‘Don’t always look for next promotion,’ says Canadian senior civil servant who won career contribution award

By on 25/05/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Norm Sheridan, executive director for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), won an award for his contributions to the public service in this year’s Apex (Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) awards of excellence

Taking on various roles on the same pay grade can be more career-enhancing than continuously seeking promotions, a Canadian government official who won an award for his contributions to the public service, has said.

Norm Sheridan, executive director for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), is among five public servants who won of this year’s APEX (Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada) awards of excellence.

Sheridan, who received the career contributions award, told Global Government Forum that moving “laterally at the same pay grade opens up so many doors: you see things much more broadly, from a much higher level and you only help yourself when you get out of your own comfort zone, leaving something you’re really really good at and jumping back in the pool.”

His own public service career which spans  years would have been less successful if he “had stuck with what [he’s] good at all the time,” he added.

Sheridan, who is planning to retire in the next 18 months, said his advice for public servants around the world is: “Get out of your comfort zone, try new things and don’t always look for the next promotion.”

He joined the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, whose function is now part of CBSA, more than 30 years ago.

While he stayed at the department for his whole career, he said he experienced various different roles working in customs, taxation, and also completing a ten-year stint at Toronto Pearson International Airport in charge of passenger operations.

His award is in recognition for “consistently creating conditions for success for numerous projects within CBSA over his long standing career in particular for programme delivery in the GTA,” according to APEX.

One project that Sheridan, who has been member of the senior, or ‘executive’ cadre since 1997, helped to design is the so-called pre-arrival release system, which enables importers of goods to provide information to customs in advance of the arrival of the shipment.

But he said that his work mentoring other government officials has been equally as important in creating a favourable environment: “A large part of my career has been spent coaching and mentoring other employees,” Sheridan said. “One of my greatest successes in the organisation has been when I’ve helped someone else – a new employee or manager – become successful. I like it when the light bulb goes on – the moment they finally see something.”

Being a good public servant, he said, “is about trying different things and every day thinking about what you can do to improve the service, achieve value for money and contribute in a meaningful way. It’s not about you as individual, it’s about the organisation.”

Sheridan will pick up his trophy at this year’s APEX Symposium – a two-day conference for Canadian senior civil servants which starts next Tuesday.

He will be joined by deputy assistant commissioner at the Canada Revenue Agency, Dan Couture, who won the leadership award; Jennifer Hollington, director-general (DG) at Natural Resources Canada who won the healthy workplace award; Ezio DiMillo, a DG at Public Services and Procurement Canada – the department responsible for the government’s internal servicing and administration, who received the partnership awards; and Sara Filbee leader of the Implementation Committee at Employment and Social Development Canada which won the innovative team award.

The event will be held  at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa under the banner: ‘Leadership Action for Excellence, Innovation and Health.’

It will include various workshops and speeches by senior officials including Canada’s most high-ranking civil servant Michael Wernick and politicians such as Scott Brison, the minister responsible for the public service.

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

See also:

Revealed: winners of Canada’s senior public service awards

WANTED: Government officials to lead Canada’s senior civil service association

Canada’s public service must do more to attract new talent, top official says

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announces new senior public service shuffle

Justin Trudeau announces senior appointment at Department for Indigenous Affairs

Coleen Volk, Government of Canada: Exclusive Interview

Government of Canada pledges creation of new central ‘results and delivery unit’

Janice Charette praises public servants’ ‘professionalism and dedication’

John Forster, Chief of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada: Exclusive Interview

Richard Fadden Canada’s top national security adviser retires from public service

Creating a truly ‘civil’ service

Looking after number one: prioritisation in government

Managing the EU Migration Crisis

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.


  1. MJ says:

    Very well said M. Sheridan 🙂 It is refreshing to see that some of us are here to fully contribute not only to our carrier as public servants but also for the Canadians by getting to know better what is around us. Getting promoted is great if you are the right person for the job and you bring value to the work being done. I see to many people looking at the next promotion the first day they got promoted ….:)

  2. norleen says:

    I think it is normal to hope for a promotion; but staying at the same grade or level for a very, very long time whilst seeing your friends got promoted can be frustrating and demotivated too.

  3. Joseph Ojwang says:

    The title is rather attractive enough for one to assume their has to be a book written on the subject of career enhancement without promotion.

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