What Does a City Finance Director Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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City finance directors have broad authority in city government. As the city's chief bookkeeper, a finance director promotes transparency, efficiency, and accountability.

While finance directors may not have a detailed understanding of the different city departments, their financial expertise is invaluable in ensuring citizens get the most out of their tax money and in proving so. Disclosing financial numbers to citizens demonstrates that tax money is collected and spent according to the public’s best interest.

Much like city attorneys, finance directors are involved in the work of all other city departments. Since finance departments touch all others, the finance director usually reports to the city manager rather than an assistant city manager like other department heads. In every action, city staffers need to make sure they are doing things right from legal and financial perspectives.

If the public works director wants to hire an additional 20 staff to collect garbage, the finance director helps write the cost estimate and justification. If the parks and recreation director wants to raise the fee to reserve a soccer field, the finance director helps with the revenue projection.

By necessarily getting into other departments’ business, finance directors quickly achieve a deep knowledge of all city functions. This makes veteran finance directors suitable for promotion to city manager positions.

City Finance Director Duties & Responsibilities

Finance department management duties are often divided by function such as budget, revenue collection, claims processing, payroll, and financial reporting. Staff communicates with one another because all their work eventually rolls up to the city’s annual financial report and other routine and ad-hoc reports produced throughout the year. The finance director is involved in other activities and responsibilities such as:

  • Supervising finance department staff. In midsize and large cities, one or more layers of management are placed under the finance director’s line of supervision.
  • Maintaining the city’s financial data. Not only do the numbers need to be accurate every time, but they also need to be understandable.
  • Producing financial reports. When the finance department produces reports, they must be explained. The finance director makes sure that explanatory text, tables, charts, and footnotes will make sense to people without a financial background.
  • Making presentations to the city council, which must be clear and concise.
  • Enforcing accounting oversight. Governments must abide by generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) set forth by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Finance directors ensure that their cities follow GASB’s standards. Finance department policies help the city do this.
  • Overseeing compliance training. City employees who handle cash or have access to the financial information system are responsible for following specific policies. The finance department trains employees on relevant policies. Finance department staff double-check figures to monitor for policy and process compliance.
  • Working side-by-side with the city manager on large financial projects like bond proposals and external audits. The finance director prepares the city manager for presentations and advises him or her on key decisions.
  • Handling financial audits. For smaller cities, the finance director is the liaison for external auditors. The finance director gathers documentation and answers auditors’ questions during audit fieldwork. Once the external auditors issue a draft report, the finance director coordinates management responses to issues raised. The finance director makes sure that any actions the city and the auditors agree to are completed. Larger cities have in-house auditors that double-check the finance department’s work and explore operational issues in other city departments.

    City Finance Director Salary

    Like with city managers, assistant city managers, and other department heads, a finance director’s salary depends on the size of the city and the number of people under the director’s line of supervision. Because of their organization-wide authority, many cities pay their finance directors better than other department heads.

    Although city finance director salaries may vary widely between cities, as a frame of reference, the following salary range represents salaries paid to finance directors working in public and private industry:

    Source: Payscale.com, 2019

    Education, Training & Certification

    Finance directors must have formal education in accounting and finance and will need to have several years of progressive experience to land the job.

    • Education: At a minimum, they must have bachelor’s degrees in a relevant field. Many have master’s degrees in accounting.​
    • Certification: While not always required, many city financial directors have obtained the certified public accountant (CPA) designation.
    • Experience: Candidates for finance director positions should have significant accounting experience, preferably in city government. They should also have several years of management experience.

    City Finance Director Skills & Competencies

    As a finance director, it's important to have additional skills that help you perform successfully in the ob, including the following:

    • Analytical skills: Finance directors must be able to analyze situations and understand the impact their decisions will have on their organization.
    • Communication skills: Finance directors must be able to communicate clearly and effectively so that they can explain complex financial information and transactions.
    • Detail oriented: Precision and attention to detail are required when dealing with financial reports such as income statements and balance sheets, in order to prevent errors.
    • Math skills: Finance directors must have math skills, including algebra. They also need to have an understanding of international finance, such as foreign currency exchange, and complex financial documents.
    • Organizational skills: Because finance directors work with a great deal of information, spreadsheets, reports, and documents, they must be able to stay organized to perform their jobs effectively.

    Job Outlook

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for financial managers will experience a growth rate of 19% for the period of 2016-2026, although the growth rate varies depending on the industry. This growth rate is significantly faster than the 7% growth rate projected for all jobs over the same 10-year period.

    City finance director jobs are a very small proportion of this group, but the growth rate for this position is influenced by some of the same variables as finance manager jobs overall.

    The growth in jobs is driven by an increasing need for risk management in finance jobs, as well cash management expertise since many companies have been accumulating more cash on their balance sheets.

    Work Environment

    Finance directors typically work in an office setting, interacting with other executives and departments that develop and provide data the finance director needs.

    Work Schedule

    Most finance directors work a full-time schedule, and about one-third of them spend more than 40 hours per week in the office. 

    How to Get the Job

    RESEARCH AND APPLY

    Finance directors are often selected through the normal government hiring process. Because finance directors have easy access to cash and broad authority in the city’s financial information system, cities usually conduct extensive background and reference checks on finalists.


    However, many cities also list job openings using popular online job-search engines. Visit online resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the websites of individual city governments and search for available positions.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in a city finance director career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

    Source: Payscale.com, 2019