City Administrator vs. City Manager: What’s the Difference?

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • October 5, 2023

Though the terms “city administrator” and “city manager” are often used interchangeably, they’re different positions that serve distinct roles within city government. While both positions work to ensure a city runs smoothly and efficiently, city managers and city administrators do so in different ways, making their differences more subtle than, say, city manager vs. mayor

Whether you currently work in city government and want to know what a city administrator or city manager does, or you aspire to work in city government and want to know which position is right for you, we’ll explore what each position entails, how they differ, and how eScribe helps both run effective city council meetings

What is a City Administrator?

A city administrator oversees the daily operations of their municipality. They create both long- and short-term plans to ensure the city runs smoothly and the needs of citizens are met. This includes responsibilities such as  creating budgets, managing city personnel, and ensuring that city goals and objectives are met. City administrators also work with the city council to develop laws and policies.

Roles and Responsibilities

Due to the varied nature of their job, city administrators must have excellent communication and organizational skills, as they need to be able to manage multiple departments and stakeholders including finance, public works, public safety, planning and zoning, parks and recreation, and the deputy mayor’s office. While the responsibilities assigned to a city administrator can vary greatly from one municipality to the next, their roles and responsibilities often include:

  • Strategic planning: The city administrator works with city council members to develop strategies and policies to improve city life, such as creating building codes or planning city events.
  • Personnel management: City administrators also oversee the daily operations of city departments including supervising/hiring department heads, responding to employee queries, and providing feedback on department performance. 
  • Overseeing budget and financial goals: The city administrator works closely with the city council and the finance department to prepare the city’s operating budgets in order to ensure financial stability. They also monitor and assess budgetary performance and perform internal audits in order to ensure the city’s money is being managed properly and allocated efficiently. 

Of course, the role of the city administrator can vary greatly from one city to the next, and their responsibilities will depend on the city’s size, government structure, and operational needs. 

Pay and Notoriety

To be considered for a city administrator position, one must usually have a background in public administration, business administration, or another related field. Since this is a high-level position that requires a great deal of experience and leadership ability, city administrators often have a high earnings potential, with the average city administrator making between $68,000 and $95,000 annually. Of course, a city’s size and population, the local cost of living, and a candidate’s experience can all affect their salary.

Notoriety-wise, city administrators are highly respected in their field due to their experience, managerial skills, and the position they hold within their city. Many city administrators are respected for the effect they have on their communities, particularly when they are able to ensure efficient city operations.    

What is a City Manager?

Similar to a city administrator, a city manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a city government. They usually work closely with the mayoral office and other city officials to assist in developing policies and programs designed to improve the quality of life in their city. They also oversee the city’s budget and make sure that the city’s departments have the personnel, resources, and money they need to operate effectively and efficiently. 

One distinction between city managers and city administrators is that city managers often negotiate contracts on behalf of the city, and in some cases, they may also be responsible for attracting new business to the city. 

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of city managers are similar to city administrators with a few key distinctions. Instead of focusing on administration and policy creation, city managers usually dedicate their efforts to implementing these policies. While they will still assist with policy creation, their main focus is on supervising implementation efforts in order to ensure compliance.

While city managers have a broad range of responsibilities depending on their city’s size and needs, their responsibilities may include. 

  • Developing and maintaining the city’s budget.
  • Advising council members on various issues.
  • Appointment department heads and overseeing personnel. 
  • Coordinating city development projects.
  • Ensuring city utilities and services run smoothly and efficiently. 

Like with the role of city administrator, a city manager’s responsibilities and compensation can vary greatly from city to city.

Pay and Notoriety

Once again, the pay for a city manager can vary greatly from one city to the next and will depend on experience, education, job responsibilities, budget, and the city’s size. The average salary for a city manager ranges from $102,000 to $126,000. However, managers of larger cities can make significantly more than this.

When it comes to notoriety, city managers hold a similar standing to city administrators. They are often held in high regard, particularly in larger cities where they have a lot of influence and power. 

eScribe Powers Effective City Council Meetings

The roles of city administrator and city manager are similar, as they share the responsibility of ensuring their cities run efficiently and do not collapse even under difficult circumstances. Ultimately, which title is used generally depends on what a city is looking to get out of the position.   

One of the best ways to ensure efficient city operations is to take advantage of cutting-edge technology that can enhance decision-making and streamline city management processes. eScribe’s government meeting software is designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of city council meetings, boosting collaboration between officials and constituents. 

Some of the most valuable features eScribe offers include:

  • Meeting Manager: This feature streamlines the process of scheduling, organizing, and hosting in-person or virtual city council meetings. It makes it simple to create meeting agendas, set timelines, and send invitations to council meeting participants, optimizing the entire process. 
  • Meeting Minutes: eScribe’s meeting minutes feature makes it simple to take minutes in real time, ensuring that minutes are made available to the public quickly and accurately to enhance transparency. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Our software’s reporting tools can help city officials analyze council meeting data and identify trends or areas that need improvement. It also allows for easy tracking of action items and workflows, such as writing a motion for a city council meeting, ensuring tasks are completed promptly.     
  • Collaboration Tools: Our collaboration tools enable simple communication and information-sharing, ensuring that everyone has the most up-to-date information and can easily participate in decision-making.  

eScribe’s features and pricing make it a great investment to help cities innovate at an affordable cost. Read the City of Greensboro case study to see the transformative power eScribe has on local government.