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Public Policy and Administration


Cassandra Caldwell


An emerging crisis in the public sector of the United States is that local government organizations are unable to recruit and retain leaders. A large proportion of high-level and mid-management public administrators leave the profession within a 5-year period. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore, identify, and describe patterns in the experiences and perceptions of local government administrators to promote career longevity. The central research questions were designed to determine whether work adjustment theory accurately described the lived experiences and perceptions of the subjects' career success in local government. Data collection included in-depth interviews with 10 current high level and mid-management local government leaders in the state of Virginia. Key findings of a thematic analysis of the interviews were that altruism was a strong motivator for career longevity and progression, intrinsic rewards outweighed extrinsic rewards such as salary and compensation, and that most of the participants perceived that an advanced education supports career success. The study further found that reactive adjustment of adaptability was a key driver of the participants' career success and longevity when applied through the theory of work adjustment. This study contributes to positive social change by providing specific recommendations to municipal governments related to the recruitment and retention of existing leadership. Ultimately, this guidance for existing and future public administrators will promote career longevity by utilizing satisfaction formulas, yield career sustainability with success attributes, and frame government leadership for the future by revealing existing experiences and genuine perceptions.