Municipal Matters: What is the role of a municipal manager?

The municipal manager is appointed by the council and they are the link between the council and the administration, of which they is the head. The municipal manager has to account for the municipality’s income and expenditure, assets and other obligations such as proper adherence to all legislation applicable to municipalities. Subject to the municipal council’s policy directions he ensures that an economically viable, effective, efficient and accountable administration is established and developed, that the integrated development plan comes to fruition, that municipal services are delivered in a sustainable and balanced fashion, that a personnel corps is appointed, managed, developed and disciplined, and that sound labour relations are maintained.

Source: Kano Consultants

Municipal managers are barred from holding political office and are expected to be apolitical individuals. In reality, municipal managers are appointed by the governing party who will select a person amenable to their political ideology.


According to the Municipal Systems Act the municipal manager is the head of the municipal administration. Subject to the policy directions of the municipal council, the municipal manager is responsible and accountable for the formation and development of an economical, effective, efficient and accountable administration. The municipal manager must make sure the administration is equipped to implement the municipality’s integrated development plan, that it operates in accordance with the municipality’s performance management system, and that it is responsive to the needs of the local community.

The municipal manager has special responsibilities to ensure that the municipality’s integrated development plan is implemented and monitored, and that services are provided to local communities in a sustainable manner. The municipal manager must also facilitate the participation of the local community in municipal affairs.

As the head of the administration, the municipal manager is responsible for a number of staff functions, such as the appointment of staff below the level of managers directly accountable to the municipal manager, the management and training of staff, the maintenance of discipline of staff, and the promotion of sound labour relations.

The municipal manager must:

  • Approve a staff establishment for the municipality.
  • Provide a job description for each post on the staff establishment.
  • Align the remuneration and other conditions of service for each post on the staff establishment in accordance with any applicable labour legislation.
  • Regularly evaluate the staff establishment and, if necessary, review the staff establishment and the remuneration and conditions of service.

These functions must be fulfilled in terms of a policy framework determined by the municipal council, and in accordance with the Employment Equity Act.

The municipal manager is a key interface between political structures and political office bearers, and the administration. He or she must manage communication between the municipality’s administration and its political structures. The municipal manager must also provide advice to council structures and political office bearers of the municipality, and carry out their decisions.

The municipal manager is responsible for the administration and implementation of the municipality’s by-laws, as well as for the implementation of national and provincial legislation applicable to the municipality.

The municipal manager is also the accounting officer for the municipality. This means that he or she is responsible and accountable for all income and expenditure of the municipality; all assets and the discharge of all liabilities of the municipality; and proper and diligent compliance with applicable municipal finance management legislation.

Employment contracts for municipal managers and managers directly accountable to municipal managers

Municipalities must appoint their municipal manager, and people directly accountable to the municipal manager, in terms of the Municipal Systems Act.


To increase administrative accountability, the act requires that the municipal manager and the senior staff who report directly to the municipal manager are appointed on written employment contracts, which include a performance agreement. This performance agreement should outline performance objectives and targets that must be met, and the time frames within which those performance objectives and targets must be met. It must allow for standards and procedures for evaluating performance, and spell out the consequences of substandard performance.

The Municipal Systems Act also aims to increase transparency, by specifying that every municipality must, on or before 31 October of each year, publish the salary scales and benefits applicable to posts of the municipal manager and every manager who is directly accountable to the municipal manager, in a local newspaper.

Any municipal manager who is appointed after the Municipal Systems Act takes effect must be appointed on a fixed term of employment. The term of employment must end within the first two years after a new municipal council is elected. For example, if a municipal manager is appointed five months before a local government election, their term of employment cannot be longer than two years and five months. Fixed-term employment contracts must include a provision that allows the contract to be renewed with the agreement of both the employer and employee, and a provision that allows the contract to be cancelled if the municipal manager does not comply with the terms of their contract.

Municipalities may choose whether they want to appoint the next level of management (staff who report directly to the municipal manager) on fixed-term contracts or not.