Municipal Sustainability Managers: Qualifications, Roles and Competencies


Municipal sustainability professionals are critical actors who are responsible for fulfilling the municipality’s commitments towards developing and advancing sustainability plans. This study examines the profession of sustainability managers in Canada, including their roles, responsibilities and their many competencies. This journal article includes the experience of 25 interviewees from different municipalities across Canada contributing to public administration and sustainability management. The following content describes the jobs of those working on achieving more sustainable cities and communities.


Most interviewees have 10 years of work experience in the sustainability field. Prior to their current role, many interviewees had around 7.96 years of experience. The majority of interviewees have a bachelor’s degree and over half had earned a master’s degree as well. Twenty interviewees have an academic major in at least one of the following disciplines: business/ management/ public administration, planning/ community development, and/or environmental sciences/ studies combined with a degree in business/ management/ public administration or planning/ community development. It is evident that all interviewees have some type of managerial and/or strategic planning responsibilities and are all responsible for corporate and/or community-wide plan implementation.

The infographic below captures the qualifications of a sustainability manager.

Qualifications of a Sustainability Manager

Job Roles

The four roles of a sustainability manager include the strategist, change agent, collaborator and facilitator. The role of the strategist is to identify and select strategic sustainability actions. The role of the change agent is to gain initial and ongoing approval, support, and buy-in for implementation. The role of the collaborator is to involve stakeholders in formulating/ implementing sustainable actions. Lastly, the role of the facilitator is to implement actions. These four job roles are not exclusive since a sustainability manager may exercise all or a few of the four job roles. For example, many interviewees enact the role of the collaborator as it is often part of implementing sustainability actions as a facilitator.

The infographic below summarizes the four role categories derived from twelve types of work activities characterized by the interviewees when asked about their job responsibilities.

Job Roles of Sustainability Managers


To tie it all together, the report identifies 11 sustainability management competencies as highlighted by the interviewees. These include communication, change management, project management, interpersonal, multi-disciplinary collaboration, strategic thinking, future-oriented thinking, systems thinking, information seeking, sustainability knowledge, and sustainability values. Overall, these competencies for sustainability management elucidate who sustainability managers are and what they do.

The infographic below captures the 11 competencies of a Canadian municipal sustainability manager.

11 Competencies of Sustainability Managers


This study helps in understanding the job qualifications, job roles, and competencies of municipal sustainability managers in Canada to envision sustainability efforts within local governments.

This content has been derived from:

MacDonald, A., Clarke, A., Ordonez-Ponce, E., Chai, Z. & Andreasen, J. (2020). Sustainability Managers: The Job Roles and Competencies of Building Sustainable Cities and Communities. Public Performance & Management Review, 43(6), 1413-1444. DOI: 10.1080/15309576.2020.1803091

View pre-publication version: Sustainability Managers: The Job Roles and Competencies of Building Sustainable Cities and Communities