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Personality traits of municipal politicians and staff.

The relationship between politicians and civil servants has been an ongoing issue since the advent of democracy. In an often-quoted work, Bureaucrats and Politicians in Western Democracies, Joel Aberbach, Robert Putnam and Bert Rockman argue that politicians differ from public servants in that their dominant trait is energy, while the dominant trait of public servants is equilibrium. (1) "Energy" means advocating for change and bringing new thoughts to the table, while "equilibrium" means focusing on stability and past procedures so that changes occur in an orderly fashion and do not have a negative impact on the administrative system. The authors argue that these two tendencies are complementary and introduce a healthy tension into the political system. Politicians provide the injection of new ideas and prevent stagnation, while public servants ensure a sober second thought before new ideas are implemented. A well-working political system needs both of these seemingly contradictory characteristics--enough change to prevent entropy and enough stability to prevent system overload.

The purpose of this article is to determine whether municipal politicians and public servants demonstrate the differences in personality traits found by Aberbach, Putnam and Rockman. Municipal politicians and staff have certain recurring complaints about one another, (2) which can affect how well governments work. An understanding of these basic personality traits could improve the working relationship between the two groups.

Maintaining the proper relationship between elected officials and public servants is one of the most important and at times one of the most difficult tasks in democratic political systems. This relationship is described colloquially as "politicians on top, experts on tap," or academically as the politics-administration dichotomy, always with the caveat that the "dichotomy" must be seen in a highly nuanced manner. The concept of dichotomy is useful because it reminds us of the distinct roles of the two groups; however, a complete separation of the two is simplistic, since politicians and administrators share responsibility for governing, in complex ways. (3) This relationship can become difficult at times, because the roles of the two groups are not defined precisely and because some members of the two groups work together so closely that personalities and personal relationships play a major role in how well the system functions. If the relationships work well, they have a positive impact on the governing process; if not, the governing process suffers accordingly.

The relationship between politicians and administrators is problematic at all levels of government, but it can be most tumultuous at the local level because of the small size and open nature of local governments. In large federal and provincial governments, relationships are more bureaucratized. Although the personal dimension cannot be ignored, there are bureaucratic rules on which to fall back and central agencies to help sort out conflicts. Personal disputes can be resolved by transferring the public servant (or elected official) to another role or another department in such a manner that minimizes public damage.

In local governments, however, there are fewer buffers. Council and staff deal directly with one another, often in public. Personalities are much more important, and when disagreements become intense there is usually no possibility of a lateral arabesque for a municipal manager who falls from grace. He or she will usually be disciplined or fired, with all the attendant tension that this generates.

The conventions around openness also matter. Public-service anonymity in parliamentary systems might be eroding somewhat, (4) but there is still a fairly strong sense that ministers and senior staff can have their disagreements behind closed doors without losing face.

In local government, however, staff members provide advice in the form of public reports that are discussed in open council meetings: "The shield of anonymity that has traditionally surrounded and sheltered public servants in the other levels of government is not generally available to [staff members] of a city." (5) Disagreements between council and staff are very public. Furthermore, staff members are frequently drawn into conflicts between councillors. Staff members must resist this, but they are nevertheless put in a very awkward position. Thus, for local government, the council-staff relationship is very important, but at times it can also be highly problematic. It is therefore not surprising that the proper maintenance of the council-staff relationship has attracted much attention at both the theoretical and the practical levels.

At the theoretical level, the issue is that the principles of sound democratic governance require politicians to be in charge of all aspects of municipal governance and to be accountable to the electorate for their decisions. (6) Staff members are responsible for carrying out the wishes of the collective council and are accountable to council for the implementation of council's policies. However, the blurring of political and administrative relationships can weaken this seemingly straightforward theoretical prescription. (7)

At the practical level, it is important that members of both groups understand their respective roles and the relationships between them. Councillors are frequently exhorted to take firm control of leadership and policy-making but to stay clear of administrative and management issues. Conversely, administrators are counselled to stay out of the politics of issues and focus on administration and management. However, this neat separation of responsibilities is virtually impossible to maintain in practice.

These two activities of policy decision-making and implementation cannot operate in isolation from one another. Council members will want to know of any difficulties in implementation. They will also want information on the cost and effectiveness of the services being provided. Alternatively, the managers of the public service will want a means of making proposals for alterations in programs or regulations where it has been found these are necessary for effective implementation. (8)

When the council-staff relationship goes awry, there can be serious consequences not only for the individuals concerned but also for the municipality, because a crisis in council-staff relations can paralyze municipal activity while allegations are exchanged. This can, in turn, result in the diminution of citizen confidence in the governing system. For the individuals involved, lives and careers are at stake. Serious problems can result in the termination or disciplining of staff members. While council inevitably "wins" any confrontation with staff, such a confrontation can erode the morale of the remaining employees and attach a stigma to the municipality, which may make the recruitment of good staff very difficult in the future. In short, nobody wins in confrontations. Even when the situation does not deteriorate to crisis proportions, an ongoing lack of trust colours the relationship negatively such that the conduct of municipal business suffers.

Therefore, it is not surprising that there is plenty of literature in both a prescriptive and descriptive vein regarding council-staff relationships. The prescriptive literature offers clear, if not always attainable, advice. Politicians must take a clear leadership role in policy-setting and stay out of administration and management; administrators must comply with the directions of politicians and not stray into the political process. Politicians and staff members must respect one another and understand their differing roles. (9)

The descriptive literature is much more voluminous and varied. This literature generally focuses on the behaviour of politicians and staff. One of the most prolific authors in this field, James Svara, uses interviews and questionnaires to gather information about how each group perceives its role and its relationship with the other group. (10) P. French and David Folz provide a good overview of an extensive literature on how mayors and city managers allocate their time among various functions. (11) T.J. Plunkett has reported on a similar but more limited Canadian survey. (12) Joseph Kushner and David Siegel have also conducted a very limited survey of one municipality to identify sources of tension between council and staff. (13)

Virtually all of this literature focuses on the perceived roles and current behaviour of the relevant actors. Although there have been many in-depth psychological analyses of individual political leaders, there has been very little serious discussion as to whether there are certain basic personality traits that predispose some people to become politicians or administrators. One sometimes hears the expression that someone was "born to be a politician," but there is little discussion regarding the specific personality traits that create this perception.

With due respect to the groundwork of those who have focused on individual behaviour, this article tests the hypothesis that politicians and public servants have certain basic personality traits that predispose them to choose their respective roles. Differences or similarities in traits could explain why politicians and administrators can or cannot work together in certain circumstances. If individuals are aware of these traits, their ability to work together should improve. Differences in traits could even be harnessed in a positive manner for the betterment of the organization. As we discuss later, some of the hypothesized traits of the two groups are more complementary than discordant.

Two important caveats should be noted. First, we will be discussing differences in the central tendencies of groups, not strict dichotomies between groups. A statement that members of a particular group tend to possess certain characteristics is not a blanket statement that all members of that group are identical; on the contrary, there will likely be wide variation within the group. Second, this survey is a snapshot in time and as such will not capture the dynamics of change, such as the New Public Management and post-bureaucratic styles of organization, which, according to Sandford Borins, will blur the distinction between politicians and administrators. (14) This study could serve as a baseline to determine if such changes occur over time, but it cannot capture the dynamics of such change.

Differences between politicians and public servants

To compare the personalities of municipal politicians and civil servants, we used two complementary approaches. In the first, we compared the two groups in terms of a set of standard personality characteristics that psychologists refer to as the "Big-Five." In the second, we hypothesized about more specific personality traits that we feel might differentiate politicians from civil servants. As we will discuss in more detail later, we would expect politicians and public servants to exhibit significant differences with regard to some of these traits, but we would not expect them to exhibit differences in others.

The Big-Five personality factors

Much research in personality psychology has been aimed at identifying basic characteristics that in combination with one another would summarize personality differences among people. This research has generally involved the use of factor analysis, a statistical technique that reduces a large set of correlated variables to a few broad dimensions. A common finding is the emergence of five basic dimensions of personality. (15) These "Big-Five" factors (along with examples of their associated traits) are as follows:

--extraversion (talkativeness, assertiveness, high activity level versus silence, passivity, reserve);

--agreeableness (kindness, trust, warmth versus hostility, selfishness, distrust);

--conscientiousness (organization, thoroughness, reliability versus carelessness, negligence, unreliability);

--emotional stability (relaxedness, calmness versus moodiness, nervousness); and

--openness to experience (imagination, curiosity, creativity versus shallowness, imperceptiveness, conventionality).

More recent research in personality psychology has suggested the existence of a sixth factor, known as honesty-humility, and has also suggested some reconceptualization of two of the Big-Five factors. (16) However, these latter differences are not of special relevance to our investigation and therefore we focus only on the Big-Five framework in assessing differences between politicians and civil servants.

Our hypothesis with respect to the Big-Five is that we would expect to see significant differences between politicians and public servants in the extraversion and openness to experience factors. These are the factors that capture such qualities as talkativeness or assertiveness versus passivity, and imagination or creativity versus conventionality. Characteristics like extraversion, talkativeness, and assertiveness are tendencies that might typically be associated with politicians but not so much with public servants. Given the earlier discussion of energy and stability, we would expect politicians to exhibit openness to change, imagination and curiosity--the essential differences discussed earlier between politicians and public servants. We tested for differences between politicians and public servants for all of the Big-Five traits, but our hypothesis was that there are significant differences between the two groups in extraversion and openness to experience. There would be no particular reason to expect differences between our two groups in such qualities as agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability (as distinct from "stability" in the organizational sense above).

Specific personality traits

In the second approach, we hypothesized potential differences between politicians and public servants in terms of several personality characteristics that are more narrowly defined than the Big-Five. (17) These more specific personality traits, each of which may be related to one or more of the Big-Five factors, are expressed in terms of pairs of opposite tendencies. For each trait, the hypothesis is that politicians are more likely to have one tendency and public servants the second. Neither tendency is considered more positive or negative than the other. Although they are opposites, their combination is considered to be complementary to the extent that a good organization needs both.

Energy / Stability

Politicians frequently seek office because they want to make changes to the existing system. They might be motivated by a broad idealism to make the world, or at least their home community, a better place in which to live or a narrower need to correct some specific problem that irritates them. (18) Even long-serving politicians feel a need to make change because they know that during the next election campaign, they will be obligated to defend their time in office by explaining what they have accomplished.

Public servants are not completely averse to change. At times, they may even be strong advocates for change, (19) but generally they are slower than politicians to embrace change, because, as experts in their fields, they are aware of both the positive and negative aspects of change and therefore require time to consider the proposals carefully. Politicians frequently do not have the expertise to comprehend the far-reaching consequences of what appears to be a simple change and are therefore less patient. As with politicians, public servants' motivations vary. Frequently, they are concerned that change undertaken too quickly will prove dysfunctional in the long run, and, as long-serving experts in their field, they are able to cite numerous previous examples of this occurring. In other cases, they might simply be too set in their ways or too disinterested to want change.

Neither politicians with their energy nor public servants with their stability have a monopoly on virtue. In fact, the simultaneous presence of both seemingly contradictory elements may be beneficial. The politicians' injection of energy prevents the organization from becoming stagnant, while the public servants' injection of stability ensures that the change is beneficial and properly implemented. Too much energy without stability would create a dangerously volatile system; too much stability without energy would create a dangerously stagnant system. The best system has a blend of both characteristics.

Individualistic / team-oriented

When councillors run for election in Canada, they do so usually not as members of a political party but as individuals. Once elected, they are aware that their re-election depends on their own personal efforts, especially in nonpartisan municipal elections. During their term of office, mayors stress the need for council to work as a team, but councillors are aware that in the next election they may be competing against one another, especially if the elections are city-wide. The need for teamwork is balanced by the need to be reelected. Moreover, elections are by their very nature competitive, and to win an election, therefore, one must be competitive. Once elected, councillors continue to be competitive, knowing that to be re-elected, their accomplishments must be recognized by the media and public. Aware that there are dangers in hogging the glory, they are willing to share the stage to some extent, but they must ensure that their role is acknowledged.

Staff members have permanent positions, which means they expect a long-term relationship with their colleagues. They also work with their colleagues on a daily basis, unlike councilors, who usually meet once a week. Furthermore, projects usually involve more than one department, which requires staff from several departments to work together to accomplish a shared goal. Although staff members may have individual aspirations to rise through the organization or to move to a different organization in a more senior capacity, they can accomplish more through teamwork than by individualistic efforts. Thus it is in their self-interest to be a team player. Staff members, as tenured members of a bureaucratic organization, put a premium on long-term cooperation. Like elected officials, they may also experience "wins" in having a policy accepted or in receiving a larger budgetary allocation than others, but wise bureaucrats know that to revel in these successes is not to their long-term advantage. Successful staff members therefore minimize their personal successes and focus on the importance of teamwork. Furthermore, they should not upstage councilors, who need to have the limelight in order to be re-elected.

Conflict-oriented / persuasion-oriented

Elections are not only competitive but also conflict-oriented; to be successful, one must be combative. The characteristics that lead to electoral success are also applied in council debates, the objective being the defeat of an opponent through vigorous debate. This combativeness relates to the individualism and competitive traits noted earlier. Councillors at times endure harsh and personalized attacks from fellow councillors and from the media and therefore feel they have no choice but to respond in kind.

Public servants work in a world where mutual adjustment and serial decision-making are valued more than conflict. They might at times be tempted to defeat colleagues who oppose their policies, but they are aware of the negative long-term consequences of doing so. Instead, public servants resolve issues mostly by persuasion but also by invoking existing rules and precedents and by compromising. It is more important to maintain long-term positive relationships with co-workers than it is to win any one battle. Former federal cabinet minister, Sheila Copps, captured the difference well when she compared her post-politics experience to a performance in a play: "I've been having a ball. Unlike politics, in a play, if you fail, everybody else fails. In politics, it's the exact opposite. If you fail, there are a lot of people lined up to take advantage of it." (20) Furthermore, issues that are not resolved might have to be dealt with at the political level, which constitutes a failing of the administration.

Sociable / solitary

Networking is a political requirement and therefore councillors must be somewhat sociable. To be successful, they must enjoy meeting and spending time with people, both in order to take the pulse of the community and to increase their visibility among voters. Politicians are noted for spending large amounts of time on the telephone and attending all sorts of public functions in order to network. The adage that he or she "works the room like a politician," although pejorative, is certainly appropriate.

Public servants' responsibilities, such as administering council policies and preparing recommendations regarding budgets, zoning bylaws and capital projects, do not require networking and sociable personalities. Public servants do however belong to provincial associations, such as the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, where they do their share of networking. But, unlike politicians, who need to get re-elected, the success of public servants is not dependent on their ability to curry the favour of voters; instead, success lies in their administrative and managerial skills.

The sociable/solitary tendencies are complementary. Politicians have a very important role in obtaining feedback on issues and gauging public opinion. Politicians ensure that the organization stays in touch with its constituency and makes adjustments when necessary. By contrast, public servants look inward to ensure that the organization is functioning properly and delivers services to the community. Both functions are important. Otherwise, the result may be efficient delivery of unwanted services or inefficient delivery of desirable services.

Colourful / staid

As previously stated, politicians need public exposure to get re-elected. The examples of Mel Lastman, Hazel McCallion and Ralph Klein show that personality and a tendency to make colourful and sometimes outrageous statements ensures media coverage, a requirement for their re-election.

Public servants work in a world of standard operating procedures that incite little excitement. To attract media attention is not in their self-interest. In fact, public servants feel that it is a bad sign if they are receiving attention, because they feel that the media like to highlight their failings. Public servants are also aware that their political masters seek media coverage and, since coverage of local affairs is limited, it is better that the politicians attract media attention.

Again, there is a complementarity in these characteristics. "Colourful" works in terms of getting an issue noticed and putting it on the agenda. However, "colourful" may be counterproductive when implementing policies or resolving problems. Problems are more likely solved by staid, colourless bureaucrats working behind the scenes.

Broad picture / detail-oriented

Because elected officials are not usually specialists in functional areas, they therefore focus on the overall aspects of an issue--what impact it will have on taxpayers and how it will play in the press. Administrative detail is of little interest to them, especially when the detail is of no interest to the media and electorate. In addition, given limited time, the pay-off from other activities such as social interaction or consideration of policy issues is much higher.

Public servants administer policies and must therefore concern themselves with the details of policies. Because of their expertise in their fields, they know the complexities of the task at hand. To them, "the devil is in the details." If the policies are successfully implemented, then they as public servants are rewarded. Conversely, if the policies are not effective, they will be held responsible even if the policy seemed ill-advised and they had cautioned politicians about these problems. Therefore, to protect themselves, public servants must ensure that the problem was not in the details of implementation.

Our hypothesis is that politicians and public servants would differ in their average levels of all these traits. However, this hypothesis is in a sense more tentative than that involving the Big-Five, given that the more specific traits described above have not been validated as thoroughly as have the well-established Big-Five. There is of course some overlap between the Big-Five and the specific traits described above; we would therefore expect some correlations between these variables (e.g., Big-Five extraversion and our narrower trait of "sociable').


In April 2005, questionnaires were sent to 500 elected officials and 500 senior staff in 100 Ontario municipalities. All twenty-two municipalities with populations of 100,000 or more were included. The remaining seventy-eight municipalities were selected in such a manner as to ensure that all counties and areas of the province were included. This resulted in the selection of thirty-six municipalities with populations between 10,000 and 100,000, and forty-two with populations of less than 10,000. The latter category contained slightly more municipalities because of their prevalence in the north of the province.

From each community, five politicians (including the head of council) and five public servants (including the chief administrative officer) were selected. The remaining four politicians and four department heads were selected randomly, except for deliberate inclusion of women to ensure adequate representation and deliberate selection of administrators from a variety of departments. The names were selected from the 2004 Ontario Municipal Directory, supplemented by a search of on-line directories for some municipalities. The result was 330 responses--161 from politicians and 169 from public servants. Because the response rate to our first mailing was so positive, we did not send a follow-up request.

The covering letter of the questionnaire indicated that respondents' answers would be confidential and that the results would be published on a summarized basis. The name of the municipality would also be kept confidential. In addition to the personality measures, the questionnaire included demographic questions. These questions established gender, age (under thirty years, thirty to forty-nine years, fifty to sixty-four years, and sixty-five years and over), population of municipality (under 10,000, 10,000 to 100,000, and over 100,000), and educational level (grade twelve or less, high school complete, some college or university, and college or university complete).

The personality component consisted of various statements that a person might make in describing her or his typical behaviour, thoughts or emotions. (For example, "I enjoy meeting and chatting with people at public functions.') Participants were asked to respond to each statement using a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Part A of the questionnaire consisted of forty-nine statements that we constructed to measure the six personality traits described above. We constructed these scales according to the rational test construction strategy, (21) which involves writing statements that pertain closely to the various aspects of the trait in question. Part B of the questionnaire consisted of the Ten-Item Personality Inventory, (22) which is a very brief but valid instrument for assessing the Big-Five personality factors. The items of this inventory were selected largely on the basis of their factor loadings in previous analyses of large-sample investigations. In those studies, factor analyses were conducted on self-ratings of more comprehensive sets of personality-descriptive adjectives. (23)

For both questionnaires, each participant's scores on the personality scales were calculated by finding the mean response (on the seven-point scale) across all items, after recoding of responses to the reverse-keyed statements (i.e., those statements for which agreement indicates a lower level of the trait).

Politicians and public servants were given exactly the same set of questions. If there are basic personality differences between politicians and public servants, there should be significant differences in their responses to the questions. For example, politicians should rate higher than public servants on the extraversion scale.


We received almost equal numbers of completed questionnaires from politicians (n = 161) and public servants (n = 169). Demographic characteristics of the politicians and public servants are shown in Table 1 (some of the totals are less than the values reported above, due to missing responses). The proportions of men and women were roughly similar in the two samples. Virtually all of the public servants were in the middle-age categories, none were under thirty, and only one was in the category sixty-five and over. There was more age variance for the politicians, but they were also heavily clustered in the middle-age categories. The distribution of politicians and public servants across the different sizes of municipalities was similar. The public servants were better educated, with eighty-one per cent having completed a college or university program, as opposed to fifty-seven per cent of the politicians.

Table 2 shows the means and standard deviations of politicians and public servants on the personality traits, along with the magnitude of the difference between those groups expressed as a correlation coefficient (with positive values indicating higher means for politicians than for public servants). First, with regard to the Ten-Item Personality Inventory measures of the Big-Five personality factors, politicians showed higher average scores than did public servants for extraversion (r = .20, [r.sup.2] = .04; t = 3.63, df = 328, p < .001) and for openness to experience (r = .19, [r.sup.2] = .04; t = 3.44, df = 328, p < .002). None of the other Big-Five factors showed any significant differences between the two groups. The sizes of the differences between politicians and public servants for extraversion and openness to experience are conventionally considered to represent small- to medium-sized effects. (24)

As Table 2 indicates, every personality trait showed a group difference in the predicted direction. Most of the differences, however, were small and did not approach statistical significance. The exception was the "sociable" scale, with politicians averaging higher than the public servants (r = .24, [r.sup.2] = .06, t = 4.50, df = 328, p < .001); the observed correlation of .24 is conventionally considered a medium-sized effect. (25) The finding of a statistically significant difference in "sociable" between politicians and public servants is consistent with the above-mentioned difference in extraversion; in the present sample, extraversion correlated .63 (p < .001) with "sociable." Note, however, that extraversion is also correlated substantially (r = .57, p < .001) with "colourful," which did not show a statistically significant difference between politicians and public servants. Interestingly, this result suggests that it is the more "sociable" or affiliative aspects of extraversion that differentiate politicians and public servants, rather than the more exhibitionistic or flamboyant aspects of that personality factor. The above findings support the part of our hypothesis that politicians would be more sociable than public servants, but are less supportive of the hypothesized difference along the "colourful/staid" dimension.

In addition to conducting the above analyses based on the entire sample of politicians and public servants, we also examined whether the differences between these groups might be especially salient when persons of the same sex, or of similar age, are compared. When we examined the personality differences between politicians and public servants for men and for women separately, we found very similar patterns for both groups, with the same three variables ("sociable," extraversion and openness to experience) consistently showing the group difference. The correlations were somewhat higher for women than for men, but these differences did not reach statistical significance. When we next examined the politician-versus-public servant differences for younger persons (less than 50 years) and older (50 years and up), we again found a generally similar pattern, but an additional result was that, within the younger age group only, the politicians showed somewhat higher levels on "individualistic" (r = .22, [r.sup.2] = .05; t = 2.33, df = 110, p < .05) and on "colourful" (r = .25, [r.sup.2] = .06; t = 2.67, df = 110, p < .05) than did the public servants.

We also examined the correlations between personality traits and the educational levels of the respondents. Three of the personality traits--"individualistic," "broad picture" and "colourful"--showed significant (p < .01) but modest positive correlafions (all rs < .20, all [r.sup.2]s < .04) with educational level. These results, in combination with the higher levels of education observed for public servants than for politicians (see "Methodology" above), raised the possibility that differences between the groups in these traits might be suppressed by the educational differences between them. Therefore, in order to compare politicians and public servants of equal educational level, we calculated the partial correlations between group membership (i.e., politician versus public servant) and these questionnaire scales, controlling for educational level. Two of the resulting values (r = .13 for "individualistic" and r = .14 for "colourful") reached statistical significance (p < .03) and are conventionally considered to represent small effects. (26)

Finally, we also computed partial correlations between group membership (i.e., politician versus public servant) and the personality scales, controlling for the demographic variables of gender, age and population of municipality. The results were virtually identical to those obtained in the original analysis, which indicates that the differences (or, in some cases, lack of differences) between politicians and public servants are not attributable to the demographic differences between the groups. (27)

Summary and conclusions

The purpose of this article was to determine whether municipal politicians and public servants had certain basic personality traits that could explain why the two groups sometimes have differing perspectives and why they sometimes have difficulty working together. As hypothesized, we found significant differences between the groups in the broad personality characteristics of extraversion and openness to experience, and in the more specific personality trait of "sociable." Other personality differences between the groups, although in the predicted direction, were small and did not reach statistical significance. Overall, the pattern of results indicates that politicians and public servants do differ appreciably in some major personality characteristics (assuming that both groups in our study were representative of their respective populations). This pattern of differences between politicians and civil servants was not affected by gender.

A further difference between the two groups is that public servants were slightly more homogeneous as a group than are politicians, both in terms of age distribution and some personality characteristics. These somewhat wider demographic and personality variations among politicians might be an additional factor contributing to tensions between public servants and elected officials. In fact, they could also be a contributing factor to tensions among elected officials themselves.

As stated earlier, the differences between the two groups may not be as great as the standard model of political bureaucracy suggests, because the bureaucratic personality traits that may have served public servants well in the past have limited utility in the new post-bureaucratic environment. (28) However, what do the differences that do exist say about the ability of the two groups to work together? Politicians are more outgoing and sociable, and also more curious and imaginative, which supports our earlier contention that politicians are more likely to be the eyes and ears of the organization and to push for change. Public servants, on the other hand, are more likely to be focused on internal aspects of the organization and its efficient operation. It is important for the two groups to understand these differences, because they may be a source of considerable tension and result in a loss of patience and respect for one another. Yet, these differences can just as easily be seen as complementary traits that can be used to further the goals of the organization. Public servants need to understand that it is a natural characteristic of politicians to be extraverted and to push for change. This is a positive attribute because it helps the organization move forward and keeps it in touch with its environment. Likewise, politicians must understand that public servants who advise caution and who want to move at a more deliberate speed are also making a positive contribution to the organization. The best municipalities will identify and harness these seemingly conflicting tendencies and use the creative tension between them to enhance the performance of the organization.


(1) Joel D. Aberbach, Robert D. Putnam and Bert A. Rockman, Bureaucrats and Politicians in Western Democracies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).

(2) Joseph Kushner and David Siegel, "Council/staff relations: A case study," Municipal World 105, no. 5 (May 1995), pp. 13-14.

(3) Trevor Price, "Council-Administration Relations in City Governments," in James Lightbody, ed., Canadian Metropolitics: Governing Our Cities (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1995), pp. 193-214; C. Richard Tindal and Susan Nobes Tindal, Local Government in Canada, 6th ed. (Scarborough, Ont., Thompson Nelson, 2004).

(4) Donald J. Savoie, Breaking the Bargain: Public Servants, Ministers and Parliament (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).

(5) T.J. Plunkett, City Management in Canada: The Role of the Chief Administrative Officer (Toronto: Institute of Public Administration of Canada, 1992), p. 40.

(6) David Siegel, "Politics, politicians and public servants in non-partisan local government," CANADIAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION 37, no. 1 (Spring 1994), pp. 17-30.

(7) Robert T. Golembiewski and Gerald Gabris, "Today's city managers: A legacy of success-becoming-failure," Public Administration Review 54, no. 6 (November/December 1994), pp. 525-30; Douglas F. Morgan and Henry D. Kass, "The American Odyssey of the Career Public Service: The Ethical Crisis of Role Reversal," in H. George Frederickson, ed., Ethics and Public Administration (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1993), pp. 177-90.

(8) Plunkett, City Management in Canada, p. 5.

(9) Michael Fenn, "Building effective council-staff relations," Municipal World 113, no. 4 (April 2003), pp: 17-22; Anne Louise Heron, "Council-staff harmony: Using a sound policy framework helps," Municipal World 113, no. 4 (April 2003), pp. 25-8; Carolyn Kearnes, "Successful municipalities: caos can make the difference. Part 1--What good caos do," Municipal World 115, no. 7 (July 2005), pp. 25-6.

(10) James H. Svara, "Dichotomy and duality: Reconceptualizing the relationship between policy and administration in council-manager cities," Public Administration Review 45, no. 1 (January/February 1985), pp. 221-32; James H. Svara, "The shifting boundary between elected officials and city managers in large council-manager cities," Public Administration Review 59, no. 1 (January/February 1999), pp. 44-53.

(11) P. Edward French and David H. Folz, "Executive behavior and decision making in small U.S. cities," American Review of Public Administration 34, no. 1 (March 2004), pp. 52-66.

(12) Plunkett, City Management in Canada, p. 30.

(13) Joseph Kushner and David Siegel, "It's not too late to develop good council-staff relations," Municipal World 106, no. 7 (July 1996), pp. 17-20; Kushner and Siegel, "Council/staff relations," Municipal World.

(14) Sandford Borins, "Loose cannons and rule breakers, or enterprising leaders? Some evidence about innovative public managers," Public Administration Review 60, no. 6 (November/ December 2000), pp. 498-507.

(15) Lewis R. Goldberg, "The structure of phenotypic personality traits," American Psychologist 48, no. 1 (January 1993), pp. 26-34; Robert R. McCrae and Oliver P. John, "An introduction to the Five-Factor Model and its applications," Journal of Personality 60, no. 2 (June 1992), pp. 175-215.

(16) Michael C. Ashton et al., "A six-factor structure of personality-descriptive adjectives: Solutions from psycholexical studies in seven languages," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 86, no. 2 (February 2004), pp. 356-66.

(17) See, for example, Michael C. Ashton et al., "The criterion validity of broad factor scales versus specific facet scales," Journal of Research in Personality 29, no. 4 (December 1995), pp.432-42, for a discussion of the importance of assessing narrower traits in addition to broader factors of personality.

(18) At the federal level, respondents report that their primary motivation for seeking office is a desire to formulate public policies, followed by service to their local community. See David C. Docherty, Mr. Smith Goes to Ottawa (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997), pp. 111, 115-17, 120-27, 133-35. See also Steve Paikin, The Life: The Seductive Call of Politics (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2002).

(19) Borins, "Loose cannons and rule breakers, or enterprising leaders?," Public Administration Review.

(20) John Geddes, "'Thugs' in the Government," Maclean's, 1 November 2004, p. 17.

(21) Douglas N. Jackson, "The dynamics of structured personality tests," Psychological Bulletin 78, no. 3 (May 1971), pp. 229-48.

(22) Samuel D. Gosling, Peter J. Rentfrow and William B. Swann Jr., "A very brief measure of the Big-Five personality dimensions," Journal of Research in Personality 37, no. 6 (December 2003), pp. 504-28.

(23) Ibid.

(24) Jacob Cohen, Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed. (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1988).

(25) Ibid.

(26) Ibid.

(27) In addition, we examined differences between politicians and public servants in the amount of variation in personality within each group. Using F-tests of the equality of variances for the two groups, we found that the politicians were more variable than were the public servants (p < .05) in the specific personality traits of "individualistic" and "conflict-oriented" and in the Big-Five agreeableness factor. In contrast, the public servants were more variable than were the politicians (p < .05) in the Big-Five openness to experience factor, although this latter result partly reflects the fact that twenty-one per cent of the politicians, but only eleven per cent of public servants, reached the "ceiling" score of 7.0 on the openness to experience scale. Overall, this suggests that the politician group may be slightly more heterogeneous than the public servant group, a possibility that is consistent with the wider age range among the politicians, noted above.

(28) For a comparison of traditional public-service values and the new or post-bureaucratic values, see Kenneth Kernaghan. "The post-bureaucratic organization and public service values," International Review of Administrative Sciences 66, no. 1 (March 2000), pp. 91-104.

Michael Ashton is associate professor, Department of Psychology, Brock University. His research investigates the structure and measurement of individual differences, such as personality, mental abilities, interests and attitudes. Joseph Kushner is professor, Department of Economics, Brock University, and a thirty-year member of the St. Catharines city council. His research has focused on the application of event-study methodology to areas such as insider trading and union certification. David Siegel is professor, Department of Political Science, and dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Brock University. The authors would like to thank Dawn Phillips for her conscientious research assistance. The authors also benefited significantly from the conceptual advice provided by Cy Armstrong and the late Tom Plunkett. Finally, they want to acknowledge the helpful comments made by the Journal's anonymous reviewers. Order of authorship is alphabetical; all three authors contributed equally.
Table 1. Demographic Variables among Politicians and Public Servants

 Politicians Public servants

 n % n %

Size of municipality
Under 10,000 52 32.7 36 21.6
10,000-100,000 59 37.1 87 52.1
Over 100,000 48 30.2 44 26.3

Female 44 27.7 55 32.9
Male 115 72.3 112 67.1

Under 30 3 1.9 -- --
30-49 39 24.5 70 41.9
50-64 88 55.3 96 57.5
65 and over 29 18.2 1 0.6

Level of education
Grade 12 or less 21 13.5 3 1.8
High school complete 16 10.3 8 4.8
Some college or university 30 19.4 21 12.6
College or university complete 88 56.8 135 80.8

Table 2. Mean Scores of Politicians and
Public Servants on Personality Scales

Personality trait Politicians Public servants

Extraversion 4.94 (1.43) 4.35 (1.52)
Agreeableness 5.72 (1.14) 5.60 (1.03)
Conscientiousness 6.12 (0.99) 6.16 (0.91)
Emotional stability 5.55 (1.22) 5.55 (1.17)
Openness to experience 5.98 (0.85) 5.62 (1.03)

Specific personality traits
Energy/stability 3.48 (0.92) 3.43 (0.79)
Individual/team-oriented 2.55 (0.95) 2.41 (0.74)
Conflict/persuasion 2.86 (0.89) 2.82 (0.79)
Sociable/solitary 4.82 (1.13) 4.26 (1.14)
Colourful/staid 3.54 (1.15) 3.35 (1.07)
Broad picture/detail 3.84 (1.06) 3.70 (1.07)

Personality trait r [t.sub.328]

Extraversion .20 ** 3.63 **
Agreeableness .06 1.01
Conscientiousness -.02 -0.37
Emotional stability .00 0.02
Openness to experience .19 3.44 **

Specific personality traits
Energy/stability .03 0.59
Individual/team-oriented .08 1.50
Conflict/persuasion .02 0.44
Sociable/solitary .24 ** 4.50 **
Colourful/staid .09 1.56
Broad picture/detail .07 1.23

n = 161 for politicians, n = 169 for public servants.
Values in parentheses are standard deviations.

** p < .001
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Author:Ashton, Michael; Kushner, Joseph; Siegel, David
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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