A public administrator standing next to columns in a government building.

How to Get Involved in Local Government: Public Administration Careers and Salaries

Public Administration

People who are looking to make positive changes in society do not have to stray very far from their own neighborhoods. With the right competencies, anyone can pursue a job in local government. An advanced degree, such as an online Master of Public Administration (MPA), can be key. This type of education can develop a deep knowledge of public administration theories and ethics for successful leadership in the public sector. Several potential career paths exist in public administration for those who want to discover how to get involved in local government.

Why Pursue a Career in Public Administration?

While many people may commiserate about the change needed in a community, a public administrator has the opportunity to turn that talk into action. To transition into this role requires earning an advanced degree from a program that develops skills in local government management. Programs such as a Master of Public Administration can help students develop a strong understanding of the theories and ethics behind essential public administration concepts.

The degree track also teaches advanced competencies in critical thinking and data analysis, which are crucial to developing strategies that convert ideas into practice. With the right combination of skills and knowledge gained from the proper advanced degree, students can pursue a role in public administration. The ultimate goal is to produce new and innovative policies that ultimately improve local society and the lives of a community’s citizens.

What a Career in Local Government Looks Like

Public administrators are responsible for organizing and getting involved in their local government’s daily operations. They oversee the operations of their city and write administrative reports to help address the community’s goals through economic, efficient, and equitable practices. A public administrator’s job description usually includes hiring administrators, department heads, and other staff members. Creating a budget and gaining its approval is another important duty of public administrators. Addressing specific issues—such as homelessness, education, or crime—helps public administrators determine short- and long-term goals.

Day-to-day tasks can vary, but public administrators regularly meet with legislators to discuss issues, initiatives, and policies. One of the most significant responsibilities of public administrators is implementing the policies and laws of elected officials. Local government officials who work in communities with larger populations often have assistants who help them complete their daily responsibilities.

Steps to Becoming Involved in Local Government

Students and professionals who are interested in public administration may be wondering how to get involved in local government and pursue a relevant career. The following steps can help.

Step #1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Students should begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration, public administration, or a related area. The curriculum in an undergraduate program—including public affairs, political science, public policy, international affairs, administrative law, governance ethics, and other subjects— can prepare students for entry-level jobs in local government. Additionally, earning a bachelor’s degree helps students establish a foundation of knowledge they can build on to pursue an advanced degree.

Step #2: Earn a Master’s Degree

To qualify for most public administration careers, individuals should earn a graduate degree, such as a Master of Public Administration or Master of Business Administration. Programs such as Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration feature concentrations in specific aspects of public administration such as fiscal management, municipal governance, nonprofit management, and criminal justice and public safety.

Step #3: Gain Experience     

After earning the necessary educational credentials, individuals can begin applying for jobs as public administrators. Previous experience in entry-level jobs is usually necessary. Individuals can gain experience by working at nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or educational institutions. Those who desire to gain experience by working in government agencies can consider working at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or the Small Business Administration (SBA), among many other options.

Public Administration Careers and Salaries

When determining how to get involved in local government, consider the following professions. All of them approach public administration in unique ways but have the same underlying goal of bringing positive change on a local, community level.

Director of Public Works

Directors of public works oversee various municipal functions such as traffic control, waste management, and water service to ensure a city operates efficiently. Responsible for managing a wide range of city or county employees, from administrative staff to public service technicians, directors of public works must possess strong leadership skills. Because the role typically involves planning and budgeting for day-to-day operations and long-term projects, this position requires advanced analytical and critical-thinking skills.

The compensation website PayScale reports the median annual salary for a director of public works at approximately $74,100. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes the role within the field of civil engineering, which is projected to grow by 2% between 2019 and 2029.

City Manager    

City managers operate like chief executives in business. Responsible for governing the performance of various city departments, they typically work with elected officials to create strategies for solving community issues and developing long-term community goals. City managers must have excellent leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as a strong competency in problem solving and critical thinking. They also must possess a well-developed sense of social awareness to effectively read the reactions of people and departments that are potentially affected by city policies.

The median annual salary for a city manager is about $93,800, according to PayScale. The BLS designates the city manager role as part of the urban and regional planning field, which has a projected job growth rate of 11% between 2019 and 2029.

Urban and Regional Planner  

Urban and regional planners develop programs and strategies concerning land usage. In executing their tasks, they take into consideration different community-driven metrics such as community creation, population growth, and gentrification. As strategies are based on market research and various economic and environmental studies, urban and regional planners must demonstrate solid analytical skills, a strong technological acumen for effective data analysis, and solid communication skills to convey the intent and progress of their projects.

The median annual pay for local government urban and regional planners was $74,400 as of May 2019, according to the BLS, which also reports a 11% predicted job growth for the position between 2019 and 2029.

Public Administrator    

Public administrators oversee a local government’s support services. This can include conservatorship services for individuals with mental disabilities, or fiduciary services in cases when a deceased community member has no relative to perform executor duties. The role also involves supervising personnel and carefully monitoring existing services to ensure compliance with current regulations. Individuals who serve in this position need strong analytical skills to identify weak spots in government policies. Excellent communication skills also are critical to effectively convey information regarding community services.

The BLS lists the median salary for administrative service managers, including public administrators, at $96,940 as of May 2019 and predicts a 6% growth rate for the position between 2019 and 2029.

Financial Manager         

As the name suggests, financial managers are responsible for a local government’s financial viability. They analyze a wide range of financial statements for economic efficiency and government compliance, and work with other departments to make sound financial decisions. Financial managers must possess strong math and analytical skills, as well as strong soft skills such as communication and organization.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for financial managers in government positions was $129,890 as of May 2019. It projects a 15% growth rate for this job between 2019 and 2029.

Political Scientist           

Political scientists commonly research, analyze, and interpret community data to construct unbiased views of local government activities. Their findings may be shared through various forms of media, such as local newspapers or television stations. Because of the nature of the work, they must have strong research, analytical, written and verbal communication skills to both construct data and clearly convey the information to the community.

The BLS lists the average annual salary for local government-associated political scientists at around $79,640 as of May 2019 and projects a 6% growth rate for political scientists between 2019 and 2029.

A Career That Makes an Impact

Every public administration career offers the opportunity to make a positive impact in a community. More importantly, individuals in these roles can positively change their own lives.

Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration degree offers a comprehensive program with a curriculum that provides a thorough study of organizational management concepts, strategic planning, and fiscal management.

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has maintained its leadership in providing innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, the university delivers relevant and applicable curricula that enables students to make a positive impact in their workplaces and communities.

Learn more about how to get involved in local government—and prepare for a professional role by earning a Master of Public Administration from Norwich University.


Recommended Readings

Public Administration vs. Business Administration Degrees
Career Outlook: Political Scientist
Career Outlook: Public Administrator


How to Become a City Manager, GovtJobs.com
Choosing a Career in Public Administration: The Lessons of History, PA Times
The Best Public Administration Careers for 2020, Administration Jobs
Average City Manager Salary, PayScale
Average Public Works Director Salary, PayScale
A Day in the Life of a Political Scientist, The Princeton Review
Administrative Service Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Civil Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Financial Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Political Scientists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Urban and Regional Planners, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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