What does a Public Works Director do?

M.C. Huguelet

A public works director is responsible for managing the many different projects and facilities funded by the town or city by which he is employed, and which in most cases are intended for use by the citizens of that town or city. These projects and facilities are broad in scope, and may include parks, road construction, and water quality maintenance. Often, a public works manager acts in cooperation with a mayor or city council. He often has an educational background in engineering, business, or public administration.

A public works director may work closely with civil engineers on projects in his area.
A public works director may work closely with civil engineers on projects in his area.

The specific duties of a public works director can vary from town to town, but they are generally quite broad in scope. Essentially, the director is in charge of managing the many aspects of planning, constructing, and maintaining all town-funded projects and facilities intended for public use. This may include such projects as building or repairing roads, planning and caring for parks, and maintaining the quality of a town’s sewage system and water supply. A public works manager in a small town may be extensively involved in every public project which that town carries out. Conversely, a public works director in a large city may oversee a team of managers who in turn attend to the details of individual projects.

Often, a large part of the public works director’s job, which is fairly technical, involves reading blueprints.
Often, a large part of the public works director’s job, which is fairly technical, involves reading blueprints.

Often, a large part of the public works director’s job is fairly technical, and involves reading blueprints, reviewing contract bids, preparing budget reports, ordering materials needed to build and maintain public projects, and ensuring that projects comply with all relevant local, state, and national laws. He may also be responsible for managing employees of the city and, in some cases, of the various contractors hired to complete public construction jobs. Additionally, he may be required to plan projects and budgets in cooperation with a mayor or town council, and discuss problems and explain upcoming projects to town citizens. As he must interact with so many different individuals, he generally must possess strong communication skills.

Exact educational qualifications needed to become a public works director can vary. Some directors have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and gradually ascend to the director position from lower-level public works positions. More often, however, public works directors have an educational background which prepares them to navigate the varied facets of the job, including both the technical and the managerial. Commonly, directors have an undergraduate or master’s degree in civil engineering, business, or public administration.

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Discussion Comments


@KaBoom - The amount of responsibility that a public works director holds is exactly why I think that holding a degree should be part of any public works director job description.

Experience is helpful, but there are certain things you can only learn in the classroom. Public administration and engineering are both complicated disciplines. I don't think you could learn them just through on the job training.

Of course, a prospective public works director should also have some experience in the field. But definitely a degree also!


@golf07 - I took a quick look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It look like the average annual salary for a public works director is $71,427. I could definitely live on that!

But really, I don't begrudge a public works director this salary. From what the article says, it seems like they do a ton of work. I don't think I could handle being responsible for that much stuff.

Plus, the public works director is in charge of things that directly affect peoples lives. I can imagine people getting pretty upset with a public works director who doesn't do a good job. I wouldn't want to deal with that kind of pressure.


My uncle has been the public works director for a large city for as long as I can remember. Their city has had more than one major flood during the time he has had this position.

One year the floods were so bad that their city was without water for almost 2 weeks. I do not live close to him, but remember how stressful this was for him.

There were a lot of decisions and responsibilities that were on his shoulders during this time.

I really don't have any idea what a public works director salary is, but imagine that during those times, it was not enough. There were days that he put in 18 hours a day until things were stabilized and sorted out.


I often see the director of public works for our city on the news in the winter. Whenever they are getting ready for a big snow storm, they usually interview him.

His information gives you a good idea of what the road crews have to do to make sure all the roads are cleared and how soon it will be done.

Many times, the side streets are not cleared for several days after a big snow storm. One winter, our city ran out of salt to put down on the roads long before the winter was over.

This is the kind of information that is shared when they interview the public works director. I am sure there are many other important aspects to his job all year long, but these are the times the general public becomes familiar with who he is and part of what his job is like.

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