What Is a Policy Advisor?

January 17, 2024

To maintain order in any large organization, be it a government entity, business or nonprofit, clear and consistent policies must be established. For example, the federal government may exercise particular policies related to international relations, health care or different economic events. Rather than formulating these policies haphazardly, it’s important to conduct adequate research and analysis, arriving at an informed conclusion about a particular policy’s likely effects.

Enter the policy advisor, who uses an array of critical and analytic thinking skills to advise different decision-makers in the formation of policies. Armed with an advanced education, policy advisors can have a significant impact on public life and command competitive salaries.

What Does a Policy Advisor Do?

The basic job of the policy advisor is to evaluate the practical and functional effects of an organization’s policies. This requires both a clear understanding of any legal issues that may come into play and subject matter expertise in a particular realm of policymaking. For example, anyone making policy related to pandemic response or infectious disease prevention should be a true public health specialist. Advisors for federal government agencies can also play an essential role in helping maintain national security or emergency preparedness. 

An advisor may review current policies and provide policymakers with feedback on how the policy can be refined or improved; in some instances, the advisor may recommend that the policy be scuttled or replaced. An advisor may also conduct research to determine the popularity of a policy or to arrive at an informed decision about the possible effects of a proposed policy.

Policy Advisor Job Description

While the role of the advisor is largely focused on researching, analyzing and reviewing different policy elements, it also entails communicating with decision-makers, including legislators, government executives, bureau heads or business leaders.

The policy advisor job description may vary from one position to the next, but the duties typically include the following:

  • Creating and delivering reports to key stakeholders
  • Studying the policies of a specific sector or industry
  • Partaking in meetings about the development or execution of a policy
  • Participating in press conferences, roundtables or debates related to a policy
  • Assessing how a policy affects different groups or communities
  • Collecting and securing data related to a policy and its effects

What Are the Steps for Becoming a Policy Advisor? 

To become a policy advisor, an aspiring professional should consider several important steps. Below is what the basic career trajectory looks like.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree

To develop the skills that are foundational for success in the policy advisor role, getting a good college education is important. Most advisor roles require a minimum of an undergraduate degree, which may be in any relevant field: social policy, economics, public health, law or business.

Gain Experience

To further hone these skills, on-the-job training is a must. Entry-level work can be found in any number of nonprofits, think tanks or government agencies and bureaus. Many new graduates interested in this career pathway should also consider entry-level public health careers.

Seek an Advanced Degree

While advisor-level roles don’t always require postgraduate training, an advanced degree can often lead to more competitive salary ranges and more prestigious positions, in part because the additional education yields a broader array of skills. A master’s-level degree can be a great way for advisors looking to move their careers forward.

Develop Core Skills

Through a combination of classroom learning and on-the-job experience, aspiring advisors are able to hone the skills most integral to success in the policymaking field. Such skills include the following:

  • Analytic thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Researching 
  • Communicating orally and in writing
  • Networking

What’s the Standard Policy Advisor Salary? 

According to data from Payscale as of November 2023, the median annual policy advisor salary is approximately $78,000.

Several factors can affect the policy advisor salary. For example, level of education can often be determinative, with holders of more advanced degrees often commanding higher salaries. Other factors that may impact salary include years of experience and geographic location. Salary may also vary from corporate roles to governmental ones.

Explore Careers in Public Policy Roles 

Shaping public policy can be a meaningful way to address common problems and create better outcomes for everyone. One way to prepare for success as a policy advisor is to pursue an advanced education. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) online program provides the foundational skills needed for success in shaping critical policies, including those that lead to improved emergency responses. Learn more about the program and how it can translate into long-term career success.