What is a City Manager?

Cassie L. Damewood

A city manager is the person who is normally responsible for efficiently running a city. He is traditionally hired by the officials the citizens elect to set public policy, such as mayors, commissioners and city council members. His job may be to administer the affairs of a small to large city.

City manager's are typically considered a city's spokesperson.
City manager's are typically considered a city's spokesperson.

Despite his scope of responsibility, a city manager is traditionally authorized to make business decisions for his city only with the consent of the elected officials. He typically researches policies and procedures he believes to be in the best interest of the city’s stability and growth. When his recommendations are ready for review, he commonly presents them to the officials for endorsement before he proceeds.

City managers focus on ensuring that the people running a city do so efficiently.
City managers focus on ensuring that the people running a city do so efficiently.

Much like a business manager, a city manager is normally in charge of all of the city’s daily operations. These traditionally include budget allocations, construction projects, city services and community relations. He frequently supervises the managers of city departments and regularly confers with them on civic issues and concerns.

Many cities employ public servants that are unionized. These employees regularly include firefighters, police officers, sanitation engineers and teachers. The city manager is frequently the city’s representative during contract negotiations with these groups. He is commonly the supervisor of the non-union managers of these workers.

This manager position normally involves attending many meetings. The manager's input is frequently required at formal and informal gatherings of city officials and concerned citizens. Matters such as city policies, public works and municipal services, such as energy, water and cable/satellite providers, are popular topics of discussion. The views of the city council or commissioners as well as the city manager are normally included in the dialogue.

Remaining politically neutral is a general requirement for a city manager. He is commonly expected to refrain from including political views in his public comments. This neutrality maintains a persona of fairness and impartiality the citizens of a city generally prefer in a city manager.

The city manager is frequently considered the city’s spokesperson by the media. He may be called upon to comment on policy changes, labor negotiations or funding issues. In the interest of representing his city and its citizens, the manager often defers comment on topics that may imply political inclinations.

A bachelor’s or master's degree in public administration or business administration is required by some cities for this position. Others may waive this requirement if the applicant has solid experience in these fields. City managers are frequently former members of municipal boards and commissions in the cities where they apply for their jobs.

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Discussion Comments


In many cases the city manager has more duties and responsibilities than even the mayor. The mayor is the figurehead and the political face of the government but many of the most vital tasks fall on the shoulders of the city manager.

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