Without people who are passionate about serving their local communities, our lives would be much more difficult. Local governments are essential for ensuring that roads are repaired, emergency services are available, and sanitation is maintained. They also provide amenities like parks and community events, keeping communities strong and happy.
Public service work isn’t a career path that most people think about when contemplating their dream job. However, a select group of civic-minded people who want to make serving the public’s interests their life’s work are drawn to the field. These people can build a satisfying career, engage with their communities, and know that they’re making a difference in their neighbors’ lives.
If you’re civic-minded and you’re interested in getting into public service, the following are seven careers in local government that could be perfect for you.
1) City, Town, or County Manager
Running a city or town requires a lot of moving parts and involves many different resources, offices, and elected officials. A city, town, or county manager oversees those moving parts and helps to facilitate new projects and initiatives while ensuring that existing services and programs are sustainable and run smoothly.
Managing a large community can be very challenging, but satisfying work. Managers in the public service sector must solve large-scale problems, help to ensure equality, and negotiate with elected officials for the good of the community. They are also responsible for helping to create long-term plans, collaborating in order to set goals, and balancing the needs of the community.
People who are best suited for these jobs are those who can negotiate and compromise, solve problems creatively, and stay very organized. City, county, and town managers have to keep track of many different details and take different factors into account the decision-making process. The majority of public service managers have a master’s degree, but about 24% get hired with only a bachelor’s degree.
2) Director of Public Policy
Navigating local and federal legislation can be extremely complex. In order for municipalities to achieve their goals, they need to understand how regulations and laws affect their region to ensure that they are making strategic decisions that are within those boundaries.
A director of public policy can not only help local governments comply with existing laws and regulations but can also help to create new policies or push for changes at a higher level. Policy directors often must work with lobbyists and PR professionals in order to achieve the goals that they build with others within the local government.
Most directors of public policy have a law degree and experience in public policy. The role often involves long hours, travel, and meetings with politicians. People who do well in this role are those who enjoy working with people, have a head for numbers, and are extremely interested in law and policy.
3) Government Affairs Director
Government Affairs directors don’t typically work for the local government directly. Instead, they work with local governments on behalf of a company or organization to promote their organizational interests within that local area.
In general, government affairs directors are responsible for understanding regional proposals and legislation, analyzing the potential impact of these initiatives on the organization, and working with government officials as needed, depending on the results of the analysis.
This position requires an interest in legislation and policy, analytical proficiency, problem-solving, and communication skills. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree and several years of related experience are typically required.
4) Director of Public Safety
One of the most important responsibilities of local governments is public safety. A director of public safety oversees all these efforts and ensure that all citizens have access to the resources they need in case of emergency or threats to their health and safety. As natural disasters become more frequent, the importance of this role will only become more important.
Typically, a director of public safety will work closely with the local police and fire departments to create policies and emergency plans. They manage risk in communities and ensure that citizens are cared for when they need help.
Public safety officials not only have to coordinate safety services, but they also need to advocate for disadvantaged populations. Individuals who have experienced abuse or are experiencing homelessness often need specialized emergency plans and resources when disaster strikes, for instance.
To become a director of public safety, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field like management or public policy is required.
On top of that, experience in the field at a lower level for several years is crucial for understanding and carrying out all the required responsibilities. Problem-solving, communication skills, and the ability to stay calm under pressure are all essential in this role.
5) Budget Analyst
As anyone who works in public service knows, it’s all about crunching the numbers. Funding is often very tight, and tough decisions are necessary to allocate funds in ways that benefit the community as a whole. A budget analyst helps local governments work within their means and stick to a budget so they can provide critical services.
Budget analysts help governments manage their finances and understand the resources that are available to them. Aside from these duties, they help to create projections that can be used to make strategic decisions, such as which new initiatives to launch and which to reevaluate.
People who are interested in this career path will need to earn a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. Typically, courses in accounting, economics, and statistics are necessary to build the skills needed for this position.
Getting an accounting certificate can help boost the chances for someone interested in landing a budget analyst role. With steady growth projected through 2028, this is an excellent, solid career path for people who have a head for numbers and an interest in helping governments use their resources wisely. It pays an average of $75,240 per year.
6) Sanitation Officer or Public Works Director
Do you know how much work goes into keeping our communities clean? If you’ve ever lived through a sanitation workers’ strike, then you know that things can get messy quickly. Overseeing sanitation efforts in a town, city, or county might not be the most glamorous job, but it’s a crucial role that directly impacts the well-being of entire communities.
Sanitation officers go by different names in different governments, including Public Works Director but their duties often include overseeing waste management, water quality, and other departments that have an impact on the safety and cleanliness of a municipality. They also work with other departments to find solutions to sanitation issues and oversee staffing and budgets for sanitation departments.
Generally, at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like Public Administration or Business Administration is required. Sanitation officers should have excellent communication skills in addition to a head for numbers and good problem-solving abilities. Experienced sanitation leaders can eventually command an excellent salary.
7) Public Health Director
Health is a concern for every community. It involves a huge number of factors, including air quality, access to high-quality healthcare services, awareness of health issues affecting the community, water safety, availability of healthy food, and much, much more.
A public health director oversees, organizes, and plans public health initiatives and programs to enhance the well-being of the community as a whole.
Like other leadership roles in local government, public health directors must work within a budget and coordinate with other departments in order to effectively serve the community and ensure that public health issues are dealt with efficiently. Public health directors must be organized and should have an in-depth understanding of the different factors that impact community health.
Those who wish to pursue a career in public health will typically need to earn a medical degree and a license to practice in the state where they reside. At a minimum, public health directors will need a Master’s degree in public health or a related field. Once established in the field, several years of experience are typically needed to move into a director role.
Public Service Work in the Future: Implementing Technology
Jobs in public service have been around for as long as we’ve had modern civilization. Over time, these roles shift and change, advancing local governments and helping people live better lives. Those who want to get into public service today need to be willing to incorporate technology, work toward better, more efficient systems, and always work on behalf of those they serve.
If you’re interested in public service but you’re not yet sure if it’s for you, then start by getting involved in your community. Seek out volunteer opportunities, attend local government meetings, and do research on what it’s like to work for a city or county. It’s always a good idea to “test out” a field before you dive in and start working on the educational requirements.
It’s not always glamorous or easy work, but without dedicated people working toward happier, healthier, communities, our quality of life would be much poorer. Even if you ultimately decide to pursue work in the public or nonprofit sector, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the contributions those in local government make on our behalf every day.