What Does a Public Works Director Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Public Works Director Giving Presentation
•••

Chris Ryan / Caiaimage / Getty Images 

The public works director supervises the activities of various departments within the public works sector. These departments include water and sewage treatment plants, streets, parks, utilities and equipment maintenance, and more. While the exact portfolio of services under a public works director varies from city to city, this director usually has those functions that require construction and maintenance and those that citizens are billed for on a monthly basis, including water, electricity, and trash collection.

These functions are some of the most fundamental activities a city government undertakes.

Public works directors oversee sub-departments within a city’s public works department. Exactly which sub-departments fall under public works depends on the city. The mix of departments varies over time as personnel changes. All organizations must align themselves to maximize the talents of the organization’s members. A mix of departments that makes sense at one time can be disastrous at another time simply because people occupy different roles in the organization.

At times, city staff does not have the time, resources or expertise to undertake particular projects or parts of projects. In these instances, the city procures goods or services from vendors to complete the project. The public works director reviews and approves procurement documents like statements of work, requests for proposals and invitations for bids. A public works director’s technical skill, management responsibilities, and project management techniques come together in these assignments.

Public Works Director Duties & Responsibilities

This job requires candidates to be able to perform responsibilities that include managerial and administrative duties such as the following:

  • Monitors and oversees the physical facilities of a local community or area
  • Creates and plans long-term programs that will develop the growth of a community
  • Analyzes and assesses proposals of the public work staff
  • Responsible for evaluating projects against an established budget
  • Evaluates staff based on department requirements and criteria
  • Monitor working progress of staff and other employees on projects, and create an alternate plan if employees receive a low evaluation from upper management
  • Conducts performance reviews for staff, hires new employees and handles terminations
  • Develops the protocol for hiring outside vendors
  • Creates bid specifications and recommends specific vendors for projects
  • Ensures that all works are completed successfully by contractors, vendors, and other public staff members

Public Works Director Salary

Director salaries in city government largely depend on the size of the city and the number of staff under each director’s supervision. The larger the city, the more the directors make. Heads of larger departments tend to make more than those with smaller departments; however, the salaries should still be comparable because of department heads’ shared status level in the organization.

A public works director's salary also varies based on the level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors. The following salary range represents the pay for top executives, including the public works director:

  • Median Annual Salary: $183,270 ($88.11 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $208,000 ($100/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $68,110 ($32.75/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Education, Training & Certification

The public works director position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: Cities generally required candidates for public works director positions to have a bachelor’s degree in public administration, engineering or a related field and significant experience in public works and management. A public works director must be a solid manager and a technical expert. Lacking in either area significantly diminishes a public works director’s effectiveness.
  • Experience: Candidates should also have experience writing reports and give presentations to groups. Because so much of the work done by public works departments is projected, it is essential that a public works director has experience managing projects with large budgets, long time frames, and broad scope.
  • Certifications: A project management professional certification is desirable.

Public Works Director Skills & Competencies

In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

  • Excellent communication skills: Public works directors must synthesize complex information about public works projects that can be understood by audiences that do not have the technical background to understand the finer details.
  • Project management: Ability to plan, organize and direct the work of various project personnel
  • Written skills: Ability to create and prepare clear, comprehensive written reports
  • Networking: Excels at maintaining strong relationships with city officials, employees, contractors, the general public, and representatives of other agencies
  • Financial skills: Knowledge in principles of budget preparation and expenditure control

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook for public works directors between 2016 and 2026 is 8%, driven by new organizations and expansions, but offset by increases in technology that make it easier to manage work, which requires fewer top executives. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.

Work Environment

The public works director spends a good amount of time in an office setting but may travel to other offices for meetings. This individual may also visit project sites out in the field.

Work Schedule

Top executives, including public works directors, often spend many hours in the office, including evenings and weekends. In 2016, about half of the employees in this position worked more than 40 hours per week.

How to Get the Job

PREPARE

Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Check existing job ads and see if your resume reflects the necessary skills and background required.


UNDERSTAND THE HIRING PROCESS

A city’s public works director is hired by and reports to the city manager or an assistant city manager. Even if the city manager is not the public works director’s immediate supervisor, the city manager must approve of whoever is hired. It is too important of a position for the city manager to delegate the hiring decision completely.

The normal government hiring process is typically followed. Cities may require finalists to participate in more than just one interview. Additional interviews would likely be with small groups of influential citizens or in town hall meetings.


NETWORK

Attend city government-sponsored events that may offer you the chance to network and connect with potential contacts who can refer you to the relevant people.


APPLY

Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the official U.S. Government jobs website or check GovtJobs.com to apply to open job positions.

Comparing Similar Jobs

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

  • Civil Engineer: $86,640
  • Surveyor: $62,580
  • Architect: $79,380