How to Become a <br>City Manager

How to Become a
City Manager

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: January 20, 2020
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Are you fascinated by the way a city works and dream of one day orchestrating it all as a City Manager? If so, this is where you should start your career search. This page has all kinds of information about the job of a City Manager and what you need to do to become one.

What Does a City Manager Do?

City Managers oversee the administrative operations that keep a city running. They implement policies adopted by city leaders and manage the day-to-day administration such as supervising city departments and maintaining the budget. Their responsibilities vary based on the size of the city they work for, ranging from a small city to a major metropolitan area.

Although their duties vary, almost all City Managers are responsible for managing the budget, overseeing departments and handing the internal affairs and external relations of the city. Some common City Manager duties and responsibilities include:

  • Manage the Budget: City Managers monitor and report on the city budget, and make recommendations to the mayor and other city leadership on how funds can be better allocated.

  • Oversee City Departments. The leaders of the various departments in a city, such as sanitation, police and education, all report to the City Manager.

  • The City Manager ensures they are correctly implementing policies and budgets and that their department’s needs are met.

  • Handle external relations. The City Manager must listen to the concerns of the city residents, develop possible solutions, and present them to government leadership.

  • Enforces municipal laws, ordinances and policies. It is the duty of the City Manager to ensure that all policies adopted by the mayor and city council, as well as all codified laws, are upheld and enforced by the various departments of city government.

City Manager Skills

Because of the responsibilities placed on their shoulders, City Managers need to be strong leaders with the ability to make sound decisions. They should be able to think critically and work well under large amounts of pressure. They need to be well organized and forward thinking, to understand both the details, such as budgeting, as well as the big-picture problems facing their community. They should be strong communicators, both in speaking and writing, and should be comfortable with public speaking and report writing.

Other key City Manager skills include:

  • Managerial experience

  • Working knowledge of the operation of computers, productivity and presentation software and geographic information systems

  • General knowledge of land use planning and development, subdivision and zoning regulations and economic development

  • Ability to seek and manage grants

How Do You Become a City Manager?

Education and Training

Based on our analysis of City Manager job descriptions, almost all City Manager positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree. The most relevant areas of study to prepare for a career as a City Manager are public administration, business administration, engineering or urban planning.

City Manager is a very senior level position. Most jobs require a significant amount of prior experience, often at least ten years. Ideally, that experience will be in fields related to city management such as city planning or managing a city department. A career in this field usually begins in a more junior position on the city government staff before working up to assistant City Manager and then City Manager. Internships are often available in city government to get an idea of how city government works and what a City Manager does.

Some jobs will also require City Managers to attend accredited training courses on topics such as street construction and maintenance, solid waste collection and disposal, water and wastewater distribution, collection, and maintenance.

Finding a job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes City Managers under “General and Operations Managers.” Employment opportunities for that category are expected to increase 7 percent through 2024. However, due to an finite number of cities in need of management, employment of City Managers specifically likely will experience slower growth.

If you’d like to become a City Manager, start your job search by building an impressive resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at our library of City Manager resume samples.

Once you’ve created a great resume, search online for job opportunities. As you look for openings, be sure to leverage your professional network, including people you met through previous work experience or education.

When you’re ready to apply for a City Manager opening, include with your application a well-written cover letter that expresses your interest and highlights why you’re the best candidate for the job. For some ideas on how your cover letter should look, check out our collection of cover letter samples.

How Much Do City Managers Get Paid?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes City Managers under General and Operations Managers, who are typically paid an annual salary. The median annual wage for General and Operations Managers, including City Managers, in the U.S. is $97,730.  The lowest 10 percent of General and Operations Managers earned less than $44,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $187,200.

Top 10 States for City Manager Salary

General and Operations Managers (including City Managers) in the following states make the highest median annualwage in the U.S.

    New Jersey


    District of Columbia


    New York




    Rhode Island












    City Manager Resources

    Looking for more information about how to become a City Manager? We put together this list of additional resources to help on your career search.

    On the Web
    The City Manager of Kent City, Ohio has packed this blog full of useful information, with special sections on projects, citizen action, budgeting and business.

    City Manager’s Blog
    The city Manager of Sunnyvale, CA regularly updates this blog with local goings-on, giving you an idea of the day-to-day activities of a City Manager

    Industry Groups

    International City/County Management Association
    ICMA works to develop and foster professional management to build better communities, with a career network, publications and other resources.

    ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustainability
    ICLEI is an Association of cities, local and metropolitan who want to make more sustainable communities, connecting leaders such as City Managers.

    UCLG is a global network of city government leaders, and is a great resource for networking with City Managers from across the world.

    City Manager Books

    The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies for New Public Managers at All Levels
    This practical book is a roadmap to help new government leaders at all levels, including City Managers, make a smooth transition from private sector to the unique challenges of public sector roles.

    City Management: Keys to Success
    This insightful book aims to help the reader to evaluate city management as a career and provide helpful tips that will allow the reader to have a long and successful career in city management.