Executive director and administrator positions are commonly found in the fields of health care, nonprofit and government organizations. Sometimes these job titles are used interchangeably, but an executive director typically has more responsibility and authority than an administrator.
Administrator and Executive Director
Governments and healthcare operations use the job title “administrator” on its own, but most other employers incorporate something about the nature of the job into the title. For instance, one university lists athletics program administrator, admissions team administrator and academic services administrator among its several administrator job titles. By contrast, the job title “executive director” is frequently used on its own. Although some profit-oriented enterprises and governments use the title occasionally, it is most frequently used by nonprofit organizations.
Being an Administrator
As the title implies, an administrator’s primary duties involve overseeing functions, programs, projects or departments. Administrators may supervise others, including assigning tasks and managing staff, but the scope of their work is generally well-defined and their function is to see that tasks are completed on time and according to established standards and requirements.
Being an Executive Director
An executive director often fills the role in a nonprofit organization that a chief executive officer does in a corporation. Working within parameters established by the organization’s directors, the executive director often is responsible for all strategic plans and decisions regarding the organization’s day-to-day operations, including overseeing the organization’s human resources and financial operations, as well as its program-oriented activities. Executive directors often take leadership roles in the organization’s resource generation activities, such as fundraising drives and public relations campaigns.
The major differences between the two positions are the scope of responsibility and authority. The executive director typically takes responsibility for leading the organization to achieve the goals and objectives set by the directors. The administrator, on the other hand, exercises leadership in ensuring that the functions under her jurisdiction are properly executed, but that execution takes place according to already established standards. The administrator may recommend employment decisions, but the executive director has the authority to act on them. Another significant difference is financial – while an administrator typically can disburse funds to pay bills and pay for routine operating costs, the executive director generally has the authority to obligate the organization by entering into contracts, although this authority sometimes is subject to limitations imposed by the directors.