This article focuses on the role of local political leadership in municipal policy responses to the arrival of forced migrants. Initially, I bring together insights from research on leadership, migration and crisis management to develop a conceptual framework for studying local political leadership in the reception of forced migrants. To this end, I adopt an interactionist perspective and define local political leadership as the product of the interaction between mayors and their leadership environment (institutional and societal context). Subsequently, I apply this conceptual framework to a qualitative comparative case study, using data from desk research and fieldwork in two Greek municipalities. The findings indicate that differences in local political leadership can lead to the development of very different municipal policy responses in the field of forced migrants’ reception. In particular, I argue that by exercising interactive and multilevel political leadership, mayors can increase their chances of advancing strategic policy objectives in migration governance, and by extension, strengthen the protection and fulfilment of migrants’ fundamental rights. Finally, in the light of the conceptual and empirical insights arising from this research, I emphasize the need to improve the dialogue between leadership and migration scholars, and suggest questions for future research.