Government Job Profile: Assistant City Manager

New York City HDR
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Assistant city managers hold critical leadership positions in city government. They support the city manager in running the city. They are the critical link between the city manager and department heads. An assistant city manager focuses primarily on organizational issues so that the city manager can focus more on external issues. Both positions must keep the internal and external in mind when making decisions.

In the council-manager form of government, assistant city managers report to the city manager. Because there is no city manager in the strong mayor form of government, there is no assistant city manager. A comparable position in a strong mayor city is the deputy mayor. The mayor is the chief executive officer in a strong mayor city.

In small cities, the assistant city manager is the second-highest-ranking employee in the organization. In larger cities, the organization may have several assistant city manager positions. There may even by a deputy city manager that outranks the other assistant city managers. The deputy city manager may be a first among many or may supervise the assistant city managers. It all depends on how the city manager wants to organize the city staff.

Assistant City Manager Selection Process

Candidates for assistant city manager positions go through the normal government hiring process.

Headhunting firms typically are not used. Cities contract with headhunting firms for the city manager and highly specialized department head positions like police chief and fire chief.

Where the process differs for assistant city manager candidates versus other city applicants is the makeup of the interview panel.

The city manager could ask any number of people to serve in a panel interview -- mayor, city council member, school superintendent, county commissioner, city department head or city manager from a neighboring town. It all depends on the local politics and the skill sets of the people occupying the positions who would have significant contact with the newly hired assistant city manager.

Education and Experience

Assistant city managers must have a bachelor’s degree and significant experience in city government. This experience should be progressively responsible meaning that a candidate should have held several management positions working his or her way up the organizational chart. This experience indicates that a candidate has extensive knowledge of city government and working knowledge of state and federal government.

Cities prefer for a candidate to have a master of public administration degree, but it is not required. An MPA degree shows cities that the candidate is willing to put forth effort outside work to obtain additional credentials.

Candidates who are in the later stages of their careers may choose to obtain a certified public manager credential. The CPM takes less time and effort than an MPA, but it is still valued by cities.

What You'll Do

An assistant city manager supervises a group of department heads. Usually, the departments under an assistant city manager’s purview are similar. For example, an assistant city manager may supervise the public safety departments like fire, police and code enforcement or public works departments like transportation, utilities, and parks.

Like other organizational leaders, an assistant city manager is always communicating. Whether keeping the city manager informed about current or emerging problems, giving direction to department heads or working with other government agencies, an assistant city manager communicates needed information to subordinates, superiors, and peers. Also, an assistant city manager may be asked to make presentations before the city council and other city boards.

During budgeting and strategic planning processes, assistant city managers are expected to contribute. Not only do they provide recommendations about departments under their supervision, but they also help the city manager and city council make decisions on broader issues.

Since the city manager does not have time to oversee any one project, the city manager often delegates such responsibilities to an assistant city manager for high-profile projects. When an assistant city manager leads a project, it is an important one. Otherwise, someone further down the organizational chart would be leading it.

Assistant city managers are often the points of contact for staff at other government agencies. When school districts, counties and state and federal agencies need something from cities, they may start their inquiries with the city manager or public information officer, but if an issue needs ongoing attention, an assistant city manager or department head will usually serve as the point of contact.

Earnings

Like the salaries of city managers, salaries for assistant city managers depend largely on the size of the city. Candidates can expect to earn somewhere between what the city manager makes and what department heads make. If there are other assistant city manager positions in the city, they will likely be paid very similar salaries if not the exact same amount.

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