Defining situational leadership for the local government chief adminstrative officer

Date

2009-12-22T16:23:15Z

Authors

McIntosh, Gordon A.

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Abstract

This study examines the situational leadership phenomena for Chief Administrative Officers (CAO) in Canadian local governments. CAO perceptions were solicited to explore how CAO strategic perspectives influence leadership preferences. A better understanding of the CAO leadership role is essential to maximize organizational effectiveness. A 45-item strategic contingency questionnaire was developed to reveal the CAO’s strategic context in terms of organizational/community and current/future dimensions providing an interpretive means to determine the reactive/proactive nature of strategic contexts facing CAOs. The CAO leadership approach was captured through a 48-item leadership competency questionnaire exhibiting a people/task-centred duality. Interviews with CAOs provide further insights to understand survey results. The survey data analyses produced reliable and robust factor structures to reduce instrument items to eight leadership clusters and four strategic contexts. Instrument testing confirms the utility of the study’s core local government functions, leadership style and strategic context matrices to organize and compare quantitative and qualitative data. The CAO observations of what is receiving organizational attention were not consistent with their aspirations of what should be important indicating an administrative bias. This strategic context duality is significant because community or external matters often draw CAOs into the political realm whereas organizational or internal matters enable them to stay in the administrative realm. The CAO interviews indicate reluctance on the part of CAOs to spend as much time as they do in the strategic direction and policy choice spheres. These results suggest a tension between CAO strategic aspirations and the strategic imperatives of local government. The empirical findings demonstrated that CAO strategic perspectives exhibit a patterned relationship to leadership preferences. A Community-oriented strategic context had a stronger association with task-centred leadership while a people-centred leadership approach was preferred for an organizational-oriented strategic context. A dual rating system indicated that prevailing situations cause a control leadership style that was at odds with their preferred flexible leadership competencies. The strategic context differentiates leadership requirements from leadership preferences depicting the nature of situated action dilemmas among CAOs. CAO functions and CAO leadership style impact their leadership approach. The CAO role is shaped by Organizational Size, Structure and Electoral Systems which influence the strategic contingencies they face. The mediating effect of Gender, Age and CAO Experience is shaped by CAO Roles in larger organizations associated with career advancement, rather than by personal demographics. Situational leadership is a conscious process subject to control or flexibility expectations of the CAO for the outcomes of their leadership approach. The relationship is a complex web rather than a hierarchical sequence of influences. Nevertheless, some generalizations can be made to produce a CAO situational leadership role framework to better understand the CAO situational leadership phenomena.

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Keywords

local government, situational leadership, local government leadership, Chief Adminstrative Officer

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