Politics & Society

What Is a Campaign Manager?

Written by MasterClass

Apr 5, 2019 • 5 min read

When political candidates run for office, they rely on a large team of people to handle the day-to-day operations of their campaign. The person who oversees this team is known as the campaign manager.


What Is a Campaign Manager?

A campaign manager oversees all aspects of a political campaign. Other than the candidate, the campaign manager is the “boss” of the campaign and everyone who works or volunteers for it.

A full-scale political campaign will have many facets. These include:

  • Developing policy positions
  • Voter outreach
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Project management
  • Booking the candidate at public events
  • Maintaining a media presence
  • Raising money

A campaign manager may not personally execute all of these tasks, but he or she will have an intimate awareness of all of them, making sure that a qualified individual is effectively running each department.

Is a Campaign Manager a Real Job?

Being a campaign manager is very much a job, and depending on the office and scale of the campaign, it can be a full-time job with competitive compensation. A campaign manager of a major presidential campaign will invariably work seven days per week, keep unusual hours, and possibly need to geographically relocate for the duration of the campaign.

Managing a campaign is also a full-time job for serious candidates running for statewide office (like governor or attorney general) or national office (like a senator or U.S. representative).

Managing a campaign may be more of a part-time job (with less compensation) if working on a more minor campaign (like state representative or tax commissioner). And, in smaller races, like city council or town selectman, campaign managers frequently work on a volunteer basis.

What Is the Campaign Manager’s Job Description?

A campaign manager is tasked with leading many endeavors within a political campaign. These include:

  • Devising a campaign strategy
  • Creating a campaign budget
  • Keeping expenditures within the set budget
  • Hiring and training staff
  • Overseeing fundraising
  • Overseeing advertising
  • Maintaining awareness of campaign finance laws and ensuring that all employees and volunteers adhere to them
  • Being the primary point of contact with the actual candidate
  • Liaising with various team members, including the office manager, marketing executives, political consultants, and external agencies

What Makes a Good Campaign Manager?

A successful campaign manager must possess a slew of key skills and character traits. Over the course of a months-long or years-long political campaign, a strong campaign manager will be able to:

  • Employ clear and effective communication skills
  • Manage staff both empathetically and fairly
  • Delegate—trusting qualified colleagues and resisting the urge to micromanage
  • Be able to motivate—with the candidate frequently occupied with voter outreach, the campaign manager functions as the face of the campaign to most junior staff
  • Be disciplined and able to work within a budget
  • Be ethical and respectful of election laws
  • Think strategically and innovatively
  • Know how to raise money
  • Know how to effectively and ethically generate publicity
  • Understand that at the end of the day, the candidate is the boss

How to Run a Successful Campaign

There are four ways a campaign manager can ensure campaign success:

  • Serve the candidate. The campaign manager reports directly to the candidate and is responsible for conducting the campaign in accordance with the candidate’s mission, vision, and values.
  • Think tactically. With the help of advisors and consultants, he or she writes the campaign plan; hires and manages the core team responsible for the campaign’s operation; and makes strategic and tactical decisions throughout the race.
  • Stick to the plan. Similar to a business plan, the campaign plan is a dynamic document that details goals and strategies for all aspects of the campaign, including elements such as goals for fundraising or staffing needs that can change over the course of a race. It must include a budget, which is the plan reduced to its expenses and spread over time.
  • Take swift action. The campaign manager is responsible for making certain that the campaign is organized to make decisions effectively, efficiently, and quickly and must have final approval (next to the candidate) of the budget and all sponsoring decisions.

Who Reports to the Campaign Manager?

Depending on the scale of a campaign, dozens or even hundreds of people may be working beneath a campaign manager. These include:

  • Communications director. Leads the communications team, and oversees all campaign interactions with media outlets and members of the press.
  • Field director. Leads a campaign’s grassroots organization. At the start of a campaign, the field director designs a field plan, which lays out tasks to achieve goals for voter identification, persuasion, and turnout among target groups.
  • Field organizer. Recruits, trains, and manages the volunteers in the grassroots effort to identify, persuade, and mobilize targeted voters. Field organizers also recruit other volunteers.
  • Finance director. Responsible for creating and executing a campaign’s fundraising plan. The campaign’s fundraising goals are driven by the projected funds needed to carry out all aspects of a campaign’s operation, balanced against what’s possible to raise.
  • Social media director. Plans and executes strategies and tactics for reaching target audiences over social media platforms.
  • Speechwriter. Writes speeches for the candidate and perhaps also for representatives of the campaign.
  • Pollster. The pollster is responsible for conducting the campaign’s survey research and focus groups, analyzing the results, and interpreting their implications for campaign messaging and strategy.
  • Treasurer/Controller. Campaign laws require a treasurer to sign the campaign finance reports, certifying their accuracy. In a smaller campaign, that function may be combined with the controller’s duties, which include paying bills, overseeing the deposit of contributions, managing the budget, and ensuring compliance with campaign finance laws, including the preparation of any campaign finance reports of donations and expenses.
  • Policy advisor. Does research to help develop and shape the candidate’s public policy agenda.
  • Scheduler. Manages the candidate’s calendar. All requests for the candidate’s time go through the scheduler, who works closely with the campaign manager and the candidate to prioritize.

Smaller campaigns will not be able to staff all these positions, either for lack of funds or for lack of workers with the necessary expertise. In such campaigns, some of these duties will fall to the manager, or perhaps even the candidate herself. But campaigns that succeed in the fundraising sector will be more likely to be able to hire these staff positions, which helps explain why campaigns put so much emphasis on raising money.