What Does an Assistant City Manager Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of an assistant city manager: Communicate with and delegate to department heads; CMP and MPA degrees complement on-the-job experience; Report to the city manager, mayor and city council; work on the organizational side so the city manager can look at the big picture

The Balance / Ellen Lindner

Assistant city managers hold critical leadership positions in city government. They support the city manager in running the city and 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.

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 Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Supervise a group of department heads
  • Oversee management of city projects as needed
  • Keep the city manager informed about current or emerging problems and project status
  • Make presentations before the city council and other city boards
  • Attend and participate in city council meetings
  • Contribute to city budgeting and strategic planning processes
  • Serve as a the point of contact for staff at other government agencies and work with them as needed

Assistant city managers are expected to contribute to budgeting and strategic planning processes. 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.

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.

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.

Assistant City Manager Salary

Like those 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.

  • Median Annual Salary: $87,000 ($35.63 per hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $136,000 ($50.47 per hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $49,000 ($19.65 per hour)

Source: PayScale, 2019

Education, Training, & Certification

Assistant city managers must have a bachelor’s degree and significant experience in city government.

  • Education: Cities prefer for a candidate to have a master of public administration (MPA) 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.
  • Experience: A candidate's experience should be progressively responsible, meaning that they should have held several management positions working their 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.
  • Certification: Candidates who are in the later stages of their careers may choose to obtain a certified public manager (CPM) credential. The CPM takes less time and effort than an MPA, but it is still valued by cities.

Assistant City Manager Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities: 

  • Communication skills: 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 must effectively communicate 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.
  • Leadership skills: Assistant city managers must be able to effectively oversee city projects to completion and provide guidance to to department heads.
  • Interpersonal skills: Assistant city managers must be able to maintain positive relationships with members of the community, city department staff, and contacts at other government agencies.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field will grow 10 percent through 2026, which is slightly faster than the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country.

Work Environment

Assistant city managers usually work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. They need to stay on top of many issues at once and be in constant communication with the city manager and all other stakeholders. Although this job is an office job, assistant city managers often travel for city council meetings, community projects, and more.

Work Schedule

This is considered a full-time job, and often, it requires extensive work outside of normal business hours. Assistant city managers need to attend city council meetings, many of which take place on evenings. Usually, they must be available whenever city managers need their help, which may include evenings and weekends, especially in times of crisis.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming assistant city managers may also consider other careers with these median salaries: 

  • City manager: $95,610
  • Bookkeeping, accounting, or auditing clerk: $40,240
  • Financial clerk: $39,570
  • General office clerk: $32,730
  • Information clerk: $34,520

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

How to Get the Job

Gain Government Experience

Assistant city managers are often hired from within. Get your foot in the door early with a government internship and build off of that to eventually run city departments.

Get a Mentor

Who you know can often make the difference between getting a government job or not. A good mentor with a career in government can help you build your network and open up opportunities.

Master Panel Interviews

The city manager could ask any number of people to serve in a panel interview, including the mayor, city council members, school superintendents, county commissioners, city department heads, or a city manager from a neighboring town. This can be overwhelming to candidates who aren't prepared, so it's important to be practice successful panel interview strategies in advance.