Difference Between an Executive Director & Administrator Job Title

by Dale Marshall

Although executive director and administrator are job titles more likely to be found in health care, nonprofit and government organizations, employees of for-profit enterprises sometimes have these titles, too. Although the titles are sometimes used almost interchangeably, an executive director usually has more responsibility and authority than an administrator.

Administrator and Executive Director Titles

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.

On Being an Administrator

As the title implies, an administrator’s primary duties involve the administration of 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.

On 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.

About the Author

Dale Marshall began writing for Internet clients in 2009. He specializes in topics related to the areas in which he worked for more than three decades, including finance, insurance, labor relations and human resources. Marshall earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Connecticut.

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