What Does a Mayor Do? Key Skills and Responsibilities
Updated March 10, 2023
The role of mayor is a political office filled through a municipal election. Voters choose who will make important decisions that affect those who live in the town or city. A mayor typically works with municipal officials and other leaders to oversee the day-to-day operations of the local government. At the same time, their responsibilities may vary depending on the local government structure. In this article, we discuss what a mayor is, some of the common responsibilities of this role and the key skills needed to be an effective mayor.
What is a mayor?
A mayor is the top executive in a city, municipality or town government. The mayor often oversees many public works departments for their locale, including fire, police, emergency medical and utility services. The mayor is commonly a part of the town council, serving in a leadership position for meetings. The powers afforded to a mayor vary based on the structure of the local government. A mayor may be in a strong-mayor setting, where they have many administrative and legislative responsibilities, or a weak-mayor structure, in which the mayor is on a similar level to other members of the town council.
Constituents may elect a mayor to their position directly, through a process that commonly includes primary elections and a general election. Election rules may separate primaries by party or run an open primary for all candidates regardless of affiliation. In other locations, commonly in weak-mayor structures, the town council may appoint the mayor, with the selected mayor often being a member of the council.
What does a mayor do?
The responsibilities for a mayor vary based on the structure of their local government and the size of their constituency. Common responsibilities for a mayor include:
Attending town council meetings and proposing and debating initiatives
Casting votes, potentially in a tie-breaking capacity, at town council meetings
Speaking with constituents at meetings, their office or in public, answering questions and listening to concerns
Overseeing public service departments and ensuring they are operating effectively
Completing administrative tasks related to the daily operations of the local government
Approving press releases, speaking with journalists, leading press conferences and completing other media availability tasks
Representing the town at meetings with officials of other government entities
Examining the proposed budget and approving any final spending order
Appointing staff to government positions such as city attorney, city secretary and other unelected positions
Attending public events in an official capacity
Related: How to Pursue a Career in Politics
Key skills for a mayor
A successful mayor possesses a broad range of skills that encompass both interpersonal and professional abilities. In order to succeed as a mayor, it is beneficial to possess the following skills:
Communication skills allow a mayor to express themselves clearly both in person and in written text. A mayor may use their communication skills when speaking with constituents, other government officials and representatives of businesses the town works with. Effective communication skills reduce misunderstandings and make a mayor more effective within their official capacities.
Decision-making skills allow a mayor to assess the information presented to them and come to the correct conclusion about the best option to pursue. As a top government official, a mayor is often responsible for making important decisions that affect their residents. Effective decision-making allows a mayor to perform at their best and maximize the benefits they provide to their citizens through the policies and events the mayor authorizes.
Economic development skills provide a mayor with the education and experience required to identify and execute plans that foster economic growth within a community. Providing a healthy economy and opportunity to residents is a primary responsibility of a mayor and often one of the most important factors in a mayor's approval ratings. Building an understanding of economic development can help a mayor improve conditions within their city and make its residents more prosperous.
Empathy represents a mayor's ability to understand another person's position and how they are feeling. It is a critical skill for interacting with residents to understand their needs and why they're addressing particular issues. Mayors should also demonstrate empathy with fellow politicians in order to find common ground when discussing public matters. An empathetic mayor may be more capable of serving all of their constituents, not just those who they can directly relate to, allowing them to be more effective in the role.
Leadership is a mayor's ability to inspire those working underneath them to follow the mayor's plan and achieve results to their fullest potential. As a senior government position, leadership is a critical skill for a mayor to possess. A mayor who is a strong leader is more capable of getting full commitment out of staff for their initiatives, which can lead to higher productivity and improved results.
A mayor's financial management skills allow them to use their available budget effectively to maximize the benefits it provides. A mayor operating within a strong-mayor system often has the right of final approval for the budget. Understanding the principles of financial management allows the mayor to more efficiently allocate funding and identify the most beneficial uses of all available funding, as well as make more informed cases when the mayor feels a change to the budget or spending plan will benefit residents.
Negotiation skills allow a mayor to reach favorable agreements when planning with parties who have different interests than the mayor. Negotiation skills may benefit a mayor when setting prices with contractors working on government initiatives. A mayor can also negotiate with other government officials to create compromise agreements in order to enact new policies.
Persuasion skills allow a mayor to convince others to agree with them on a proposal. Strong persuasive abilities are beneficial to a mayor not only while in office, where persuasion allows the mayor to attain more favorable results when setting policies, but also when seeking to become a mayor. Persuading voters or town council members that you are the best choice for the position is a critical part of becoming a mayor.
Political savvy represents a mayor's ability to operate within the political sector to achieve their goals. A mayor uses their political savvy throughout their career, both when seeking political positions and after earning them. Understanding politics allows a mayor to maneuver within a city or town's political structure in order to advance their political agenda by making connections and avoiding mistakes.
Public administration skills encompass the knowledge and application of tasks required for a government's basic operations. As an executive position, the mayor is often responsible for managing work across many government departments. Public administration skills allow the mayor to oversee the work being done by others within the government and by contractors hired by the government.
Mayor education requirements
Although there are not formal education requirements for a mayoral candidate, most mayors have advanced degrees. Common fields to consider as an aspiring mayor include public administration, political science and business. Candidates who do not possess a degree from a college or university may promote their connection with the working class, increasing their relatability.
Tips for becoming a mayor
If you're interested in a career as a mayor, there are ways to improve your chances for a successful campaign. Follow these tips to make it more likely you become a successful mayor:
Seek an education in public administration
Most mayors earn a degree from a college or university. When earning a bachelor's degree or master's degree, it's beneficial to choose a field which applies to a mayoral position. Public administration is a valuable major that teaches you the important skills you need to fulfill your duties as a city or town's chief executive. You can further supplement your education by minoring in political science, which provides political theory education to make you more capable of navigating within a political sphere.
Start in politics early
Although some mayors earn their position as a first political appointment, it is common for mayors to work in politics for many years before earning their position. Getting started with an entry-level position in politics can begin your political career and open new opportunities for political advancement. Working in politics allows you to make powerful connections to help you earn a mayoral position and gain the first-hand experience you need to be effective once acting as mayor.
Embed yourself within the community
Residents are more likely to vote for a mayoral candidate that they feel understands them and is a part of their community. Taking part in town groups and events allows you to become a more recognized member of your local community. This is not only beneficial when running for office but also provides you with valuable first-hand experience that you can use to make more informed decisions that are more beneficial for your constituents.
Speak to local residents
Holding regular meetings with your constituents and attending events where you can meet and interact with them in person is a good way to improve your performance as a mayor. The more connected you are to your community, the more capable you are of understanding what your constituents need and developing plans and that provide meaningful improvements in their lives. This makes you a more effective executive and makes it more likely constituents want you to remain in your position at the end of your term.
Choose your affiliation carefully
Determining whether you will join a party or run as an independent is one of the most important decisions you make when running for office. Before deciding, take an assessment of how your political beliefs align with the party options and the feasibility of winning an election both through a party nomination or running independently in the general election. It's important to factor in a party's positions and the added value the party provides in order to determine what your best option is.
Establish a strong platform
When running for office it's important to have a powerful platform to present to potential voters. Identify the key areas you feel are most important to voters, then clearly lay out where you stand on the issues and why you feel your stance is the correct one. This provides voters with a proactive reason to support your candidacy and elect you to office.
Running for office in your town or city may require you to submit signatures from legal voters who support your candidacy. It's best to begin this process as soon as you know you are interested in running and have created a platform to share. Starting early provides you with the maximum time to gather your signatures and may also allow you to build your name recognition before any competitors, which can give you an advantage.
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