What are the career backgrounds of city managers in the United States?

Wesley Meares, Beth M. Rauhaus and William Hatcher

In our recent Local Government Studies article, we report the career paths of city managers from a nationwide survey of 345 chief administrative officers leading cities throughout the United States (U.S.). We sought to understand who the chief administrative officers are, how they arrived in their current position, and the significant challenges they face. Exploring these topics helps us describe the composition of local government managers, and knowing the career paths of these public administrators helps our field in preparing future managers for their service. While these topics have been researched in the past, for example, by Watson and Hassett (2004) and Folz and French (2005), an updated view of chief administrative officers of U.S. cities was needed. To explore these questions, a survey was sent to chief administrative officers of small, medium, and large cities throughout the U.S. From our survey, we learned three key takeaways.

Who: The Make-Up

Local government management in the U.S. needs to diversify. Most survey respondents reported being white males, with nearly half being 55 or older and only slightly over 18% reporting as female. Public administrators must reflect and mirror the communities they serve, and local government management in the U.S. does not represent the nation’s diverse population. Thus, diversity needs to be a focus of the field in the future. There will soon be an opportunity with the impending retirements of many in local government management – what the ICMA has labeled a “silver tsunami.” This oncoming wave shows up in our survey’s findings. Over 50% of those surveyed indicated they intended to retire in the next ten years, and 30% said they would retire within five years. The need to hire the next generation of local government managers is an excellent opportunity to increase gender and racial diversity in local government.

How: Career Pathways

Local government management is more stable than in the past. Of those surveyed, the average tenure in their current positions was a little over seven years. One career pathway to local government management is having prior work experience in the area. Most of those surveyed were hired into their current positions as external candidates, often making lateral moves in their careers. Another career pathway to local government is having experience in budgeting and planning. City managers identified developing negotiation skills, having a mentor, and earning an MPA as other critical pathways to local government management.  

What: Major Challenges

Local government management is more concerned with technical aspects of the job (time management, leading teams, human resource actions, etc.) than political conflict and relations with the public. This is a surprising finding. On the one hand, it is positive that city managers are concerned with the nuts and bolts of their jobs. However, on the other hand, many of the challenges they face will surround issues of politics. For our field of public administration to advance democratic governance, we need public administrators to be concerned about politics and community outreach.

With the fast-approaching retirement of many within local government, there is an opportunity for U.S. cities to diversify their workforce, particularly those leading cities. Our study’s data on career pathways provide a roadmap to help public administration scholars and instructors help achieve effective, efficient, and equity in local government management.

Wesley L. Meares is an Associate Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Social Sciences at Augusta University, where he serves as the graduate program director for the Master of Public Administration program. His research focuses on housing policy, community development, sustainability, and local government administration.

Beth M. Rauhaus is an Associate Professor of Public Administration and the MPA Program Coordinator in the Department of Social Sciences at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi. Her research explores issues of gender and diversity in the public sector.

William Hatcher, Ph.D. is a professor of public administration and chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Augusta University. His research explores the intersections of public administration and healthy policy, public administration education, and public budgeting.

References:

Folz, D. H., & French, P. E. (2005). Managing America’s small communities: People, politics, and performance. Rowman & Littlefield.

Watson, D. J., & Hassett, W. L. (2004). Career Paths of City Managers in America’s Largest Council‐Manager Cities. Public Administration Review, 64(2), 192-199.

Picture credit:Luis Marina

What have apprenticeships ever done for us?

Dr Stephen Jeffares

It is national apprenticeship week! This year’s theme is “build the future”. We thought it an opportunity to celebrate the public servants on INLOGOV’s somewhat unique apprenticeship programme that seeks to build the future generation public service leaders.

Picture credit: Mark Cohen, https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

I can’t blame you if you tend to glaze over when you read about apprenticeships.  The world of modern apprenticeships is mired in jargon which can be daunting if not off-putting to those new to it. It was certainly a steep learning curve for colleagues when we first set about designing the programme back in 2016. But please read on.

There are now many universities and other education providers delivering the Senior Leader apprenticeship. But from the beginning we wanted to explore how we could take what a somewhat generic set of management competencies and translate into a vision for the future of public service.

There were moments in 2016 and 2017 where we were starting to regret embarking on that journey but it all fell into place on the morning we welcomed our first cohort to the campus. The energy in the room is always life affirming and reminds you that managers in public service are not the faceless bureaucrats as often portrayed, they are clever, creative, curious and dedicated to their local communities. On top of that, working with groups of public servants is what we do, what we have always done since our formation in the mid 1960s.

Leading and managing public services is a tough job, there is no typical week and work is rarely confined to 9-5. When the financial crash bit in 2009-2010 and the austerity budgets took hold making cuts to the development of public sector leaders was perhaps the easiest and most popular cut to make. Since then, our public servants have had to continually adapt and innovate and adjust to new ways of working, with reduced budgets and higher expectations.  As we emerge from the latest chapter of the global pandemic our local authorities are looking to new ways to support local communities. To succeed we need to develop our leaders.

You could say the apprenticeship levy and programmes like the Senior Leader apprenticeship has thrown management development a lifeline – it offers a means for local authorities to foster the next generation of public service leaders by giving them time away from their day-to-day work, an opportunity to develop new knowledge and skills, build networks with colleagues from across the country and learn from world leading academics in some of the finest research intensive universities.

Last month the second cohort of our programme completed their End Point Assessments, assessed by the Chartered Management Institute. Confirmation that everyone has passed, several with distinction is one of the emails that brightens your day. For this group it is job done as they resume normal duties.

There are three unique features of an apprenticeship programme that distinguish it from your regular part time postgrad qualification. The first is time. Learners are given 20% of their regular working hours a year to dedicate to their studies and development. This puts the student at a huge advantage as all too often part time qualifications have to be completed in evenings, weekends and holidays. This can be jarring to line managers however – they can often be somewhat surprised, horrified even, to consider letting their brightest and best be away for a 5th of a time. But they soon realise it does not mean losing somebody a day a week, that learning can be flexible and fit around major projects, furthermore that off-the job means undertaking special projects and much needed energy and capacity.

The second feature is commitment – The funding is structured to ensure that all parties -learner, line manager and programme leader are committed to each and every apprenticeship. It is this focus that means we can be sure people are on the right programme at the right time and that they are going to be supported through. All too often postgraduate study is undermined by a lack of commitment. It can seem pedantic to have tripartite commitment statements, but it matters and it works.

Third is support – we have always supported our postgraduate learners with academic tutors / dissertation tutors, welfare tutors etc, but apprentices get a dedicated practice tutor who meets with apprentice and line manager regularly to identify priorities, and discuss progress.

This programme is arguably the most demanding programme we have ever delivered.  Not only do our students have to complete 6 taught modules but they have to complete a portfolio evidencing their competencies as a senior leader, a strategic business proposal, a project presentation and a professional discussion with an external assessor. But with the time, commitment and support in place we are seeing first hand it is possible to succeed.

All this week we’ll be taking over the INLOGOV blog. Tomorrow we’ll offer an overview of the programme – its structure and expectations.

Later in the week you can read some accounts of some recent apprentices – what motivated them to do an apprenticeship at this stage in their career, their experiences and their tips for anyone considering applying to the Senior Leader programme.

We’ll be hosting lunchtime webinar on Thursday 3rd March at noon, where you can hear more about the programme and pose questions to me – the Academic Programme Director. You can sign up for the webinar or access to the recording here:

https://bham-ac-uk.zoom.us/webinar/register/2316440021075/WN_SJvks70eRzig6ucW2jrmPQ

Alternatively, if you’d like to speak one to one please email me and we can set up a call [email protected]

Dr Stephen Jeffares is Associate Professor in Public Policy and Digital Government at the Institute for Local government studies. He is also Director of INLOGOV’s Public Management and Leadership apprenticeship programme and author of three books: Hybrid Governance, Hashtag Politics and the Virtual Public Servant.