Whenever I tell someone, I was a municipal CAO earlier in my career, I see their eyes glaze over and they slowly respond, “Ohhh??”, in a questioning tone and with a realization they have absolutely no idea what that is.
Yet, “she or he might be the most important person you’ve never heard of.” [i] .
A municipal CAO plays a role – arguably perhaps the most important municipal role, that affects you on a day-to-day basis.
Here’s the Textbook Description:
Your municipal chief administrative officer is the top administrator in a local government and is directly involved with many key decisions that impact your everyday life.
They exercise general control and management of the municipality for the purpose of ensuring the efficient and effective operation of the municipality. They are also visionaries who continually look for new and innovative ways to enhance and improve services for citizens, all the while balancing public expectations with financial feasibility.
The CAO has a direct influence on everything from planning for the future of the municipality to how your garbage is picked up.
So, why don’t folks know about them?
Well, mostly because they are typically the unsung heroes who work away in the background. The CAO role is not an elected position and they typically do not act as the public voice for the municipality – that’s the role of Mayor or Council.
Candidates for CAO positions are hired – generally after a grueling and lengthy interview process, and then appointed to the position by By-Law. They are highly trained and experienced individuals.
CAOs are not politically motivated, nor are they Chiefs of Staff for a Mayor. They provide recommendations to Council but at the end of the day, Council makes the decisions that govern every aspect of a municipality.
I totally understand why folks do not know what a municipal CAO is. I sure never grew up saying I was going to be municipal CAO! But, from my experience, being a municipal CAO is one of the most interesting and rewarding careers you will ever have.
So, get to know your CAO – and consider a career in municipal government!
Susan Shannon, CEO muniSERV.ca