Consultant to CAO

Consultant to CAO

I have a confession to make: earlier this year I was creeping on Dan Wilson’s LinkedIn profile and read some very inspiring and informative posts.


This led to me reaching out and asking for a conversation. Dan was kind enough to spend some time sharing his experience and leadership lessons as a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for Township of Centre Wellington.


Here are some highlights from that conversation along with my own insights that came up as I was speaking with Dan.



Open and transparent

Leadership in municipal government can be different than other industries and sectors. The Municipal Act provides high-level governance. Municipalities then must fit their operations within the Act.


Also, a Council can potentially change every four years. This means areas of focus may shift too. Staff report into the CAO who then reports to Council, so hierarchy can be important.


Because everyone who works in municipal government is a public servant, open and transparent decision-making is key. This ranges from policies, budgeting, corporate objectives, economic development initiatives, recreation programs and more.


Key decisions on major strategic objectives must be transparent so that the public can either weigh in on them, or at least be in the know.


LESSON: Leadership is about operating within a set of parameters (Municipal Act), navigating hierarchy and role clarity efficiently, while ensuring key decisions are made in a transparent manner. Easy, right?


It’s all about collaboration

The top leadership lesson Dan mentioned he’s learned over the years: Good leaders ask great questions!


A CAO or the senior most leader may not, and likely doesn’t have ALL the answers ALL the time. But, good leaders do learn to ask great questions. This provides essential data and information. So that, those “big decisions” can then be made.


As the senior most leader, it’s important not to presume you know everything that your staff knows. Your role is often to guide, assist and support – collaboration is one of the most important leadership traits to accomplish organization goals.


Asking questions allows you to walk side-by-side with the person answering. This is important because everyone wants to be spoken with, not talked at. Ultimately, this builds connection which leads to influence and leadership.


LESSON: Asking questions and collaborating with others will strengthen connection, increase influence and results in inclusive leadership. Everyone wants to be heard!


Trust is earned

A life lesson that Dan has learned and pulled into his leadership style is, building and maintaining trust. This was a strong trait in his upbringing and family. Connected to this is honesty.


For those of us who are older siblings, sometimes leadership is ingrained in us during childhood. Older siblings are the best 🙂.


How can this be implemented? Start with making small promises and keeping them.


LESSON: Start by building trust with your people. If done right, this can trickle out to having trust with customers, clients or those you serve.


Stop doing

One of the most interesting questions I asked Dan was “What have you had to let go/stop doing to continue to evolve your personal/professional leadership?”


He was vulnerable in sharing that during his consultant years, Dan’s focus was external success. As is the case for many of us. Things such as money, bonuses, cars .. .or Jeeps anyone? Until he realized that more time with family was needed and a stronger focus on giving back.


This prompted the shift back to municipal government. This doesn’t mean easier or shorter days. Rather, a more connected life to family and community.


LESSON: Prioritizing meaningful connections, personal fulfillment and supporting others often builds a strong foundation for servant leadership.


As you re-read through these lessons, perhaps focus on one and find a way to implement this in how you live and lead.




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