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A Closer Look at the Chief Service Officer Model

Transforming Cities Through Collaborative Leadership

In our nearly 10 years of working together with mayors and city leaders at Cities of Service, we have discovered that installing a Chief Service Officer (CSO) or similar leadership role in city governments is key to powering change.

In fact, it’s the single biggest predictor of a city’s success at engaging citizens to solve problems and build trust.

At a time when many citizens distrust government and question their ability to make a difference, and with cities worldwide struggling to solve entrenched problems, this pioneering leadership approach offers an exciting roadmap for other cities to follow.

How the Chief Service Officer Role Works

The CSO coordinates citywide volunteer efforts to address the city’s top problems. He or she collaborates with citizen volunteers and public and private partners to create a cohesive strategy aligning service efforts city-wide with mutually agreed upon goals, bringing focus and shared resources to solving key problems.

Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City, was the first to institute a CSO, a move he made back in 2009. Based on Diahann Billings-Buford’s success in that role, other early members of the Cities of Service coalition instituted similar positions, and the idea spread from there. Today, there are CSOs, or leaders in similar roles, in at least 45 cities — and the number continues to grow. The results of a CSO’s leadership may be building the relationships and infrastructure necessary for long-term success — work that may not dominate news headlines, but that is essential to creating meaningful change.