How To Become a City Manager

What Is a City Manager?

A city manager works in collaboration with elected officials and other city workers to make sure the day-to-day responsibilities of the various departments are executed properly. A city manager is hired and directed by the elected city council. Although the city manager is not an elected official, they still serve the public. This position focuses on public service and leadership, as a city manager is essentially the chief executive officer (CEO) of the city.

Explore this career guide to learn about a typical city manager job description and the process of how to become a city manager.

Over 63%

63.2% of city managers hold at least a bachelor’s degree.1

What Does a City Manager Do?

If a city can be compared to a company, then a city manager is like the CEO. The city manager is charged with overseeing the daily affairs of the municipality. They implement the policies of the council effectively and efficiently. These professionals have a broad range of responsibilities, including the following:

City Manager speaking to group of people
Creating Budgets

City managers develop and maintain the city’s budget.

Advising Council

They provide guidance to councilmembers regarding various issues and council decisions.

Implementing Programs and Services

They execute legislation and initiatives enacted by the city council.

Leading Leaders

City managers appoint department heads and manage senior-level employees.

Managing City Services

They ensure utilities and services are operational and accessible by the public.

Allocating Resources

City managers provide resources to support community projects and events.

Representing the City

They attend community events and meetings, providing updates and coordinating with representatives and members of the public.

The city manager can also serve as the public face of the local government and may routinely meet with members of the media to answer questions. If a crisis occurs, such as a natural disaster, the city manager may hold a press conference and will work to help the community navigate the problem. The specific powers and tasks of a city manager can vary from one municipality to the next, so when asking the question, what does a city manager do?, it is advisable to research the cities or towns you’re interested in working for to learn about their government structure and the role of the city manager.

What Education and Experience Does a City Manager Need?

Learning how to become a city manager is beneficial if you are interested in a career in local government. While there is no universal education pathway, here are steps you can take to get started in this career:

If you are still in high school and considering a career in city management, you can benefit from taking classes that emphasize communication skills and critical thinking. Courses in humanities, economics, accounting, law and governance are all good options. Joining the debate club is also worth considering, as is pursuing internship positions in public organizations, including nonprofit groups.

After high school, you should plan on earning at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Many city managers hold a bachelor’s degree in areas such as public administration, political science or business administration.2

Earning a graduate degree isn’t always a requirement to become a city manager, but there is an increase of individuals entering the role with a master’s degree in public administration or a related field, according to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).2

Graduate certificates can help advance your knowledge in specific areas that are relevant to your career. For city managers, earning a certificate in project management or leadership can provide you with the opportunity to develop key skills in managing people and projects, such as city programs.

In addition to earning your degree, you should plan to gain hands-on experience through internships or apprenticeships. While in college, look for opportunities to work on projects and develop your skills in areas such as leadership, management and problem-solving. Your college professors and career services representatives are great resources for finding internship opportunities.

A city manager isn’t an entry-level role, even for individuals who hold a graduate public administration degree. You should plan on gaining work experience within a city department or other public organization after graduation. City managers often start their careers in administrative or public policy positions, such as a budget or management analyst. Serving as an assistant city manager is also a common steppingstone before becoming a city manager.2

Local government managers, such as city managers, are often members of the ICMA, which hold its members to a set of ethical standards of honesty and integrity beyond the requirements of the law. City managers may also earn the designation of “ICMA Credentialed Manager” if they meet certain education, experience and professional development requirements.2

Following this educational and experiential path can help prepare you with the skills and knowledge necessary to become a city manager.

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Best Degrees for City Managers

Aspiring city managers can get started on their higher education journey with a focus in public administration. This area of focus gives you the opportunity to gain a firm understanding of the inner workings of state and local governments and how they affect populations. A public administration degree can also teach you how to think critically, apply analytical reasoning skills, make ethical decisions and communicate effectively with people from a range of backgrounds.

A Master of Public Administration (MPA) teaches advanced leadership and budgeting skills for those looking to position themselves for potential career advancement.

  • Theory and practice of governmental administration
  • Potential impacts of proposed public policy
  • Comparative government and international politics
  • Types of municipal government organizations
  • Common issues for city administrators

GCU Recommends These Degree Programs for City Managers

If you are interested in becoming a city manager, we invite you to explore these relevant degree programs at GCU. If you have specific questions regarding eligibility or requirements, please complete the form on this page to connect with a university counselor.

Bachelor’s Programs

Master’s Programs

Other Programs

What Skills Does a City Manager Need?

City managers use a variety of hard and soft skills to ensure they maintain their commitment to building public trust and confidence, achieving social justice and improving the quality of life for their community members. Essential skills for city managers include:2

  • Project management
  • City planning
  • Personnel administration
  • Fiscal prudence of public funds
  • Program and policy implementation 
  • Diplomacy
  • Effective communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Innovative problem-solving
  • Ethical leadership
Two employees talking in a meeting

Median Annual Wage


Median annual wage for top executives as of May 2023.3

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not report specific data for a city manager salary; however, they recognize city managers as chief executive officers of governments. According to the BLS, top executives, such as city managers, had a median annual salary of $103,840 in May 2023. 4

Projected Job Growth


Estimated new jobs for top executives from 2022 to 2032.5

The BLS projects positive job growth for all top executives over the next decade. According to the BLS, job growth for top executives, including city managers, is expected to increase by about 3% from 2022 to 2032, about as fast as average, accounting for an estimated increase of 124,200 jobs.5

Where Do City Managers Work?

A city manager is an appointed executive government position that performs an administrative role in multiple departments, including:6

Law enforcement

Working with police department leadership to provide citizens with quality services for a safe community.

Fire department

Leading city fire departments in providing professional services that protect the lives and properties of its citizens.


Connecting city services and public schools to help students succeed in school and beyond.


Guiding the city’s sanitation department to create operational efficiencies and a more sustainable community.

Advancement Opportunities for City Managers

While a city manager is considered a high-level position, those with the necessary experience may choose to pursue further career advancement. The most common career progression for a city manager is to advance to a general manager or operations manager role.7

Two gcu students talking

Make a positive impact on your community as a city manager. Get started by earning your bachelor’s or master’s in public administration at Grand Canyon University.

1 Zippia. (n.d.). City Manager Overview. Retrieved on March 1, 2024.

2 ICMA. (n.d.) What It Takes To Be a Professional Local Government Manager. Retrieved Jan. 26, 2024.

3 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Top Executives as of May 2023, retrieved May 29, 2024. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2023 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as Top Executives nor does it reflect the earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc. against a pool of candidates.

4 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.). What Top Executives Do. Retrieved Jan. 26, 2024.

5 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Top Executives, retrieved on Jan. 26, 2024.

6 May, M. (2023, March 13). What Does a City Manager Do? (Duties, Salary and Skills). Indeed. Retrieved Jan. 26, 2024.

7 Zippia. (n.d.). City Manager Career Path. Retrieved on March 1, 2024.