County and city managers oversee the operations of the county or city in which they serve. This can include determining the budget as well as managing the non-elected staff members who work for various departments within the county or city. Local government managers may also advise higher-level government officials, including the mayor or the city council, in the creation of laws and policies. City managers work for the local government and usually are hired, not elected or appointed, to their positions. County managers, or county executives, on the other hand, work for the county and are elected by the people or are appointed by government officials. Both positions are public-facing roles that must report to the media, government agencies, and the general public.
A Day in the Life of a City or County Manager
One of the primary responsibilities of county or city managers is to oversee the day-to-day operations of the county or city in which they were hired or elected. An average day for these managers involves meeting with the heads of various departments under the county or city as well as ensuring that each department follows the policies and laws set forth by government officials. County or city managers are also responsible for budgeting and personnel decisions.
Cities and counties that are looking to fill these positions have particular requirements. Qualified candidates for these positions must have strong analytical, communication, and customer service skills. Candidates should also understand the local political and economic climate. In addition to these skills and expertise, qualified candidates often hold a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and have at least five years of experience in public administration in roles of increasing responsibility within local government.
While city and county managers work typical business hours, additional time is often required. City council meetings, press events, travel, and other required services might take place outside of the usual workday. Local government managers also play a critical role in risk management of issues such as severe weather and security threats. These situations often require city and county managers to work long hours, including nights and weekends, until the crisis is resolved.
Salaries for these positions vary, depending on experience, education, and the size and scope of the city or county under management. The salary for a city manager ranges from $44,774 to more than $154,000; the median salary is $83,262. Most city manager positions are eligible for standard local government benefits packages.
For a county manager, the salary ranges from $42,460 to more than $162,500, with the median falling around $68,500. This job typically offers up to five weeks of vacation, and only about half of these positions include medical and dental coverage as part of the benefits package.
While the jobs of city manager and county manager do not require an MPA, most localities look for candidates with master’s degrees. The coursework required to obtain an MPA prepares students for work in leadership and management positions. MPA programs allow students to build on their knowledge and skills as well as obtain practical experience in the field of public service. MPA programs provide graduates with the necessary tools to be effective leaders with a solid foundation in ethics. Because of the focus placed on public service, an MPA is the ideal degree for those entering the field of city and county management.
Challenges and Opportunities
One of the biggest challenges for city and county managers is navigating the dynamic political climate in which they function. Elected officials—and their shifting agendas—come and go, but the local government manager is usually in place to lead over a long term. There is a limited number of positions in city and county management and usually very little turnover in each role, creating an environment of scarcity of opportunity. However, an anticipated wave of retirement in the next few years is expected to create a shortage of experienced professionals needed to fill roles.
Governments across the country are changing the way they interact with citizens and solve their problems. In many cases, these government entities are reaching out to citizens through online resources, requiring workers in city and county management to be experts in social media and online communication. With these advances, it is critical for city and county managers to be well versed in social media to improve the services they can provide to their communities.
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