City managers play an important leadership role within a city, municipality or township. Appointed to this coveted position by an elected city council, these individuals are responsible for the overall management of city functions and oversee the work of city employees.
Also referred to as Chief Executive Officers (CEO) or Chief Administrative Officers (CAO), most city managers hold this position for three to six years before moving onto another government role or being appointed as the manager of a larger population area.
The Role of a City Manager
A liaison between politics and administration, a city manager wears many hats. To create and implement programs that help a city grow, the city manager evaluates the efficacy of city plans, formulates a balanced budget, reports on the state of the city’s finances, manages internal and external relationships, allocates resources as needed, implements city council directives and guides and enacts necessary changes.
A city manager does not work alone. Rather, he or she creates a team of skilled employees by appointing department heads and other city staff. While the manager’s authority over city personnel decisions is far-reaching, a wise city manager consults the mayor, city council members and a city attorney before making any high-level personnel decisions.
Further, all actions undertaken by a city manager are subject to the scrutiny of the area’s citizens, the city council and his or her own staff. These managers meet with the city council and with concerned citizens on a regular basis to discuss city growth and improvement plans. As local government employees, city managers also meet with their fellow public administrators, including school principals, superintendents and county judges.
A City Manager’s Wheelbase
Managing a city requires more than a mere cursory understanding of local government and management practices; this is not an entry level position. These government employees must possess a working knowledge of public administration, local politics, municipal regulations and legal matters.
A city manager is responsible for functions ranging from managing a city’s trash collection services and recycling programs to coordinating its senior housing, and everything in between.
While the job does involve many clerical functions, city managers primarily work with the town’s citizens. People’s emotions run high when it comes to their hometown, and everyone has an opinion. A city manager must diplomatically balance citizens’ expectations and the directives of his or her government peers. This delicate walk is achieved while working within a highly-regulated, and often fiscally constrained, system.
Training and Work Experience
Most city managers worked in local government positions before assuming this management role. In addition to having practical experience, many have completed a master’s degree in public administration (MPA). The knowledge gained while pursuing an MPA helps city managers evaluate, design and implement societal programs while efficiently operating a city, municipality or township.
Some believe city managers wield too much influence and power. Others raise concerns about whether these administrators can truly understand the towns they govern, as most move into town shortly after their appointment. That said, city management positions are becoming more prevalent. Advanced academic degrees, such as an MPA, help these government leaders produce positive results for their adopted cities.
City managers significantly advance our nation by contributing to the progress and development of its numerous cities.