What Does a City Manager Do? (Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities)

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • June 20, 2023

No matter the size of a city, making sure it runs smoothly requires deliberate, coordinated efforts. The city manager leads these efforts, working in collaboration with elected officials to host city council meetings and properly execute the day-to-day responsibilities of various government departments. 

But what is exactly a city manager, and what are they in charge of? Here, we explore the typical duties of a city manager and why their role is so important in helping run the city they represent.

What is a City Manager?

A city manager is a professional administrator who is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of a city or municipality. A city manager is typically hired by the city council rather than elected. Once city managers take on their position, they begin to oversee the administrative needs of the city.

There are different systems of governance for cities, which impact the role of the city manager. 

Council-manager government: The city manager serves as the CEO and reports to the city council. This system is designed to separate politics from administration.

Mayor-council government: The mayor serves as the CEO, and the city council serves as the legislative body. In this system, the mayor has more direct control over the city’s operations, but may also be more susceptible to political pressures.

Hybrid system: Combines elements of both council-manager and mayor-council forms of government. These systems vary widely in their structure and the roles and responsibilities of the city manager.

City Manager Roles and Responsibilities

When considering the role and responsibilities of a city manager, it helps to compare them to a chief executive officer. Like a CEO, a city manager oversees the daily affairs of a municipality. Below are some of their responsibilities.

1. Authorize Grant Proposals

City managers are often responsible for identifying and seeking funding opportunities for projects and programs that benefit the city and its residents. These projects might include public infrastructure improvements, affordable housing programs, or public safety initiatives.

City managers may look to various sources for funding, including federal, state, or private sources. They then submit grant applications to such institutions. It is the responsibility of the city manager to ensure that grant proposals align with the city’s strategic goals and priorities, comply with regulations, and are submitted on time and with all necessary documentation.

2. Analyze and Activate Municipal Policies

While city managers do not make policy decisions, they play a key role in public administration and the policymaking process. For example, city managers may make policy recommendations to council, propose budgets, and oversee staff-led studies. A city manager may also serve as advisor to the city council by providing objective feedback on long-term impacts of policies under consideration.

3. Oversee City Budget

Developing the city’s recommended budget is one of the most important responsibilities of the city manager. They provide recommendations about how to allocate funding in key areas, such as transportation, clean drinking water, public safety, or civic engagement opportunities, like parks and recreation. 

Not only is the city manager responsible for drafting and proposing the city budget, they are also charged with the task of amending the budget as dictated by city council. The council must then approve the budget proposed by the city manager.

4. Develop Strategy Plans

A strategic plan is a city’s overall, long-term vision for the future. City managers are often tasked with developing strategic plans to help city leaders make complex decisions and navigate challenging periods. 

The first step to developing a strategic plan often involves conducting an environmental scan. This involves studying and analyzing forces that exist within their municipality’s internal and external environment. This gives them insights into the current condition of the city that may lead to potential opportunities, threats, strengths, and weaknesses to leverage or mitigate. 

5. Create and Manage Meeting Agendas

City managers create and manage meeting agendas, which outline topics or items of business considered at a meeting. These agendas are usually approved by the mayor and/or city council. The meeting agenda often includes the following elements:

  • Data, time, location, and type of meeting
  • Order of business
  • Call to order for the standing committee
  • Approving the minutes
  • Public participation
  • Special orders or announcements
  • Unfinished business or general orders
  • Adjournment

eScribe allows city managers to create meeting agendas quickly and easily by providing agenda templates that can be customized to suit their needs. You can easily add agenda items, sub-items, and attachments, and the software automatically numbers and formats them.


Getting Started With eScribe

Software solutions for local governments can help streamline council meetings. eScribe is an end-to-end meeting management platform that aims to help public administrators simplify meetings and reduce administrative workloads. With eScribe, governments can create accessible, inclusive, and engaging meetings without paper or time-consuming manual processes. Improve board intelligence and effectiveness with the following features:

  • Meeting Manager: Create, share, modify, and collaborate on meeting materials in real-time.  
  • Meeting Minutes: Take minutes directly within the platform and mark motions as the meeting progresses. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Manage deadlines, track statuses, save time, and handle reports and approvals with ease.
  • Collaboration Tools: Give elected officials the freedom to work from anywhere by providing secure access for searching for and reviewing content, downloading meeting materials, and keeping track of comments, notes, and action items.

eScribe in action: Download the City of Greensboro Case Study to learn how eScribe helped the city save time and money while streamlining processes and reducing stress. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Difference Between a City Manager and Mayor?

A city manager is an employee of a municipality and operates outside of the political realm. A mayor, on the other hand, is elected and represents the voters in any given city. 

Many city managers hold a Master of Public Administration (MPA), which is a graduate degree that prepares them for managing large public institutions. While it is possible for mayors to hold an MPA, they are generally elected based on political skill and experience.

What is the Difference Between a City Manager and CAO?

CAO stands for chief administrative officer, and is the administrative head of the municipality and the council’s principal advisor. The city manager holds a similar position, which is why the two terms are often used interchangeably. The difference is the city manager has more discretion independent authority with regard to overseeing the city. Unlike a CAO, a city manager’s duties are not assigned on a varying basis by the mayor.

What are the Qualities of a Good City Manager?

A good city manager is trustworthy, respectable, and ethical. They should also have strong listening skills and the ability to effectively communicate with the mayor, the city council, community members, and staff.