A Leadership Development Framework for the Public Service of Canada

A new human resources governance regime for the Public Service of Canada was announced in February 2009. The changes focused and streamlined the organizational structure for human resources management and provided deputy heads with the primary responsibility of managing the people in their own departments and agencies. Early in 2009, the Deputy Ministers' Public Service Renewal Committee endorsed the attached framework for leadership development in the Public Service. It is intended to be an evergreen reference document that will help guide leadership development efforts at all levels. It sets out proposed principles for an approach to leadership development, including outlining the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers, deputy ministers and central organizations.


This paper sets out a leadership development framework for the Public Service that is designed to serve several purposes:

  • First, it sets out the principles that underpin how the Public Service as a whole will approach the broad issue of leadership development, both in departments and system-wide.
  • Second, it describes the respective roles and responsibilities of
    1. employees and managers,
    2. departments and agencies and
    3. the central
    agencies, in the area of leadership development.
  • Third, it proposes a number of specific objectives for the Public Service with respect to leadership development, as well as expected results and ways of measuring how those results are being achieved.

The framework is intended to serve as an evergreen document that captures how the Public Service sees itself today and how it intends to move into the future, recognizing that, along the way, changing needs or circumstances may compel some course corrections.  But the basic framework should be clear and strong enough to be worth keeping, even if particular elements change over time.  The framework must also be substantive, in the sense that its adoption will carry real consequences – certain things will be done as a result, and others (perhaps including some current leadership development programs) will not.

The framework draws on the fruits of consultation with participants from a number of development programs, as well as research on comparable programs of leadership development in other public services and in the private sector.  It also draws on experience over the past 20 years with a wide range of federal leadership development programs from entry level to those serving very senior executives.

The framework also reflects consultation with deputies and agency heads, and a continuing dialogue with the Deputy Ministers Committee on Public Service Renewal.   Those conversations revealed a wide range of views on the merits of current programs and what should be changed.  But almost everyone said there was a need to:

  • take a fresh look at leadership development programs, and situate them properly within a clear strategic framework;
  • place greater emphasis on work experience, and the leadership skills and qualities shown in actual management situations;
  • distinguish the respective responsibilities of deputies and the central agencies.

This framework attempts to do all these things.

Why a Framework?

The simplest answer to this question is that deputies have asked – repeatedly – for such a framework.  After all, under the provisions of the new public service employment regime, it is deputies who carry primary responsibility for people management.  They have the authority and they have primary accountability for results.  This responsibility will be further accentuated by the changes to governance arrangements for human resources management at the centre of government, under which the responsibilities of the central agencies are to be redefined.

But beyond this pressing need from the top, the fact is that the Public Service itself is changing rapidly, with nearly 160,000 new hires over the past decade, and an expected turnover in executive ranks of nearly 50% by 2015.  As this renewal process continues, there is a pressing need to ensure that the values, skills and experience profile of the leadership cadre are appropriate for the challenges facing Canada over the coming decades.

Finally, we need a framework because the world is changing in ways that affect Canada and therefore Canada's Public Service.  Technology, globalization, changing expectations of citizens – these forces and factors are demanding new responses from government.  The Public Service leaders of tomorrow must be able to manage and lead people whose learning and formative experiences are different from those of the past.  They must be able to manage a more diverse workforce, doing different sorts of work, in new ways. 

These realities shape our needs for leadership and our expectations of leaders.


The leadership development framework set out in these pages starts with the premise that most people can develop their leadership skills through experience and training. It is the responsibility of managers to identify employees with leadership potential and to help them develop their leadership skills through appropriate training and, most importantly, through work experience that challenges them and enables them to grow.  Above all, the employee must be fully engaged in the process - willing to lead and be developed.

The framework assumes that the Public Service needs leaders that reflect the diversity of the Canadian population with different kinds of expertise and skills.  It is the responsibility of senior managers to ensure that their organization is equipped with leaders – from front-line supervisors to ADMs – who have the specific knowledge, skills and experience to do the job in that particular setting.

The framework assumes that the Public Service is (or ought to be) a learning organization and that people learn best through doing.  It is in the workplace and not the classroom that they show their potential as leaders.  This said, the framework also recognizes the importance of more formalized learning, training and skills development, to ensure management excellence overall, including building leadership capacity.

Finally, the framework assumes that, in the Public Service, leadership development is based on the key leadership competencies (KLC's) already defined for the Public Service [See Annex A]. Individual departments and agencies, and the system as a whole, must be aware of the qualities and skills they want to see and select and develop leaders with these competencies in mind.


This leadership development framework rests on five principles:

  1. The Key Leadership Competencies (with an emphasis on People management) form the foundation of leadership development in the Public Service.
  2. Leadership competencies are developed primarily in the workplace and supported by the classroom.
  3. The Public Service needs leaders with a variety of skills and a shared set of core values.
  4. Individual employees, with support from their managers, have prime responsibility for their own leadership development.
  5. Leadership development is about equipping the Public Service to deliver results for Canadians while enriching individual careers.


The primary objective of this leadership development framework is to define clearly for deputies and for all employees the philosophy and general approach that will be taken to leadership development throughout the Public Service, as a guide to:

  1. Policy development, program design and program implementation by central agencies;
  2. Program design and implementation by individual departments and agencies;
  3. Decision-making by departments and by the Public Service as a whole with respect to:
    • Recruitment of highly-qualified personnel who are representative of the Canadian population;
    • Identification of future leaders;
    • Investments in training and development;
    • Succession planning for management and leadership positions;
    • Whether particular individuals have the competencies and personal qualities required for leadership at different levels of the Public Service; 
    • Appointments of the most senior leaders (deputies and ADMs).
  4. Understanding how Public Service decisions are underpinned by our core values.

A second objective is to define clearly the respective responsibilities of deputies and the central agencies in the area of leadership development and in each case to outline the tools and programs that are available to enable them to fulfill those responsibilities.

A third objective, as noted, is to set specific goals, expected results and accompanying performance measures for assessing those results.  These goals and yardsticks will be reflected in the human resources plans of departments, and those of the central agencies for the system as a whole.  And they will be re-evaluated annually.

A key feature of corporate programs developed or re-affirmed under this new framework is that they will contain an explicit commitment to assessing leadership capacity and potential, and, as a result, that they will contain off-ramps when necessary.

Roles and Responsibilities

The Public Service Modernization Act, which came into effect in 2005, made significant changes to the central agencies and deputy heads' human resources management responsibilities and authorities.

Responsibilities of Deputy Heads

Deputy heads carry primary responsibility for people management in the Public Service.  They are accountable in particular for:

  • Identifying organizational needs;
  • Ensuring that leadership development activities are properly situated within business and human resources plans;
  • Putting in place a process for talent management;
  • Ensuring employees have access to self-learning resources, assessment tools and courses, as required;
  • Making available mechanisms for coaching and or career counselling, as required.

Responsibilities of Managers

Managers in a department or agency are accountable up the chain of command to the Deputy Minister or agency head. They may be delegated specific authority by the deputy head in relation to people management generally, and leadership development in particular, and they are therefore accountable for how that authority has been exercised.

Managers are accountable in particular for:

  • Supporting the development of the leadership capacity of their employees and their organization.
  • Supporting the leadership development program of their organization by providing on-the-job challenges and appropriate training and learning opportunities.

Managers have a duty to carry out their responsibilities in people management, and in the specific area of leadership development, in a manner that accords with the Key Leadership Competencies, and the Public Service Code of Values and Ethics. They are also responsible for exercising their management authority in a way that contributes to the achievement of objectives set for their organization by their deputy head, and set for the Public Service as a whole by the Treasury Board or by the Head of the Public Service.

Responsibilities of Individual Employees

Employees have primary responsibility for their own careers and therefore for their own professional development, including such things as self-assessment, seeking feedback, requesting support and applying their learning on the job.  The Key Leadership Competencies provide a set of skills and behaviours to be developed at every level, from supervisor to Deputy Minister, in the Public Service.

In pursuing their careers, employees may participate in leadership development programs operated either by departments and agencies, or by the Public Service as a whole.  Participation in such programs is a privilege, not a right, and depends on a variety of factors, notably a determination by management that this investment in an employee would be of present or future benefit to the organization or to the Public Service as a whole.

Responsibilities of Central Agencies

Central agencies are responsible for:

  • Analyzing public service-wide needs and sharing best practices;
  • Developing, implementing, monitoring and revising policies for leadership development within the Public Service as a whole;
  • Supporting deputy heads in the exercise of their responsibilities in relation to leadership development the development of tools for application in departments and agencies through (see below);
  • Operating such system-wide programs for leadership development as are determined to be necessary and useful for the development of senior leaders in the Public Service;
  • Enhancing mobility for senior levels through such things as brokerage service and the Interchange Canada program;
  • Operating, where required, corporate leadership programs for functional communities and other targeted areas, and addressing public service wide gaps where there is a need for centrally-run programs (e.g., key shortages, EE, services for small departments, etc.)
  • Developing metrics to monitor and measure success. 

Tools and Programs

The most important tool for the development of future leaders is experience in the workplace that develops and tests the skills and character of the future leader.  This kind of experience is the foundation of the leadership development tools and programs that will be offered in the future See footnote *

Workplace experience will be supplemented, as appropriate, with:

  • Programs or orientation and basic skills development;
  • Classroom and other learning opportunities;
  • Mentoring, coaching and job shadowing.

a) Tools

The central agencies with responsibilities in the human resources area – OCHRO, the PSC and the Canada School – have developed a number of tools and related capacities that support the leadership development responsibilities of deputy heads. 

These tools include such things as:

  • Research and demographic analysis capability to measure performance, both in departments and agencies and system-wide;
  • A brokerage function to facilitate the mobility and placement of executive participants in programs;
  • Capacities for national recruitment to serve or assist departments and agencies that lack the capacity to conduct such campaigns on their own;
  • Capacities for psychological and other testing to support HR planning, executive placement and mobility;
  • Learning programs and opportunities;
  • Bridging programs to facilitate placement opportunities for leaders as they advance in their career;
  • Tools for the recruitment, selection and development of leaders including EE target group members.

These tools and capacities will be constantly refined to reflect the evolving needs of departments and agencies, feedback from participants, and other measures to evaluate relevance and effectiveness.

Departments and agencies, especially the larger ones, are expected to develop and apply their own tools for talent management, succession planning and leadership development to suit their particular needs and circumstances.  The central agencies have a duty to provide appropriate assistance in this regard.

b) Programs (January 1, 2009)

A wide range of leadership development programs are offered today,[See Annex B] some on a departmental basis but the majority by the central agencies, at all levels from the recruitment of future leaders to training and development for very senior executives.

  • At entry level, we find programs such as Management Trainee Program (MTP), the Recruitment of Policy Leaders Program (RPL), the Accelerated Economist Training Program (AETP), as well as specialist programs such as those for Foreign Service Officers and for Financial Officers and Internal Audit professionals (FORD/IARD).
  • At the middle management level, the Career Assignment Program (CAP).
  • At the executive level, current programs include
    • the Accelerated Executive Development Program (AEXDP) for EX1-3; and
    • the Advanced Leadership Program for EX4-5 levels
  • At all levels, Interchange Canada.

These programs are being reviewed to ensure their continued utility to the Public Service and in accordance with the principles and objectives set out in this leadership development framework.

There are today, and there will continue to be, some leadership development programs that are accessed by individuals on their own initiative and others such as the Advanced Leadership Program that are very much top-down. The Public Service requires both sorts of mechanisms to meet its needs.

Expected Results and Performance Measures

Adoption of this framework is expected to deliver measureable results in the short, medium and longer-term, at both a departmental and system-wide level.

Deputy heads will be expected to set specific objectives for their leadership development activities, arrayed in terms of the short, medium and longer term.

Those objectives should be:

  • Closely linked to integrated business and HR planning
  • Measureable, particularly in terms of impact on programs and activities;
  • Meaningful both to the senior management team and to individual employees;
  • Regularly updated to reflect changing priorities, circumstances and needs.

Objectives set for a large department may well be very different from those set by the management team of a small agency.  But the principles underlying what each organization is trying to achieve should reflect the principles and goals set out in this leadership development framework.

Performance measures should be evidence-based and closely related to business objectives and results.  That is to say, the focus should be on assessing the impact on the unit or organization (or on the Public Service as a whole), rather than on the perceived needs and experiences of the individual employee. 

How will this be different?

The approach defined in this Leadership Development Framework builds on our current approach in a number of important ways:

  • It involves a shift in responsibility and activity in leadership development from central agency-centric to department and agency-centric.
  • It shifts from a focus on structured programs and courses to a focus on work-based learning.
  • Instead of trying to develop future leaders by accelerating their progress up the ranks, it aims to broaden and deepen their experience and knowledge.
  • Whereas in the past, corporate leadership programs were aimed at all levels, henceforth these will be run centrally, largely for functional communities, targeted areas and/or senior leaders.
  • Future programming will more systematically integrate leadership development with businessand HR planning, including succession planning and the filling of identified organizational needs.
  • Although this is not easy to do, future emphasis will be on measuring outcomes – e.g., have real organizational needs been met?  Have participants demonstrated the skills and competencies desired by the organization and by the Public Service? 
  • And in terms of outcomes, there is a corresponding shift from looking at participant outcomes to corporate (organizational) outcomes.

Next Steps

In the short term (i.e., beginning now):

  • Rationalization and/or redesign of corporate programs;
  • coordinated communication of corporate programs twice a year, in accord with talent management cycle;
  • Support to departments in building their capacity for leadership development programming;
  • Analysis of public service-wide data and development of performance measures;
  • Development of funding models.

In the medium term (12-24 months)

  • Provision of tools to departments and to central agencies for identification of individuals with high leadership potential;
  • Support to government-wide mobility for developmental assignments;
  • Development of support for key communities (small agencies, finance, HR, IM/IT, etc.)

In the longer term (three years and out):

  • System-wide reporting and assessment of progress toward declared objectives for leadership development.

Annex A : Key Leadership Competencies

In 2005, the Government announced a Key Leadership Competencies profile that outlines the leadership skills, abilities and characteristics that are needed in the Public Service to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Annex B : Leadership Development Offerings

Figure 1: Leadership Development Offerings

January 1, 2009

Leadership Development Offerings
Figure 1 - Display full size graphic and text version

Return to footnote reference * Among other things, it means that managers themselves will require training in how to develop leaders in their own organizations.

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