them, and the quality of the people at the working level is...
 
Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Nova Scotia Premier Hon. Stephen McNeil reached a bilateral agreement to invest in the province’s wastewater and public transit systems....
 
The association representing more than 42,000 physicians and medical students in Ontario has voted against a doctor’s fee deal proposed by the province. Following weeks of debate over the proposal, 63.1 per cent of the Ontario Medical Association’s members voted against the tentative Physician Services Agreement (PSA). Related posts: A data-based approach to health care Good for business: Investing in Aboriginal prosperity Toronto moves closer towards opening safe injection sites...
 
Thank you for accessing Canadian Government Executive. You can now access the articles within the site....
 
In this month’s blog, I would like to test out an idea. I have been toying with this idea for some time now. As I share it around, some people seem to think it is interesting albeit disruptive, and others get excited about its potential. Today, I would like to make a pitch to you...
 
Ducks look like they have it All Together. Above the water, all is calm. They glide, expressionless and serene. Below the water, they’re paddling madly trying to stay afloat and to avoid getting eaten. It’s like they’re in an endless, hidden panic. We’re not so different from the ducks. If the world discovered that we...
 
I blogged in November 2012 about seeing Dr. Bernard Meyerson, VP Global Innovation, IBM, at that year’s GTEC. Dr. Meyerson spoke to why innovation matters and how it is linked to growth and growth happens when good people pursue grand challenges to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Last week while watching an episode of Second regard on tou.tv, a similar comment came up in an...
 
In many respects, the future looks pretty grim through the eyes of Canada’s public service leaders despite the country’s much heralded economic resilience....
 
Although we have much to be proud of, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re missing a sense of pride and identity in the profession of public service in Canada....
 
What can the cloud do for you? IT in Canada is holding a free webinar series that will answer exactly that question. The first in the series will be held on February 19 and will feature Waterfront Toronto, an organization that oversees a revitalization project funded by the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the...
 
The solution revolution is a global trend and phenomenon which relates to the coming together of non-governmental players in trying to address and overcome some of society’s toughest problems. Related posts: The boys in short pants Plan of action: Retiring from public service Canada, Mexico, U.S. to align climate, trade and border policies...
 
Some of the world’s leading thinkers on globalization are pointing to a fundamental change emerging regarding how global problems can be solved, and perhaps how we govern ourselves globally....
 
The Natural Resources Canada Resource Wiki has set in motion a culture change at NRCan, enabling a more open, dynamic, innovative and collaborative way for employees to work together. ...
 
The last few months have been busy in Ottawa. Since June, Canadians have witnessed a series of events that bring into question the role of the federal government and the evolving status of the public service....
 
The public sector faces an issue that threatens its historic role and future utility. If the issue is not addressed effectively, we will witness an ever more rapid deterioration in relations between senior members of the civil service and their politic masters....
 
In 2010, I had the pleasure of leading an international research network of senior leaders to explore the new frontiers of public administration....
 
Crises are anything but new and novel. Why then, in recent decades, has the management of risk and crises engendered so much research in business schools and occupied so much time in corporate boardrooms?...
The federal government has dramatically increased the scope and scale of its consultations and engagement in the past two years. The goal is to make it easier for public servants, citizens and stakeholders to work together to solve common problems and improve outcomes. My team at the Privy Council Office monitors the success and impact...