City Manager vs Mayor – What’s the Difference?

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Though the two positions may seem similar at first glance, the day-to-day responsibilities vary greatly between these two jobs. Do you see yourself working in local government someday? If so, it’s important to understand the differences between these two high-power positions and the qualifications required for each.

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City Manager

City managers, also referred to as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chief administrative officer (CAO), are appointed by the city council. Cities that appoint a manager expect them to take care of daily administrative tasks.

Basic responsibilities

  • Supervising day-to-day operations of city staff and departments, like fire and police, parks and recreation and public works.
  • Overseeing hiring and firing of city employees
  • Preparing and monitoring the city budget
  • Handling public relations for the city
  • Attending, moderating and running city council meetings (but not voting)


  • Average salary across the U.S. for city managers.1

Educational requirements

  • Master’s Degree in Public Administration.2



Nearly all large U.S. cities have a mayoral system in place. 3 In this system, the mayor represents both the government and the community as a whole. Unlike city managers, mayors are directly elected by voters.

Basic responsibilities

  • Presiding over city council
  • Signing proclamations for the city
  • Making ceremonial appearances
  • Voting as a council member (without veto power)
  • Implementing legislation passed by the council
  • Appointing and removing department heads within city organizations


  • Average mayoral salary across the U.S.4

Education requirements:

  • Master’s Degree in Public Administration
    • These requirements vary greatly by city. Some towns only require a high school diploma, but the vast majority of cities want a mayor with an advanced degree.5


Master of Public Administration

  • Both jobs benefit from having an MPA
  • Two years: the average time it takes to earn an MPA
  • Disciplines included in an MPA degree:
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Law
    • Political science
    • Budgeting & finance
    • Community relations