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Succession planning and management guide

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Step 1. Identify key areas and key positions

What are key areas and positions?

Key areas are the focus of your succession planning efforts. For example, succession planning activities may be geared to developing talent for certain occupational groups (e.g. executives, foreign service officers), functional communities (e.g. financial management, the HR community), or increasing representation of persons in a designated group.

Key positions are those that exert critical influence on the operational activities or the strategic objectives of the organization ( See endnote 8). This means that without this role, the organization would be unable to effectively meet its business objectives.

How do organizations identify key areas and positions?

The results of your organization's workforce analysis and environmental scan are a critical tool for identifying key or vulnerable areas. Based on current and future business goals, changes in programs, retirement forecasts, turnover rates, current vacancies, representation of designated group members and mobility patterns, an organization may identify an existing or impending shortage that will affect its ability to deliver on its priorities. Because key positions are linked to the operational and strategic objectives of the organization, management needs to play a primary role in their identification. HR professionals, however, can play a supportive role by providing criteria to assist in their identification.


  • Link the identification of key areas and key positions to current and future business objectives.
  • Create a template to help managers identify key positions (See Managers' Checklist)
  • Review key positions periodically because they may change over time, depending on developments in programs (e.g. new initiatives, sunsetting programs), changes in government direction, and the introduction of new technology.

Managers' checklist

  • Which positions, if left vacant, would cause major difficulties in achieving current and future business goals?
  • Which positions, if left vacant, would be detrimental to the health, safety, or security of the Canadian public?
  • Which positions would be difficult to fill because they require particular expertise and/or the incumbents possess a wealth of corporate knowledge?
  • For which necessary skills in your branch or sector is there a current or projected labour market shortage or which positions have been traditionally difficult to fill?

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