Career Spotlight: City Manager

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City managers are responsible for the day-to-day administration of a municipality.

City managers are responsible for the day-to-day administration of a municipality. Crucial to a city’s operation, managers need to be skilled in budgeting, insurance and risk management, grant management, and a wide range of other functions, according to “How to Become a City Manager” on

The city manager’s responsibilities also include supervising the various municipal departments, executing policy set forth by the city council, and serving as liaison with other levels of government.

Because of the complexity and level of responsibility, city managers are similar to corporate CEOs, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

“Professional local government managers, like other chief executives, are responsible for the overall performance of their organizations,” the ICMA said in its article, “Become a Professional Local Government Manager.” “As the top administrator, the manager organizes and directs a team of department heads, supervisors, technicians, and support staff to initiate and manage programs and deliver public services.”

Earning a master’s in public administration with a concentration in public leadership and management or state and local government management can help aspiring city managers acquire the strategic planning, communication, and budgeting skills they need to seek top municipal positions.

City Manager Job Description

A career as a city manager (sometimes called a city administrator) appeals to people who enjoy a challenge and feel pride in the positive impact they can have as part of local government.

“I can’t imagine another career that provides the diversity of work and opportunity to influence positive change more than that of a city administrator,” Eric Johnson, city administrator of Blue Springs, MO, told the Missouri Municipal League for its series, “A Day in the Life.”

“Ultimately, what I enjoy most is the ability to deliver initiatives and projects that enrich the lives of residents in our community,” he said.

Typical areas of responsibility for a city manager, according to and, may include:

  • Budget: Supervising and preparing the annual budget for consideration by the city council. Goals include achieving immediate fiscal objectives and anticipating any long-term issues that may affect the city.
  • General administration: Maintaining organizational structure and ensuring that processes are in place to conduct city business according to all applicable laws and policies.
  • Operations and personnel: Directing, coordinating, and exercising general supervision over city departments and department heads, including administration, fire, police, and public works. In the interest of efficiency, managers may also determine work procedures, prepare work schedules, and expedite workflow.
  • Coordination: Serving as a liaison between city staff and the elected officials. Managers also attend council meetings and brief council members on issues facing the city.
  • Planning: Studying the evolving needs of the city to identify and anticipate programs and services that benefit residents.
  • Rapport: Meeting with city boards as well as citizen and advisory groups to maintain communication and engagement and resolve residents’ concerns.

In addition to planning skills and an understanding of community development, managers should have good diplomacy, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills, noted.

Steps to Become a City Manager

City managers may come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including positions as city or county department heads or leadership roles in such fields as finance, planning, operations, or economic development. Assistant city manager positions are often a steppingstone to the top executive role in a municipality.

The minimum educational requirement for a city manager position is an undergraduate degree in public administration, public policy, or political science, noted. Larger cities generally expect seven or eight years of progressively responsible experience as well as a graduate degree such as Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs online Master of Public Administration.

City Manager Salary and Career Outlook

Salaries for city managers vary widely. Depending on the location and size of the city, managers may earn anywhere from $60,000 to more than $110,000 a year. Experienced managers in large metro areas could expect salaries as high as $250,000, according to As of 2019, the average salary is $95,296, according to ZipRecruiter.

City managers also can expect to hold several positions during their careers. notes that policies and agendas can change depending on election cycles. Incoming council members may prefer to install a new executive to pursue their goals.

The predictable turnover can be a benefit for those seeking to advance their public-sector careers. Employment in administrative services management, which includes city managers, is expected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs Online Master of Public Administration Program

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration helps graduates prepare for a variety of leadership careers in the public sector, including working as a city manager. The program was recently ranked No. 12 in the SR Education Group’s 2019 ranking of the Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs. In addition, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs is also ranked 68th in U.S. News & World Report top Public Affairs schools. Coursework for the program includes organizational leadership, public budgeting, and foundations of public administration.

Recommended Reading

Ohio University Blog, “10 Traits of a Successful Public Administrator”
Ohio University Blog, “A Day in the Life of a Public Administrator”
Ohio University Blog, “Public Administration: Building More Diverse Public Organizations and Businesses”

Sources:, “How to Become a City Manager”
International City/County Management Association, “Become a Professional Local Government Manager” Become a Professional Local Government Manager”
FCCMA, “So You Want to Be a City/County Manager? FCCMA Conference May 27, 2015, Bill Horne, City Manager City of Clearwater A Day in the Life of a “Typical” City Manager/ Assistant City Manager?”, City Manager Sample Job Description
ZipRecruiter, City Manager Salary, What Does a City Manager Do? Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Administrative Services Managers