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City Manager Job Description, Career as a City Manager, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College

Salary Median—$88,695 per year

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

City managers are professional administrators who try to make city governments operate with the efficiency of successful businesses. However, they are not authorized to take action on their own. Their work is directed by elected officials, such as mayors and city councils, who hire them.

For example, a city council may direct its city manager to cut the costs of tax collection. After considering alternatives, the city manager decides to replace the existing method of billing taxes with a new computerized system. Before the plan can be put into action, however, the manager must present it to the city council for approval. Only after getting the council's okay can the manager hire the computer specialists to make the switch.

City managers prepare budgets, hire administrative officers, oversee record keeping, and supervise the heads of such departments as law enforcement, fire protection, and sanitation. Because many cities employ great numbers of unionized teachers, police officers, firefighters, and refuse workers, city managers are usually involved in labor relations and contract negotiations. They often meet with business and community groups to explain city policies and hear citizens' demands.

City managers must be familiar with all aspects of government and public works. They cannot, however, take sides publicly in political disputes.

Most city managers are employed by governments of small and medium-size cities—generally those with populations of ten thousand to five hundred thousand people. Smaller cities may have only a city manager and one administrative assistant. In larger cities a manager may have an assistant manager for each department, such as transportation or education.

City managers take direction from and report to city council members on a broad range of issues, including budgets, record keeping, labor relations, and city policies. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Education and Training Requirements

City managers must have college degrees. Courses in economics, sociology, statistics, urban planning, political science, finance, and management may prove essential. However, most city councils and mayors prefer to hire individuals who have master's degrees in public administration.

Some graduate programs in the field require internships, lasting from six to twelve months, that give students practical experience that may help them find jobs. Most recent graduates start as administrative assistants or assistant city managers and gain more responsibility with experience.

Getting the Job

Internships often lead to permanent jobs after graduation. College placement offices, professional organizations, and government journals may list job openings for city managers, assistant city managers, or administrative assistants. Job seekers may also apply directly to city managers' offices.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Some city managers advance by taking jobs in larger cities in which the management problems are more complex and the work is more challenging. Others use their expertise in related fields, such as higher education.

As more cities employ managers, qualified people will be needed in greater numbers. However, the number of qualified applicants is increasing, so competition will be stiff through 2014. In some geographical areas, budgetary constraints may limit the number of new hires in this field. Applicants with master's degrees will have the best opportunities.

Working Conditions

City managers work long hours and must be available when crises develop—and work as long as it takes to solve problems. They work under pressure from elected officials, civic groups, and labor unions. Although the job is stressful, they get satisfaction when policies are implemented and they know they have positively affected the lives of many people.

While city managers spend most of their time in offices, they are in constant contact with the public and with others in government. Sometimes they travel to meetings and conferences.

Where to Go for More Information

American Society for Public Administration
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 840
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-7878

International City/County Management Association
777 North Capitol St. NE, Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20002-4201
(202) 289-4262

National League of Cities
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 550
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 626-3000

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary, depending on the size of the city, region of the country, and the amount of responsibility. In 2004 the median salary for city managers was $88,695 per year. Benefits include health and life insurance, vacations, and pension plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service