What Makes A Good Local Leader? Evidence From U.S. Mayors and City Managers

51 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Mar 2021

See all articles by Maria Carreri

Maria Carreri

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Julia Payson

New York University

Date Written: October 1, 2020


What are the traits of a good local leader? While most studies of local officials focus on the mayors of large cities, 85% of municipalities in the U.S. have a population of less than 20,000. We conduct in-depth phone interviews with nearly 300 mayors and city managers from predominantly small and mid-sized cities in the U.S. to learn about their backgrounds. We focus on two standard ability measures (education and prior occupation) and draw from research in public administration and economics to introduce two new dimensions of quality: public service motivation and managerial skill. We paint a comprehensive descriptive portrait of the respondents in our sample and the cities they represent, and we then examine whether these traits matter for the policy goals that local leaders choose to focus on during their time in office. These results offer a promising new approach for researchers studying political leadership and its consequences, both in the local context and beyond.

Keywords: political selection, mayors, city managers, local leaders, managerial competence

JEL Classification: D72, D73

Suggested Citation

Carreri, Maria and Payson, Julia, What Makes A Good Local Leader? Evidence From U.S. Mayors and City Managers (October 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3745662 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3745662

Maria Carreri (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

Julia Payson

New York University ( email )

New York, NY
United States

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