How to Become a Mayor: Career Path Guide
Becoming a mayor requires the right combination of management & HR skills, work experience, community engagement, and of course, charisma.
If you have a keen interest in the well-being of your community, you’re not afraid to get out there and shake some hands, and you aren’t afraid of a lot of hard and demanding work, then you may be a great fit for your city’s top job.
So read on if you'd like to know more about what you’d be doing as a mayor, and what you need to do to get there!
What is a Mayor?
A mayor the top executive officer for a city, town, or village, and is usually elected into office by the population it serves.
Basic Requirement to Become a Mayor
Each province or state has a set of laws and regulations governing the eligibility requirements for running as a mayor in their jurisdiction. For example, if you’re planning to run for mayor in Toronto, you will have to meet the basic legal requirements set by the province of Ontario.
Although these laws and requirements can vary from city to city and town to town, they typically include:
• Being a Canadian citizen (or American citizen, if running in the United States)
• Being at least 18 years of age (21 in the United States)
• Being resident of the city or municipality in which you are running
• Not being legally prohibited from voting
• Not disqualified by any other legislation from holding municipal office
Education Needed to Become a Mayor
The educational requirements for becoming a mayor can vary quite a bit from city to city, and town to town. They are typically set by the province or state the city or town is located within. Most municipalities require at least a high school diploma, and some require you to have an undergraduate degree. Be sure to check with your local government office to clarify the educational requirements if you plan on running for mayor.
Success Tip: Regardless as to whether or not its an official requirement, pursuing an undergraduate degree in one of the following areas can be of great help in your quest to become Mayor, as they can teach you about topics, strategies and thought processes that are closely related to municipal politics:
• Business Administration
• Political Science/Politics
• Public Administration
What Would You Do as Mayor?
As mayor, it would be your job to ensure all of your city or town's current programs and departments are operating effectively and productively. This means you’d be involved in the administration of various city departments, such as parks, planning, police and fire departments, as well as public libraries.
You’d also be responsible for enforcing city ordinances and other official documents, as well as reviewing and approving budgets and taxes.
Managing the current affairs wouldn't be your only duty though. Cities have many moving parts; changing demographics, local economic conditions, and even weather patterns, just to name a few. Occasionally, new laws, ordinances and other administrative policies need to be put into place to reflect the changing needs of the citizens.
So, working together with City Council, you would also formulate, vote on, and possibly adopt new policies, bylaws and programs, to reflect the changing needs of the city, and its citizens.
As mayor, you would also have a host of community outreach and public relations duties, which involves signing proclamations for the city, and making ceremonial appearances at various events.
Skills and Competencies Needed To Succeed if Elected
Once you’ve been elected, the hard work’s all done. Just kidding. It’s only just getting started. If you don't have the proper skills to do the job, it’ll eat you alive. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to be effective as a Mayor:
Able to Execute High-Level HR Functions: You would work with the managers of various municipal programs and departments. It’s up to you to decide who’s qualified and who isn’t.
Able to Engage Council: In council meetings, you'll need to lead by example in order to earn respect of the councillors. If you can’t get their respect, your ability to get things done will be gone before you know it.
Able to Manage Large Budgets: With big cities come big budgets. You must be able to determine how much funding, if any, municipal programs and department get. You must also be able to watch over the budget office and it’s employees.
Listening to the Needs of Citizens: Can you imagine how many people call, write and email the mayor’s office every day? And each one deserves a careful reply. You must be able to effectively handle these questions and comments, or delegate the replies.
Leadership of City employees: Whether it’s 10, or 10,000 people that are municipal employees, they will all look to you for vision and leadership. They will want to feel appreciated, that their work matters. Can you create a culture of excellent among these employees? Can you effectively craft strategies that are to be implemented by so many people?
Showing Your Face: There will be no shortage of ceremonial and charitable functions to go to, or be part of; community breakfasts, fundraisers, meeting with officials from neighboring cities, just to name a few. All the while, you have to take care of yourself, your home and family, your own energy and health. Only a select few can put in a very full workday, and then look after everything we just mentioned. Are you up to the challenge?
Proactivity Vs. Reactivity: Rather than get consumed by your inbox and simply react to all of the details it can bring, you must focus on advancing your vision. As they say in business, you must be able to work on your business, not in your business.
Experience Needed to Become a Mayor
As you can see, you’ll need to have a certain set of skills to be an effective mayor. While almost anyone can run for mayor, not everyone can get elected, or do an effective job once in office.
Experience in the right areas is crucial to gaining these skills, and crucial for becoming an effective mayor. In fact, most mayors have worked their way up, so to speak, by first working in municipal politics at lower levels. Some regions may even require that you have this experience in order to legally run as a candidate.
Other mayors may not have had experience in municipal politics, instead gaining their competencies in other roles that involve managing people, budgets, and the needs of many stakeholders. Roles with such responsibilities can be found all over the public administration, non-profit and business world. Many mayors have backgrounds in areas such as business management, community foundation management, or labour union organization.
How to Get Elected as Mayor: Steps to Take
The first step for becoming a mayor is ensuring you meet your province/state mandated basic requirements for running for mayor in your area. Once you’ve done that, your job is just getting started. Many would-be mayors never make it past the campaign stage. It’s important to know what you’ll need if you want a shot at winning the big job. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to succeed:
Step 1: Get to Know Your Community
You cannot win without a voter base. Getting involved in community groups, hobby and sports associations, volunteering your time with charities, and becoming friends with business owners in your community are great ways to become a respectable and well-known citizen in your community.
Step 2: Educate Yourself and Run for City Council
Learn as much as you can about the affairs and procedures of your city or town council. Most mayors in the United States and Canada have served as a city council person before getting elected as mayor.
Step 3: Listen to Peoples’ Problems and Give Them Solutions
Showing potential voters that you can solve their problems is critical for getting elected. Becoming a regular at city council meetings and being well prepared to offer solutions to problems the city is facing is a great way to build such skills, and the proper reputation.
Step 4: Get Your Name on the Ballot
Check with your provincial/state Election Commission’s office in your city as to how you can submit your name for candidacy. If your province or state requires you to sign and submit a petition in order to submit your candidacy, then get in touch with all of the friends and associates you’ve made at the charity groups, associations and other groups you belong to get enough of the required number of signatures for your petition.
How Much Do Mayors Earn?
The salary you could earn if elected as mayor varies from city to city, and is largely dependent on the size and budget of that city. For the purposes of giving you a good idea of what you could earn however, lets take a closer look at the general salary levels of mayors in small towns, mid-sized cities, and big cities:
Small Towns: For the most part, being mayor is not a full-time position in towns of less than 5,000 people. The pay is commensurate with that; some small town mayors don’t earn a salary at all, while some may earn slightly more than $10,000 per year. The majority earn somewhere in between.
Mid-Sized Cities: Mayors of mid-sized cities, as expected, earn more that those of small towns, but less than those of big cities. Typically, mayors in this category earn anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000 per year.
Big Cities: Mayors of big cities usually earn somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 per year. For example, the mayor of Seattle earns just less than $170,000 USD, while the mayor of Calgary, Alberta earns just over $200,000 CDN per year.
Work Environment for a Mayor
Working Hours: Your average day would typically include a lineup of press conferences, meetings, emails, and events. In other words, you would be busy. A typical day would often begin with reviewing documents and replying to emails in the wee hours of the morning, and attending events and making appearances that could run late into the night. This of course, might not be everyday, but it wouldn't be uncommon.
Working Conditions: Your work would be quite stressful, yet very rewarding. Stressful functions include firing staff members, making difficult public announcements, absorbing or deflecting public criticism, and may others. If you have thin skin, this is not the job for you. The rewarding aspects could include getting new policies put into place, and hearing positive feedback about yourself and your staff.
Careers Similar to “Mayor”
Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or be in the same sector of industry, as Mayor:
• City of Toronto website - Becoming a Candidate: www1.toronto.ca
• Crosscut website - So you want to be mayor? 10 things you should know: crosscut.com
• How Stuff Works website - How Mayors Work: people.howstuffworks.com
• Houston Chronicle website - The Salary of a Mayor: work.chron.com
• MacLean’s website - How much do big-city mayors make?: www.macleans.ca
• York Region website - New mayor loves working 15 hours a day, 7 days a week: www.yorkregion.com
Scholarships for Becoming a Mayor
The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a mayor. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Mayor: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful for becoming a mayor. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!