Education and Training Requirements
Take courses in government and social studies to learn about the nature of cities and counties. Math and business courses are important because you'll be working with budgets and statistics and preparing financial reports. English and composition courses, and speech and debate teams are also very important, as you'll need good communication skills for presenting your thoughts and ideas to policy makers, special interest groups, and the community. City managers use planning, data analytics, and a variety of time-management and record-keeping software in their work, so it's a good idea to take as many computer science classes as possible. Take journalism courses and report for your school newspaper to learn about research and conducting polls and surveys.
You'll need at least a bachelor's degree to work as a city manager. As an undergraduate, you'll major in such programs as public administration, political science, sociology, or business. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) notes that an increasing number of local governments are requiring job candidates for manager positions to have master's degrees in public administration or business. Programs resulting in a master's in public administration (M.P.A) are available all across the country; some schools offer dual degrees, allowing you to also pursue a master's of business administration or master's of social work along with the M.P.A. Some students also earn master’s degrees in public policy. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration offers voluntary accreditation to schools with degree programs in public affairs and administration. The association has a membership of approximately 310 schools, of which about 190 are accredited. A roster of accredited programs is available at http://www.naspaa.org.
Course work in public administration programs covers topics such as finance, budgeting, municipal law, legal issues, personnel management, and the political aspects of urban problems. Degree requirements at some schools also include completion of an internship program in a city manager's office that may last from six months to a year, during which time the degree candidate observes local government operations and does research under the direct supervision of the city manager.
In addition to college internships with local public administrators, you can apply to the ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship Program, in which fellows are placed in various cities throughout the country and learn about the field from experienced city managers. There is heavy competition for these internship positions because they often lead to full-time work.
People planning to enter city management positions frequently must pass civil service examinations. This is one way to become eligible for appointments to local government. Other requirements will vary from place to place. Most positions require knowledge of computerized tax and utility billing, electronic traffic control, and applications of systems analysis to urban problems.
Other Education or Training
The International City/County Management Association provides Web conferences and workshops and other continuing education opportunities. Topics include ethics, management skills, staff development, leadership, and financial management. The National League of Cities offers workshops, conference seminars, webinars, and a Leadership Training Institute. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
The International City/County Management Association offers a voluntary credentialing program for government managers who meet education and experience requirements. Contact the association for more information.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Five to 10 years of increasingly responsible management experience are needed to become qualified for city manager positions.
City managers need the will, desire, and strength to lead an organization. The manager is the person held primarily responsible for the administration of the city and often takes a lot of criticism from citizens and opponents. You must be able to handle the stress of the job and the long and frequently unpredictable hours.
You'll need to be decisive, confident, and staunch in making managerial decisions. You need to be skilled at solving problems, while flexible enough to consider the ideas of others. Managers must also have a knack for working with people, have the ability to negotiate and tactfully debate with coworkers and other officials, and be able to listen to the opinions and concerns of the people they represent.