Hiring a Professional Local Government Manager

Elected officials can better fulfill their legislative or policy-making roles by delegating the management of the municipality to an appointed professional administrator.

The Benefits of Professional Management

  • The appointed manager or administrator is charged with carrying out the policies established by the elected officials, and with delivering public services efficiently, effectively, and equitably.  Elected officials, in turn, have more time to concentrate on creating a vision for the community’s future.
  • Day-to-day operations are managed by a professional who is educated and trained in current local government management practices, state and federal laws and mandates, and cost-effective service delivery techniques.
  • Responsiveness to citizens is enhanced by centralizing administrative accountability in an individual appointed by the elected governing body. Local government managers or administrators are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the elected legislative body. They generally do not have guaranteed terms of office or tenure. They are evaluated based on their responsiveness to the elected legislative body and community, and on their ability to provide efficient and effective services.  If the administrator is not responsive to the elected officials, he/she may be terminated at any time.  In that sense, the manager's or administrator’s responsiveness is tested daily.
  • Professional managers or administrators bring technical knowledge, experience, academic training, management expertise, and dedication to public service.

Duties of an Appointed Manager or Administrator

  • Carries out policies adopted by the elected officials.
  • Manages local government services, which may include public works, public safety, planning and economic development, parks and recreation, libraries, youth services, resource recovery and recycling, and utilities.
  • Prepares a comprehensive annual budget and capital improvement program.
  • Ensures fiscal responsibility and modern accounting practices.
  • Develops performance measurement systems for local government services.
  • Applies for and administers federal, state, and private foundation grant funding.
  • Recruits, hires, and supervises the workforce of the local government, including key department heads.
  • Prepares council or board meeting agenda materials.
  • Develops long-range plans with guidance from elected officials and assists in the achievement of common goals and objectives.
  • Facilitates the flow of ideas and information between and among elected officials, employees, and citizens.

Ethical Conduct: Honoring the Public Trust

ICMA members are committed to standards of honesty and integrity that go beyond those required by law. Local government managers or administrators who are members of ICMA agree to abide by its Code of Ethics, which specifies 12 principles of personal and professional conduct, including dedication to the cause of good government.  ICMA members believe in the effectiveness of representative democracy and the value of government services provided equitably to all residents of their communities. The Code is enforceable by a confidential peer review process.

How to Hire a Professional Manager or Administrator

First Steps

Before a professional manager or administrator can be hired, a local government’s structure of government must be modified to provide for the position. The process of creating a position of manager or administrator can vary from state to state.

  • Some local governments have the authority to act on their own initiative to adopt local ordinances, laws, or resolutions to create the position of manager or administrator appointed by the elected governing body.
  • In states where local governments may write their own charter under home-rule provisions, a number of them have taken advantage of that opportunity to create a professional administrator position. 
  • Some states have enacted statutes providing for alternative forms or optional charters for local governments to adopt.
  • In some states, structural change can take place by obtaining charters through special legislation adopted by the state legislative body.  

Consider your municipality’s unique demands and needs

Many managers and administrators have studied local government management at the graduate level and have held positions of increasing authority. 

  • Beyond the basic education and experience the position requires, you should develop a job description that outlines your expectations and the measurable objectives you want to accomplish. 
  • You should also develop a profile of the administrator who will best serve your community's needs.

ICMA can help your local government facilitate this process. ICMA's Recruitment Guidelines for Selecting a Local Government Administrator (download below) contains tips on recruiting applicants, determining finalists, and interviewing techniques.

Begin your search

  • Determine whether you want to conduct your own search or work with an executive recruitment firm.
  • Prepare and place advertisements in publications that will attract the most qualified local government candidates, such as Leadership Matters (the ICMA Newsletter), ICMA JobCenter, and/or state association publications.

Make the selection

  • Review resumes and identify potential candidates based on their experience and your criteria.
  • Select the top candidates and schedule interviews with your evaluation panel.
  • Upon reaching a decision, negotiate the terms and conditions of employment with your new manager or administrator and formalize a written agreement.
  • At this time, it is important to develop mutually agreed-upon goals and establish an annual review process through which the elected body and the manager or administrator can discuss performance.


Recruitment Guidelines for Selecting a Local Government Administrator