What’s the difference between a city administrator and a city manager?

At tomorrow’s Susanville City Council meeting, the council considers changing City Administrator Dan Newton’s job title to city manager. At it’s Feb. 7 meeting, the city council unanimously approved waiving the first reading and introduced Ordinance No. 23-24-1042. If approved, the ordinance will take effect 15 days after passes.

According to escripemeetings.com, 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.