MPA Major Research Papers

Date of Award


Degree Type

Major Research Paper

Degree Name

Master of Public Administration


Political Science


Jenn Kirkham

Geographical Areas



It is no secret that there are challenges associated with the retainment of Chief Administrative Officer position in municipal governments throughout Ontario. This is related to an aging population (O’Flynn; Mau, 2014), a younger generation that is not committed to one employer (Strategy Corp, 2019), a significant turnover rate associated with the political nature of Council (Coulter, 2011) and fierce competition with the private sector (Strategy Corp, 2019). The Chief Administrative Officer role is unique as Siegel argues. He quotes Rost’s definition of the leadership role of the municipal CAO, as someone who “has the ability to move the municipality forward by interacting in a mutually influential way with and motivating council, external stakeholders, and organizational subordinates” (Siegel, 2015, p. 33). This is unlike most private entities, where leadership involves managing down to subordinates. Given its unique status, and the challenges associated with retainment, finding a good CAO is difficult.Siegel defines the makeup of a good CAO, indicating that there are certain traits, skills and behaviours that are necessary to successfully fulfil the role. Given this information, and the noted challenges municipalities are facing with this role, Dewar argues that high attrition rates can mean, and have been associated with, a low-quality hire (Dewar, 2017). The importance of an appropriate recruitment strategy is unlike any other time before it. It begs questioning, what are the municipal recruitment processes that are being used, to ensure the selected individual has these necessary traits, skills, and behaviours?Using a diagnostic approach, survey questions related to recruitment processes were forwarded to a sample of single and lower-tier municipalities, based on their size and location, within the Province of Ontario. The questions were standardized, closed-ended questions with an aim to understand what municipalities are currently using for recruitment tools. The survey identified that only half of the respondents had a succession plan, to which 25% did not list the CAO/most senior role in that Plan. Additionally, 62.5% of the respondents identified that their existing CAO, or the most senior role in the municipality, was an internal hire. It further identified a positive relationship between the seniority of the position and the use of a recruitment agency. The survey also indicated a positive relationship between the seniority of the position and the use of an ad in AMO, as well as the seniority of the position and the use of personality assessments. It was interesting to note that there were very few respondents that made use of personality testing (15%).A Case Study is then evaluated, of a small, Northern Ontario municipality, who, with the assistance of a municipal consultant (Expertise 4 Municipalities), recruited for their most senior role; the Senior Municipal Director. This case study is selected due to its unique recruitment process, and to provide a creative example that other municipalities may be able to consider in the future. Their process involved a review of the job description to ensure it reflected what the municipality was looking for, an expression of interest with several questioned geared to finding someone who could fulfill that refined position, such as: (1) determining the level of knowledge of municipal government, (2) establishing how the candidates deal with difficult matters, (3) highlighting the skills necessary to be successful in this role, and (4) address the challenges being faced in the specific municipality. Interviews, personality tests and a full personal investigation was completed prior to hiring for their most senior role.In conclusion, the research identified that municipalities could improve their hiring techniques to improve their ability to find the right fit for this important role; especially for municipalities that do not have the luxury of hiring internally through succession planning.