An analysis of the competency levels of senior managers in South African municipalities

Good governance and administrative excellence in local government must ensure effective service delivery to communities. This requires capable, knowledgeable and expert senior municipal managers. This article reports the findings of an empirical survey commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) to establish support required by senior municipal managers. Such support is especially essential for those managers who do not comply with the minimum competency regulations. The survey also intended to assess current levels of compliance with Municipal Regulations on minimum competency levels and to enhance integrated development planning (IDP) capacity in the local government sector.

Competency of senior management: Brief theoretical and contextual exposition 

Managerial competence can be regarded as the set of knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes an individual needs to be effective in any managerial position. All managers need competencies relating to skills, knowledge, traits, values and motives. Scholars typically differentiate between core, specific and general competencies. Core competencies (expertise and skills driving high performance) are foundational for organisational growth and development. Specific competencies relate to specific positions, e.g. line managers’ leadership competency to influence a team towards goal achievement. General competencies are basic capacities such as interpersonal abilities including working well with others, communicating well and listening to team members. A competency can thus be regarded as a combination of skills, knowledge and attitude, which correlates with job performance. The level of competency can be measured by using standardised metrics and can typically be improved through targeted training and staff development initiatives. 

Public sector managerial competency models and frameworks
There are several competence models pertaining to the generic profile of senior management. From these, core dimensions, elements and best practices can be extracted and extrapolated to the suggested competencies expected of senior managers in municipalities in South Africa. Typical competence frameworks include the Boyatzis’ Competence Model (1982) that documents behavioural indicators that influence job performance; the Slocum, Jackson and Hellriegel’s Managerial Competency Model (2008) which positions the six sets of management competencies with associated sub-competencies; Louw’s Managerial Competency Model (2012) and the OECD (2019) Framework on Public Service Leadership and Capability.                                                                                                              

In South Africa, senior public management competencies are outlined in legislation and official documents such as the Public Service Act, the Senior Management Service (SMS) Competency Framework; Municipal Performance Regulations for Municipal Managers and Managers directly accountable to Municipal Managers, as well as the Municipal Finance Management Act and the Competency Regulations associated with it. 

IDP competencies

Although the IDP process is highly legislated, implementation remains challenging in a complex, planning landscape with fragmented powers and functions. IDP is not just a “template” to guide a municipality’s actions, but a framework linking all issue-based policies required by national and provincial policy, legislation and sectoral plans to the municipality’s developmental mandate. It is a plan in its own right with a vision statement, strategies and projects, but also amalgamating other plans. 

Research methodology 

The survey’s primary objective was to analyse the competency levels of Senior Managers in eleven (11) randomly-selected South African municipalities. It included primary and secondary data collection methods and combined quantitative and qualitative research methods. Open and close-ended questions were posed in a questionnaire as well as in an interview schedule for purposes of semi-structured interviews with participants at sampled municipalities. The questionnaire and interviews were used to establish the nature and scope of support required by senior municipal managers, to assess current levels of competence, and to uncover factors that could enhance integrated development planning (IDP) capacity in municipalities.

Research results and findings
Regarding the current levels of compliance of chief financial officers (CFOs) and accounting officers (i.e. municipal managers), the survey revealed the following:

  • The majority of respondents and participants completed the minimum competency training programme, 19 percent are still in training, and 17 percent never received training.
  • Forty percent of participants were satisfied with existing training programmes. The remaining 60 percent suggested that material should be regularly reviewed, updated and be more practice-oriented. They also recommended that more and longer formal courses should be offered, that timeous assignment feedback should be provided, that more training on municipal-related legislation and policies should be conducted, and that effort should be made for participation in lectures.
  • Key management competencies identified were financial management, strategic leadership and management, project management, legislation, policy and implementation, and governance ethics and values, supply chain management and risk and change management

Senior managers who do not comply with the minimum competency regulations rated the nature of management support as follows:

  • They wanted access to training (37 percent) and adequate financial support to undertake training (27 percent). The current level, nature and scope of support received from their municipalities were rated satisfactory (88 percent). Only 12 percent complained of limited or no support.
  • Key limitations regarding the current nature and level of support identified included financial constraints, lack of monitoring and post-training supervision, time constraints, and being confronted with work-related issues during training sessions. Participants proposed conducting courses away from offices and at hometowns to ensure candidates’ undivided attention.
  • Regarding the level and quality of competency improvement support received, 30 percent of senior managers were satisfied; the remainder indicated “continuous access to training opportunities, adequate funding, sufficient time allocated to attend courses, and the encouragement of self-development” are needed.

 Regarding best practice modelling for IDP, the survey revealed that no or limited community/stakeholder participation and consultation are a constraining factor, followed by financial constraints, and a lack of long-term planning aligned with the municipal budget. Other limitations include no or limited national and provincial participation in the IDP process, poor communication and differences between role-players, mismatches between community expectations and the municipality’s ability to deliver services, local municipalities not adhering to planning timelines, limited monitoring and evaluation, and the unavailability of land. To address these limitations, participants made the following suggestions:

  • best-practice modelling should focus on improving stakeholder participation and engagement in all phases of the training process;
  • adequate funding and other municipal resources should be allocated;
  • skilled and competent officials should be appointed to implement resolutions;
  • a long-term strategic plan is required to guide the process;
  • vacant positions should be filled as soon as possible;
  • better coordination and alignment between municipal planning, provincial and national plans and between local and district municipalities are required; and
  • stable and visionary political leadership is essential.

The survey further revealed the following critical core planning-specific competencies per IDP phase:

Planning phase:

  • Strategic capability and leadership
  • Competence in self-management
  • Interpretation of legislative and national policy frameworks
  • Knowledge of developmental local government
  • Competence in policy conceptualisation

Analysis phase:

  • Problem-solving and analysis
  • Knowledge of global and South African-specific political, social and economic contexts
  • Competence in policy analysis
  • Service delivery innovation
  • Knowledge of more than one functional municipal field/discipline

Strategy phase:

  • Programme and project management
  • Change management
  • Knowledge management
  • Client and customer focus
  • Knowledge of implementation of legislative and national policy frameworks

Project phase:

  • Programme and project management
  • Financial management
  • People management and empowerment
  • Communication
  • Knowledge of performance management and reporting
  • Skills in mediation
  • Competence as required by other national line sector departments

Integration phase:

  • Communication
  • Knowledge management
  • Service delivery innovation
  • Problem-solving and analysis
  • Skills in governance

Approval phase:

  • Honesty and integrity
  • Communication
  • Skills in governance
  • Interpretation and implementation within the legislative and national policy frameworks
  • Knowledge of developmental local government

It is evident that adequate support is essential to ensure that the nature and content of competency programmes add value to the responsibilities of senior managers in the local sphere of government. Regarding the competency profile of senior managers and the skills required for successful integrated development planning, it is furthermore clear that the correct combination of competencies is essential for success. A careful balance should be struck between functional and general management competencies and more intangible competencies such as emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility. Such a more balanced approach is indispensable to equip senior managers for the complexities associated with dynamic environmental, political, technological, economic and social contexts.


This article is part of a series reporting on research commissioned by the Local Government Sector Education & Training Authority (LGSETA) (Contact:


The publication of the Bulletin is made possible with the support provided by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Bavarian State Chancellery.

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