Job Profile: Director of Parks and Recreation

A city park

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Cities spend significant amounts of money on projects and programs that improve the quality of life for citizens. Parks and recreation departments with easily accessible parks and bustling recreation centers contributes to a city being a place that people want to live.

Parks give citizens outdoor spaces to exercise and play. Recreation centers provide young people with alternatives activities to crime and other mischief. Senior centers give the elderly a gathering place where they can remain active in mind and body. Aquatics centers see citizens of all ages playing and exercising. Under the supervision of the city manager or an assistant city manager, parks and recreation directors oversee the operations and finances of these public spaces.

Selection Process

Parks and recreation directors are selected through the normal government hiring process. The city manager, assistant city manager, current city department heads, city council members and city parks board members may serve in a panel interview.

Education and Experience

Cities require a bachelor’s degree and significant experience working in a city parks department. Management experience is also necessary. It is not enough to know how the department works; directors need management experience. A department director job is not the place to cut one’s teeth in management.

Job Duties

Parks and recreation directors oversee the budget and operations of the parks and recreation department. This includes many responsibilities.

As part of the parks and recreation director’s financial management responsibilities, he or she plans capital expenditures. Big ticket items must be planned expenses. Many times they are paid up-front with bond money and repaid over the life of the item. This planning is usually done in long-range planning sessions that involve all city departments.

The parks and recreation director prepares the department’s annual budget request to the city council. Since the budget goes through several rounds of discussion before it is even presented to the city council, the initial budget often looks significantly different than the version the council approves. The parks and recreation director advocates for the budget request but must also know when to concede line items or delay some expenses for another year. This is when a prudent director carefully picks battles.

On budgets and other departmental matters, the parks and recreation director is called upon to present information to the city parks board or the city council. Typically parks board members are selected by the mayor or city council. They make recommendations to the city council. The details of issues are often worked out with the board before a proposal is taken to the city council.


Through entrance fees and facility rentals, parks and recreation departments earn revenue for the city. The revenue does not completely offset the cost of running the department. The fees certainly defray some of the costs, but they tend to be affordable for the renters.

Rentals can be as small someone reserving one pavilion for a child’s birthday party or as large as a soccer league booking all the city’s soccer fields every Saturday for three months. The director works closely with the city finance department and city auditor to ensure that revenue is properly accounted for and safe.

In running the department’s operations, all department staff ultimately report to the director. The director and department managers and supervisors ensure appropriate staffing levels for the anticipated usage of facilities. They also monitor staff for policy compliance, paying particularly close attention to safety policies. Safe staff and customers reduce the likelihood of lawsuits against the city.

Earning Potential

A parks and recreation director’s salary depends largely on the size of the city and the number of staff within the department. The more staff that are in the department, the more layers of management that are necessary. In any organization, the more layers of management under a particular person, the more that person tends to make.

There must be worthwhile gaps between levels to entice people to apply for promotions. No one wants significantly more responsibility with only a marginal increase in pay. Some people want to climb the ladder, so they will apply even if the raise is small. More people will apply if the pay increase is meaningful.