Canada: A New Perspective On Public Sector Leadership Competency

Last Updated: July 23 2014
Article by Jason Ducharme

Recently MNP proudly contributed to the development of an important new publication by Canada's Public Policy Forum entitled, "Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking: Public Service Next." To support this initiative, Canada's Public Policy Forum convened roundtables across the country with a cross section of Canada's most respected private and public sector leaders, as well as groups of emerging leaders. The purpose of these roundtables was to get a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

This report is a follow-up on research arising from "Ten Tough Jobs", a report produced in 2010 by the Public Policy Forum, shedding light on the critical importance of effective public sector leadership.

During the roundtable discussions it was particularly impressive to see participants' strong views regarding the need to build public service capacity by focusing not only on boosting current leadership capabilities, but also investing in the future by attracting and developing top leadership talent. In Canada, we are fortunate to have strong leaders who have effectively steered our governments through times of economic and social turmoil – but what is missing is a clear articulation of the competencies and skills that these leaders must demonstrate in order to succeed. It helps us to better understand what an "ideal leader" looks like, thus setting the groundwork for more effective succession planning, pipeline management, and leadership development programs.


There are countless articles and research on public sector leadership, most of which include typical lists of competencies such as courageous, compassionate, smart, innovative, cost saving, collaborative, etc. What is refreshing and innovative about this analysis is that the list of required skills includes a much more thoughtful, layered and bold list of competencies, as listed below.

Persuasive Entrepreneur

Shrewd Diplomat

Fearless Advisor

Passionate Talent Scout

Inspirational Team Captain

Astute Strategist

Empathetic Facilitator

Pragmatic Technophile

Catalyzing Agent

Prudent Manager

Suffice it to say the report shows how important it is for modern public service leaders to adapt their leadership traits to succeed within a context of growing complexity, increasing risk aversion, resource constraints, and hyper scrutiny by multiple stakeholders. Modern leaders leverage these skills to transform their cultures and modernize their practices in order to nurture the flat, flexible, and forward-looking organizations that are required to remain relevant and resilient in today's society.


This research makes a welcome departure from simply interviewing "the old boys club." It was valuable to hear the voices of passionate, diverse, hyper-smart and savvy Gen-Xers from across the country. Their views are novel and provide hope that the future of public sector leadership is not as bleak as many doomsayers are predicting.

Future leaders will emerge from a younger generation that possesses quite different career and work expectations. As we bid adieu to the baby boom cohort, tomorrow's Gen X / Y leaders are maturing in a global, interconnected world where change is the norm. Therefore developing these future chiefs will not be a seamless process within the public service. During their careers, they will likely transition to and from numerous organizations in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Leadership development processes will have to adjust to accommodate these habits and preferences. Succession plans also need to clear away some of the institutional barriers to rapid career advancement that can lurk within many public sector organizations. Governments will benefit from the diverse experience and insights that these passionate young individuals will contribute during their journey to the top.

Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking also underscores the need to effectively manage change. I believe that one of the identified leadership profiles in particular, "catalyzing agent", is a critical skill that will help to deftly balance "changing the business" with "running the business".


Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking shows us what successful leaders can look like, measured in terms of a clearly articulated competency model. The leadership profiles described in the report can contribute to more effective pipeline planning processes, leadership assessment, recruitment, and the compensation programs needed to drive strategic leadership development. If we want to build a high performing public service for the future, we must first develop thoughtful talent management strategies necessary to attract, develop, and retain the right type of leaders.

As the pool of experienced leaders diminishes (due to the rapidly increasing retirement of baby boomers), organizations urgently need to create a robust pipeline of potential leaders. Competition is intensifying for these highly qualified individuals, so today's public sector leaders must create the culture, processes, and succession plans to attract, nurture, and cultivate the most promising candidates. The competencies listed in Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking will help public sector leaders maintain direction while weathering the storm.


My hope is that today's public service leaders will learn from the valuable insights, the 10 competencies, and the suggested strategies for building future capacity that are portrayed in this report. Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking sets the competency bar very high – an inspiring persona who will address tomorrow's challenges with astuteness, empathy, catalysis, prudence, persuasiveness, shrewdness, fearlessness, pragmatism, passion, and inspiration. Where will these super heroes be found? It will not be easy, but Flat, Flexible, and Forward-Thinking provides the foundational competency model needed to inform effective succession planning and leadership development.

This article was previously published in Public Sector Digest.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.