What Does a City Manager Do?

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A city manager looks through a high-rise window.

A city’s ability to operate properly depends on numerous moving parts. There are finances to oversee, labor relations to massage, risk management concerns to address, and administrative functions to execute, among many other things. If any of these elements are disrupted, a city and its residents can be affected.

This is what makes city managers so vital. City managers act as the glue that binds a city together and allows it to function smoothly. They have a hand in all areas of municipal policy and operations, ensuring that the city successfully serves its residents.

Earning a master’s degree 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

What does a city manager do? Quite a lot. 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.

Typical areas of responsibility in a city manager job description, according to Govt.Jobs.com and Monster.com, include:

  • Budget: Supervising and preparing the annual budget for consideration by the city council, with goals that 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; occasionally also determining work procedures, preparing work schedules, and expediting workflow
  • Coordination: Serving as a liaison between city staff and the elected officials, including sometimes attending council meetings and briefing 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, city managers should have good diplomacy, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills, GovtJobs.com reports.

How to Become a City Manager

A city manager’s role is complex, and following these steps can provide aspiring candidates with the knowledge and experience they will need to succeed.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A city manager’s education begins with an undergraduate degree. This might be a degree in public administration or in an associated area of studies such as business administration or political science.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree

While advanced education is not always required to become a city manager, a degree such as a Master of Public Administration (MPA) can improve an individual’s job prospects. It’s not uncommon for a city to establish a master’s-level degree as the minimum requirement for a city manager position.

Step 3: Gain Experience

It’s important for individuals to gain several years of experience in other local government positions prior to pursuing a role as a city manager. Working as a city department head, assistant city manager, or director of community development, for example, can allow an individual to acquire important skills such as diplomacy and project management.

City Manager Salary

City managers’ salaries vary widely. According to PayScale, the median annual salary was approximately $92,000 as of December 2021. Experience level and city size can be major influences on compensation. Experienced managers in large metro areas can receive salaries as high as $250,000, according to GovtJobs.com.

City managers can expect to hold several positions during their careers. TheBalanceCareers.com reports that policies and agendas can change depending on election cycles, and incoming council members may prefer to install a new executive to pursue their goals.

This 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 9% from 2020 to 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Learn to Manage a City with Confidence

The role of the city manager is multifaceted and challenging, offering a unique opportunity to influence a city’s direction. This influence can be profound enough to impact the lives of its residents; when the city operates properly, this impact can be positive, making the city manager’s role one of the most satisfying roles to pursue in the public administration field.

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration program — which offers concentrations in Public Leadership and Management, and State and Local Government Management — helps graduates prepare for a variety of leadership careers in the public sector, including working as a city manager. Its curriculum features courses focused on core concepts such as organizational leadership, public budgeting, and foundations of public administration. Learn how Ohio University can help you achieve your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

A Day in the Life of a Public Administrator

Public Administration: Building More Diverse Public Organizations and Businesses

10 Traits of a Successful Public Administrator


The Balance Careers, “What Does a City Manager Do?”

GovtJobs, City Manager Sample Job Description

GovtJobs, How to Become a City Manager

Monster, City Manager Job Description Template

PayScale, Average City Manager Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Administrative Services and Facilities Managers