A theoretical framework is developed for the analysis of the impact of executive succession in public organizations. The central concepts in the model are the motives of chief executives, the means at their disposal and the opportunities available for influencing performance. The main hypothesis that flows from the model is that the effect of executive succession is likely to be small but significant. Furthermore, the strength of the impact of succession is contigent on a variety of external and internal circumstances. Seventeen testable hypothesis concerning these contingency effects are presented as a research agenda for studies of top management change in the public sector. The theoretical arguments are illustrated with reference to UK local government.