Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Leadership Role of the Municipal Chief Administrative Officer

From David Siegel's report in Canadian Public Administration.Note the reference to the "Hourglass" This explains a lot about what is wrong in Tofino.The CAO prefers that employees of a municipality speak only to their supervisor who speaks only to the CAO or in some cases ,Council.All communication between employees and Council goes through the "Hourglass" of the CAO and is subject to spin and editing.Let's scrap this system and bring back "Freedom of Speech" ! Let's stop the "Tail Wagging The Dog" !


Officials must also sometimes exercise a leadership role with regard to people who are the official's nominal superiors. In Canadian local governments, we take pride in the role of part-time amateur politicians. The phrase "part-time amateur" is not meant to be demeaning but rather just the opposite. A part-time amateur politician is someone whose full-time occupation keeps her or him in close contact with the community, which allows the politician to ensure that the community perspective is reflected in any decision. However, part-time amateurs usually do not have the same level of technical expertise about how to build a bridge or handle a planning application as do full-time officials.

The public servant has no real power over superiors; he or she must rely heavily on influence. External stakeholders or politicians will frequently listen carefully and easily accept the advice of nominal subordinates if they have confidence in the ability of that subordinate. In his seminal book, Leadership, James MacGregor Burns focuses on the mutuality of goals and the range of resources available to a leader: "Leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize ... institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers. This is done in order to realize goals mutually held by both leaders and followers" (1978: 18, emphasis in original).

The CAO will frequently have to take the role of mediator. Sometimes an impasse will develop on council. The mayor and councillors may be hopelessly divided on an issue. At law, the mayor and councillors are all equal. The mayor has a higher profile than councillors, but under the law in most Canadian municipalities, the mayor is not even primus inter pares like the first minister in a parliamentary system. In the event of deadlock, there is no one among the mayor and councillors to step forward to find a resolution. With no political axe to grind, the CAO is sometimes in the best position to mediate among these equals to try to breach the impasse.

In some cases, the CAO might want to act proactively before an impasse develops. In these situations, the CAO could seize on a policy that he or she feels is important for the municipality ("the politics of governing society") and try to find a coalition to support the policy. This is clearly not within the "politics of securing office," which would be a violation of political neutrality, but a CAO must proceed very carefully whenever he or she is working with some councillors to the exclusion of others (Masson and LeSage Jr. 1994: 233). The strategy could produce excellent results, but it could also put the CAO in an awkward position with some councillors.

The politicians and the CAO must recognize that they each have different contributions to make in the policy-making process. But, what are those contributions and how do those contributions fit together? Frequently, the distinction is seen as the separation of politics and administration, where the politicians make policy decisions and administrators implement them. Peter Self suggests that an

alternative distinction between politics and administration is in terms of process. We can envisage an arch with the left arc representing the political process and the right arc the administrative process. The junction at the top represents the critical point at which political will flows into and energizes the administrative system: and it is also the point at which influences that have been generated within the administrative process flow back into the higher levels of the political process. There is thus, at the apex of the arch, a fusion of political and administrative influences which have been generated lower down the two arcs (Self 1972: 150-51, emphasis in original).

Thus, Self sees a separation between politicians and administrators but a separation, which is quite permeable at the junction where the two meet, based on distinct processes.

This fluidity makes it very difficult to specify precisely the role of the CAO with regard to the mayor and councilor, in spite of attempts at great precision in bylaws or employment contracts.

Most organization charts are pyramids, with one senior person at the pinnacle. The organization chart of a municipality looks more like an hourglass, with a group of councillors at the top frequently pulling in different directions and a group of departments at the bottom each with a different mandate, and some horizontal task forces thrown in for good measure. The pinch-point in the hourglass, the place through which everything must flow, is the CAO. The role of each separate department head is to manage his or her department, including making sure that the department's interests are properly represented to council and the CAO. The role of the CAO is to meld these disparate interests represented by the various department heads into one corporate perspective.

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