What does a Planning Director do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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A planning director supervises a planning department, a government agency responsible for supervising development in a region or municipality. Planning departments can also be included in nonprofit organizations working on promoting particular development agendas, such as groups interested in making more walking and bike paths available in a city. In both cases, the planning director is responsible for the development and implementation of a master plan, an overall goal for development, and also manages staff at the department, establishes a schedule for meetings and other events, and meets with political leaders in the region.

Planning departments are charged with reviewing applications for development large and small to determine if they meet the needs and goals of the city. The planning director supervises a group of planners responsible for examining planning applications, holding meetings to allow the public to speak up on proposed activities, and making decisions about whether to approve proposals. The planning director can be involved in talking with developers about ways to adjust their proposals to make them more acceptable and also meets with politicians to talk about planning-related legislation with the goal of maintaining a consistent vision for planning in the area.


This work requires excellent people skills, as planning directors typically hire and fire the staff in their departments and need to make sure people are properly trained and supervised for the work. In addition, they have to be able to work with other city agencies, as well as officials, ranging from the public works department to the mayor. A planning director needs to be able to communicate clearly and effectively to accomplish planning agendas.

Experience in the planning field is usually required and a degree can be helpful. Degrees in some area of urban planning or related fields are usually most useful, and most planning directors have three to five years of experience in various aspects of planning before applying for jobs as directors. Some are recruited from within a department when the head of planning retires and others may apply from out of the area, relocating if offered an appealing position.

Salaries for planning directors are dependent on qualifications, experience, and the region where the person works. Usually, the salary comes with city benefits including access to retirement accounts, health care, and other services. People may be able to negotiate better compensation by comparing job offers or arguing that their qualifications entitle them to more than is currently being offered.


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