How to become a City Manager

To become a successful City Manager, the candidate must be respectful, ethical, and trustworthy. Listening skills are key to communicating with the Mayor, the City Council, community members, and city staff at all levels.

Who is a City Manager?

A City Manager is an executive in charge of the overall administration of a city’s government. In some municipalities, the officials who serve this position are sometimes referred to as the Chief Administrative Officer (or) Chief Operating Officer (or) Administrative Manager. Normally, they are hired (not elected) by the Council or City Commission to direct and manage the functions of a municipal government under direct supervision of the Mayor or the City Council. The City Manager’s responsibilities include labor relations, insurance and risk management, and budgeting, financial analysis, grant management, inter municipal relations as well as executing all municipal policy set by the Council. In addition, the City Manager provide broad policy and general guidance and direction to department heads related to operations, fiscal and general management functions; provide close to general supervision to personnel in the administrative department.

What education is required to become a City Manager?

City Managers are mainly in charge of public administration related activities including developing operating budgets, preparing policy reports and supervising city personnel. Hence, the minimum education for a City Manager would be an under-graduation in public administration or public policy or political science as the degree includes courses such as financial management, economic development, strategic planning, fundraising, organizational communication, project management, labor relations, public safety, city planning, policy formation and human resources. However, most cities hire candidates with at least a master’s degree program in the public or business administration or a related field.

What experience is required to become a City Manager?

Any individual to attain a City Manager position should possess an average tenure of seven to eight years of progressively responsible experience as a City Administrator, Deputy City Administrator, Assistant City Manager, County Manager, Town Manager, Director of Community Development and Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency or Department Head in a local public agency or municipal government in an administrative and managerial capacity involving the development and administration of organization-wide policies and procedures and the supervision of management level employees. In addition to relevant experience, the City Manager should also possess strong leadership, organization and time-management skills combined with experience in team-building, people management, speech writing, speech delivery and training.

Essential duties of a City Manager are as follows:

  • Plan, direct, coordinate and exercise general supervision over the work of all departments, including the activities of Administrative, Police, Fire and Public Works Departments.
  • Serve as a liaison between City staff, the Mayor, and the City Council: attend all meetings of the City Council; brief Council Members on pending agenda items and other City issues.
  • Direct city operations through subordinate department heads: coordinate city-wide management activities and facilitate implementation strategies; apprise city council members of emergencies.
  • Recommend and implement organizational structure and control system for the business departments of the City and to ensure that processes are in place to conduct the City’s business within the legal and policy framework.
  • Maintain constant focus on the municipal needs of the residents of the City and respond to citizen inquiries and requests for service as well as media requests in a professional and customer service oriented manner.
  • Supervise and prepare the annual budget, budget amendments and Capital Equipment and Improvement Program for the Administrative Office of the city/municipal agency.
  • Coordinate special projects for the City, including the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of construction/renovation projects, management studies, introduction of new programs, and various professional services.
  • Determine work procedures, prepare work schedules, and expedite workflow; research and standardize procedures to improve efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
  • Designate an appropriate department head or City employee to prepare items for inclusion in the official agenda of all City Council meetings and meetings of all boards and commissions.
  • Interact with members of the City Boards, Commissions, Fire and Ambulance Departments, to actively engage and promote volunteer participation in the overall operation of City government.

What type of personality is needed to become a City Manager?

The City Manager should be trustworthy, respectful, ethical, and having good approachable character and the utmost integrity. He/she should possess strong listening skills and possess the ability to communicate with the Mayor, the City Council, community members, and staff at all levels. The ideal City Manager will be accountable not only to the City Council, but also to the public in general. The City Manager should possess excellent planning skills and thorough understanding of community development. Following are the necessary qualities that any individual should possess to become a City Manager:

  • Judgment and Decision Making – Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Complex Problem Solving – Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
  • Critical Thinking – Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Management of Personnel Resources – Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.
  • Social Perceptiveness – Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Management of Financial Resources – Determining how money will be spent to get the work done, and accounting for these expenditures.

What type of jobs lead up to becoming a City Manager?

The jobs that are similar to the job duties of a City Manager and which will enable an individual to attain a City Manager position are: heading and managing a department in an administrative office, developing a business and administering the operations in a municipal agency, and managing & controlling the finance in a city government. The mentioned jobs have many job responsibilities that are very identical to the duties of a City Manager. The job positions that can lead up to becoming a City Manager include Department or Management Head, Business Development Officer, Chief Administrative Officer, Executive Director, Director of Economic Development, Chief Operations Manager, Business/General Manager, Finance Controller, Director of Finance and etc.

What level of salary that can be expected of a City Manager?

The average salary of entry level city managers with five years of experience in any municipal government would be $65,000 (salary range from $60,000 to $70,000). Likewise, the median pay of mid level city managers with at least seven to eight years of experience in city government would be around $85,000 (salary range from $80,000 to $90,000), while managers with 10 to 15 years of experience earned an average salary of $110,000 (salary range between $100,000 and $250,000). In short, the annual salary of City Managers is negotiable and depends upon the experience and education.

The salary structure of a City Manager may vary depending on the population and location of a city. For example, the cities of California, District of Columbia, Virginia, New York, Florida, etc. which are highly populated has more city/municipal operations involved. Hence, the City Managers (with strong experience) appointed in these regions will be paid more (salary range $175,000 to $250,000) compared to other less populated cities.

City leaders in lower-income cities may need to offer greater compensation to attract highly qualified managers to apply their skills in potentially more challenging cities, as lower-income cities may face challenges such as greater population densities, more transient residents, lower civic participation, higher crime and greater demand for public benefits. Moreover, female City Managers earned on average 27% less than their male counterparts as they represent only 13% of the overall City Manager workforce.

City Managers have multiple contracts that will demand various other types of compensation including car & house allowances and deferred compensation apart from the base salary. Normally, cities will initiate their contract negotiation from what the earlier City Manager made. In addition to base salary, the City shall provide the City Managers with an excellent benefits package which includes the Public Retirement System (PERS), Paid Leave (holiday, sick and vacation leave), Medical/Health Plans, Deferred Compensation, Automobile & Mobile Phone Allowance and Relocation/Moving Expenses.

Where do you find City Manager jobs?

City councils often times hire a professional executive search firm to conduct a nation-wide search for candidates with the right mixture of experience and expertise that the city council is looking for. Finalists are typically flown into the city for final interviews with key government staff and city council members.  Find city manager job listings here.