By Cooper Nelson
No matter how small the town or big the city, it takes a team of people to keep everything running smoothly. With so many departments working for the city government, it’s important to have a city manager as a leader.
The city manager, also known as the city administrator, works closely with the mayor. However, while the mayor is an elected official who deals with the political side of city politics and is the public face of the government, the city manager works behind the scenes to help the town thrive.
The city manager works with the mayor, the department heads and the town council to make sure the city is serving the best interests of the people who live there. A city manager is hired by the town council or by the mayor with the approval of the town council. Once hired, the city manager works to fulfill the executive and administrative duties of the municipal government.
The city manager fulfills a wide variety of duties. Depending on the size of the city government, they may have the help of various department heads and assistants. The duties of a city manager include:
While many jobs require a person to be a specialist, a city manager is required to be more of a generalist. They work with people of all walks of life and professional backgrounds to make their city a great place to live.
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How does someone become a city manager? These professionals are appointed to their positions, so they must possess a certain set of skills, education and experience to meet the qualifications for this important job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) characterizes city managers as “chief executive officers of governments,” responsible for overseeing budgets, programs and performance of a city. Let’s look at the skills and education you should consider if you’re interested in becoming a city manager.
A city manager is responsible for many tasks. With those tasks comes a wide range of skills required to perform the job well. A city manager can benefit from the following skills:
City managers learn these skills in a variety of ways, often through a mix of education and work experience.
According to BLS, public sector executive roles typically require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but these roles may not have education requirements to be considered for employment. BLS notes, however, that many of these professionals often have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. That said, top executives in the public sector may want to consider a degree in business administration, public administration, law or the liberal arts to learn the skills required for public service.
To learn skills like communication, public policy, leadership, problem-solving and financial management, aspiring city managers could consider pursuing a Master of Public Administration.
For those with a bachelor’s degree seeking to further enhance their education, they might want to consider continuing to hone their skills through work experience within a city government and an advanced degree. While not necessary for employment in this profession, a Master of Public Administration can help expand one’s knowledge on public policy, citywide financial planning, population leadership and management of service organizations.
Before being hired as a city manager, a person normally needs to work in city government and in leadership positions. BLS does not provide a range for how much work experience is needed to be considered for this role, and it may vary by the city. If you’re interested in applying for a position, inquire with the city about the education and experience requirements.
To gain experience, you should consider a few similar roles in city government that can help teach the foundational skills necessary to be a successful city manager. Roles can include being the assistant city manager, the director of community development or the head of one of the city’s many departments. Having experience in positions like these shows the city council that the candidate can successfully lead a staff, make decisions that positively impact the city and work productively within the municipal government structure.
Much like education and experience requirements, compensation and employment for city managers can vary widely based on the city. Salary often depends on the population size and gross domestic product (GDP) of a city. A candidate’s experience, education level, skills and certifications can also play a role. Similarly, a number of factors can play into employment. While mayors and governors are elected to office, city managers and county administrators are appointed or hired, meaning employment can vary by city based on turnover and need.
As noted, BLS characterizes city managers as top executives, which also includes roles like general managers, superintendents and chief executive officers. For this reason, the annual salary for a city manager in your area may vary from what BLS reports. Keep in mind that city managers overseeing larger cities often make more than those in smaller municipalities. For a more accurate salary range, look at the salaries of city managers or at job postings in your area.
According to BLS, the salary range for top executives was between $60,300 and $208,000 a year in May 2021, with $104,730 as the median salary in the government section. Once again, remember that the size of the municipality and the level of experience and education of the city manager can affect salary.
Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.
Overall, BLS projects employment for top executives to increase by 8% between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as average for all occupations. As stated, however, projected growth looks at all jobs under the “top executives” umbrella, and not specifically city managers in the government sector. We recommend searching for job openings in your area or whichever city you wish to be employed to better understand employment opportunities.
If you’re looking to become a city manager or start a career in public administration, University of Phoenix can help. The University offers a Master of Public Administration degree that helps students develop the skills for a career in government policy and management at the local, federal and state levels. The program covers the necessary skills for a city manager, including administrative management, public financing and budgeting, and public programs.
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