Dashboard Reflections: Average Age of CAOs & ACAOs

Posted on July 18, 2018


Each week, we’ll be doing three key things with the Diversity Dashboard:

  1. Updating the Diversity Dashboard with new survey data
  2. Sharing a reflection post on the Diversity Dashboard findings
  3. Communicating response rates on a state by state basis

The Diversity Dashboard is an evolving, growing tool that helps us better understand local government leadership in 2018. Want to sign up to blog with your reflections? Sign up here.


Today’s reflection post is by Kirsten Wyatt, ELGL’s Executive Director.

Diversity Dashboard findings on the average age of Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) and Assistant Chief Administrative Officers (ACAOs) are consistent with commonly-understood ideas about the the aging of public employees.
This information is interesting, and reaffirms that the focus on “next gen” by many organizations (like state municipal leagues, county organizations, and local government associations) is well founded and important.
Here are some additional observations from the Dashboard:
Overall, one-third of Diversity Dashboard respondents are under 49 years old or younger. Two thirds of all CAOs and ACAOs are 50 years old or better. This finding isn’t shocking. The years of experience needed to manage public organizations means that this is a profession where people reach that “top position” toward the end of their careers, not the beginning.
But what this statistic does show, is that a focus on that next generation of leadership is critically important. Currently, there are some great programs in the United States that are nurturing and training talent for when that 67 percent of CAOs and ACAOs retire.
Groups like UMANT, UMAST, MMANC, MMASC and more are creating specific places for fellowship and training. Organizations like TCMA are leading creative programs like their “City Managers of Tomorrow” program. This is important work.
One issue that ELGL has long championed is to ensure that “next gen” efforts aren’t just another box to check, without any substance or meaning behind the efforts. One session at a conference, one column in a newsletter – that’s not going to prepare people adequately to take over those big roles.
So, my first reflection from the Dashboard is that budget, time, energy, and focus on the ways we prepare for the next group of people to take on CAO and ACAO roles is money, time, energy, and focus well spent.
If your state doesn’t have a program – a full fledged program, not a box they’re checking each year – it’s time to invest in one and I know that ELGL members around the country would be happy to help and provide perspective on the components that make a successful program.
This also reaffirms ELGL’s commitment this year to the #ELGLInspire program on college campuses. It’s never too early to introduce people to the joy of local government service, and this becomes even more critical when faced with the idea that we need people to step into entry and mid-management positions when retirements occur.
The next statistic that is interesting is to segment the findings to learn the average ages of city managers and mayors (you can access this data using the handy preformatted reports on the left side of the screen).
Filtering for only city managers, 36% are 49 years old or younger and 64% are 50 years old or better.
And, filtering for only mayors, 23% are 49 years old or younger, and 77% are 50 years old or better.
I mention this because I think it’s really interesting to apply different filters – based on form of government, job title, population – and see what the resulting effect is on the findings.
As we continue to grow the dashboard and add more surveys to it, these cross tabs will become even more useful as we tease out the trends across states and regions where there’s greater diversity in leadership.


What are you seeing in the Diversity Dashboard? We want to hear your findings and your reflections on the data. Sign up here to write for ELGL!
And don’t forget – we’re continuing to collect survey data and will update the Dashboard each week so submit your survey data today!

I’m the co-founder and executive director of ELGL. I love my job. Other things I love: local government, my family, my dog Michael Jordan,┬ásandwiches, naps, books, and skee-ball.

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