You better enjoy the rubber-chicken speaking circuit and kissing babies if you plan on running for mayor of your city. The skills it takes to get the job don’t exactly mimic the qualities you need to do the job, but it is an elected office, so you’ve got to know how to make friends and influence people.
One of the most important qualities of an effective mayor is the ability to move people with competing interests to get behind your initiatives. The only way you will get anything done in office is if you build consensus among other politicos, city employees and the public. And those interests often clash. An effective mayor knows how to get people to work together toward a common goal by showing constituents how they will benefit from a new law, a new street or a new public works department. You’ve got to be the queen of compromise and show others through your own example how it’s done.
The mayor of any city, no matter what the size, has a budget and staff to manage. While it helps to bring management experience to the job, it’s not necessarily a requirement. Instead, you might bring a lifetime of managing a home or your business, or you might have learned your management skills by watching others take the helm. You’ve got to be decisive, however, and make tough choices when it comes to hiring and firing your staff. You need to surround yourself with loyal workers who can help you effectively manage everything from a budget to law enforcement and sewer systems, since you can’t be expected to know the details of every department under your command.
You’ll be the face of your city, and you will need to lead your people with grace and panache. When you’re truly passionate about serving the people and making your town a better place to live, people want to follow you. If you’re there for the upwardly mobile opportunities or for the sheer power of the post, your leadership abilities might require a bit more polish. Since you will represent the city to the outside world, you need to be able to make a positive impression to attract jobs, tourists and a residential tax base. As a potent and powerful leader, you must build relationships with business and community leaders to create partnerships that enhance your city and your own office. Additionally, as mayor, you will lead city council meetings and other government entities as they grapple with their own budgets and mandates.
The voters entrust you to watch over their interests, in principal and in practical terms. You’ll literally have the keys to the city and need to ensure that public buildings and equipment are safe and secure. You’ll oversee the public library and parks, the city swimming pool and senior centers. All city-owned property is under your jurisdiction, and it’s up to you to make sure you have qualified employees who follow your orders and adopt your polices when it comes to overseeing that property. You’re the primary custodian, and the buck stops at your door. Even if you personally don’t unlock all the city doors, it’s up to you to know what goes on behind them and see that all the city property stays in working order.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."