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City Manager

Government – Other, Subtopic - City Manager

With running a city government becoming ever more complex, the role of the City Manager (also called City Administer or City Chief Executive Officer) has become more important over the years. The manager works with the city council to develop budgets, ensures that the approved funding is allocated correctly, makes sure that programs are run efficiently and effectively, manages administrative staff, and acts as a go between with both elected officials and citizens to resolve issues.

Outstanding organizational skills are a must for this position, which oversees all aspects of the city government’s operations. This includes managing internal affairs, implementing policies established by the city’s council members, arbitrating complaints between government employees and the city administration, negotiating contracts with city vendors, and handling media relations.

The City Manager is usually appointed by the city council, and he or she reports to the council at its meetings.  The manager does not vote on resolutions or ordinances at these meetings. He or she is there primarily to clarify issues, provide updates on projects underway, and get firsthand knowledge of the council members’ thinking on new laws being passed.

In addition, the manager reports regularly to the mayor on the status of city operations and services. Successful city managers identify opportunities for improvements in programs and how best to implement them. To get the best insight on how to bring about these improvements, the manager should constantly monitor and evaluate the services geared to benefit the city’s citizens.

The City Manager also works with the city attorney on legal matters, ordinance bills, and to assure the city’s compliance with federal, state, and city law, policies and regulations.   

US Sees Steady Growth of City Managers

In 1908, Staunton, Virginia was the first United States city to hire a city manager. This was followed in 1912 by Sumter, South Carolina, and Dayton, Ohio in 1914. The Dayton city manager was the first to get national attention since he came in to manage affairs after the Great Dayton Flood in 1913. In the years to come, many American cities adopted the idea.

The first “City Manager’s Association” meeting in December 1914 was attended by 8 city managers. In the early years, most city managers were in the midwest and west. Cities created a council-manager form of government in part to have an outside expert run government business operations and oversee infrastructure issues without being politically partisan.

By 1930, 200 American cities used a city manager form of government. This type of government can vary slightly from city to city. A usual set-up is having a mayor, city council and city manager working in partnership. Some mayors sit on a city council, and some are viewed as the city’s administrator who only attends council meetings upon the members’ request.

Most cities have multiple council members, who hire the city manager to implement policy and supervise government staff. According to the International City Management Association, 85% of United States cities with populations greater than 2,500 residents have a city manager today.

The City Manager runs the day-to-day operations of city departments and staff through the department heads. He or she oversees staff recruitment, dismissal, suspensions and disciplining. Financial management skills are key since the manager makes sure that budget finances are allocated properly and recommends where costs can be cut if needed.

Path to Becoming a City Manager

Most major and mid-size cities require a MA degree to be considered for a City Manager position. Smaller cities may consider someone with a BA degree. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, people interested in this career should either major in or take courses in public administration, urban planning, business, economics, and political science.

Superb written and verbal skills are essential in this people-oriented field. In this increasingly competitive job environment, the more government contacts and professional skills a person has, the better his or her chances to move up to this position. People going into the field should consider joining the Network of Schools on Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. More about this organization can be found at

In addition, people looking to get ahead in this field should consider joining the International City Management Association (ICMA). This organization posts jobs and offers skill-building workshops, 1-1 coaching, certificate programs, publication, and more. According to the ICMA, this is an ideal time to pursue this job since many of the aging baby boomer City Managers will be retiring soon – leaving numerous openings to be filled in the years ahead. Learn more about the ICMA here:

Candidates who are knowledgeable in information technology (IT) have an important advantage in an age when most government records are moving onto the computer. To get your foot in the door, students should intern at a city’s budget, planning or engineering department.

A typical path to this position is earning a MA in public administration, and having years of experience as a department head in a local government or as an assistant city manager. According to Wikipedia, 60% of city managers in the early 2000s had an MPA or MBA degree.

Excellent Salary Potential

According to, the median salary for city managers is $86,618. Salaries range from $49,748 for smaller cities to $157,878 to major cities.

Glassdoor ( puts the average base salary at $63,444 for city managers. According to this site, the range goes from $29,000 for small cities to $110,000 for larger cities.

The typical city administrator position job requirements can currently be seen on where the City of Oak Harbor, Washington is seeking a professional with ten years of demonstrated management experience in city government. The job pays between $130,440 and $173,436. Learn more about City Manager job requirements here:

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