Government Careers for Civic-Minded Graduates

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Most kids don’t think often about working for the government when they grow up, except maybe someday becoming President of the United States. Come high school, a student’s thinking about careers often becomes wider and more aspirational. Graduates with an interest in political science and public administration may start to think seriously about making an impact on their city, state, or country by pursuing one of several government careers.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University online Master of Public Administration program.

An overview of three government careers for civic-minded graduates.

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What Is a City Manager?

A governing system that includes a city council and city manager was first proposed in the U.S. by the National Short Ballot Organization. In 1913, Dayton, Ohio, became the first large city to adopt this system. Since then, those in the role of city manager have traditionally overseen a community’s day-to-day operations as nonpartisan, nonpolitical managers.

Also known as town administrators, they function like private-sector executives, providing guidance in various areas that are essential to the proper communal functioning of a city. These elements can include managing finances and human resources, strategic planning for community development, overseeing the delivery of city services, and ensuring an ethics-driven environment.

Benefits of the City Manager Role for Citizens and the Government

The city manager role provides advantages to both the government and citizen sides of the governing equation. For one, the role reduces the number of elected officials and patronage jobs. It also unifies local political responsibility and authority in one position. Additionally, it centralizes administrative responsibilities.

An undergraduate degree in public administration is the minimum requirement for the city manager role. That said, a master’s degree may help boost a candidate’s competitiveness in the job market.

According to the compensation website PayScale, the median salary for the position as of November 2021 was approximately $91,500.

Tips for Success As a City Manager

One of the key steps to success as a city manager is to respect the city’s plan of governance. It’s also important to take time to develop relationships with city council members and staff. Thirdly, be sure to critique ideas without critiquing the individual.

Additionally, it’s vital to treat everyone equitably, and not choose “favorites” among staff members. Finally, it’s important to communicate a clear policy direction. Adhering to these tips can allow city managers to foster a sense of trust, which can be crucial to improving the community.

Director of Public Policy

The director of public policy works with government officials, legal professionals, and local organizations to advocate for a specific cause or idea. This role can have a positive impact on vulnerable communities, American citizens, and the U.S. government. The scope of the role ranges from overseeing grassroots campaigns to advocating on behalf of a specific segment of a community, to supporting large-scale activities such as fostering greater awareness of a medical condition.

The responsibilities of the director of public policy position include developing and implementing an organization’s legal advocacy and public policy agenda, identifying and pursuing fundraising opportunities, and building relationships and partnerships with legal and policy partners to support an organization’s causes. Many organizations prefer those in the position to hold an advanced degree in public affairs or law.

The role’s median salary was approximately $84,000 per PayScale data from November 2021.

Fundamental Competencies for Senior Government Leaders

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) lists several core competencies for senior government leaders. These include interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, continual learning, honesty and integrity, and a motivation for public service.

Director of Government Affairs Job Description

Government affairs directors bring together the best interests of businesses and the government and advocate for legislation that ensures the financial success of both. Those in the role function as a liaison between the two groups, and success requires building trusted professional relationships with both parties.

Benefits of the Government Affairs Director Role for Business and the Government

One of the primary benefits of the role is that it improves the business climate via advocating for legislation that supports the business. It also keeps the best interests of businesses in mind to ensure the financial success of local, state, and federal governments.

The responsibilities of the government affairs director may include the following: Providing government officials with input on policies from an employer’s perspective, representing a company to the government, supervising a team of analysts responsible for collecting data both internally and externally, recommending a policy position for a company to take, and preparing a company or government for change.

While obtaining an undergraduate degree in public affairs or business is the minimum requirement for the role, a master’s degree may help increase a candidate’s job market competitiveness. According to November 2021 PayScale data, the median salary for government affairs directors was approximately $99,500.

Next Steps for Success in a Government Career

There are several other steps to take after deciding to enter into a government career. These steps include seeking out mentors for specific career advice, requesting challenging assignments to develop skills, taking advantage of management development training, asking for constructive feedback from management, and moving out of your “comfort zone” to learn from a variety of experiences before applying for that dream job.

Be the Difference in a Community

Whether a civic-minded individual serves on a local, state, or federal level, a career in government provides a unique opportunity to advocate for social causes and support the interests of businesses great and small. It can also place individuals in a position to be part of the change they would like to see. This can make a government career one that is deeply satisfying.

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration degree program can help prepare you to pursue a career in government with the utmost confidence. With coursework in public-private partnerships, public sector program evaluation, and public budgeting, our program is designed to help you thrive among the intricacies of public work.

Learn how a degree from Ohio University can help equip you with the knowledge and skills for success.

Recommended Readings

The Grand Challenges in Public Administration

12 Qualities of a Successful Public Administrator

Understanding the Budgeting Process in the Public Sector


Alzheimer’s Association, Director of Public Policy

International City/County Management Association, Establishing Effective City Council and City Management Relationships

International City/County Management Association, What Professional City, Town, and County Managers Do

PayScale, Average City Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Director, Public Policy Salary

PayScale, Average Government Affairs Director Salary

Public Affairs Council, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Society for Human Resource Management, Manager of Government Affairs

U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Proficiency Levels for Leadership Competencies