Careers in Administration and Management
Administration and management are all about the internal workings of organisations, and the process of running them. Administrators and managers are found in almost all organisations, from healthcare organisations to local government, policing, business and beyond. They are also found in every size of organisation. There may be no dedicated personnel, but even one-person companies will have administrative tasks that need doing.
Administrators and managers therefore have what is known as generic skills: they can be applied in any sector and any organisation. This page describes some of these highly transferable skills, and what it takes to have a career involving administration or management.
Understanding Administration and Management
Both administration and management have been around for many years. For example, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s minister, was described as an administrator. The two are also very similar—but not precisely identical (see box).
Defining administration and management
administration, n. the process or activity of running a business, organisation, etc., the management of public affairs; government.
management, n. the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.
Source: Oxford Languages
The word administration is closely associated with government. We talk about ‘the administration’ meaning ‘the government of the day’. In the UK, civil servants are often described as professional administrators. This means that they are responsible for running the government on a day-to-day basis. However, it also has a wider meaning, around running an organisation more generally.
These days, apart from government, administrators are often at a fairly low level within the organisational hierarchy. Administrative jobs tend to be entry-level and often relatively low-paid. However, they are also essential to the organisation. Administrative jobs include personal assistants and secretaries, and receptionists.
Broadly speaking, we can consider administration as being about managing the internal processes of an organisation. Management, by contrast, is all about managing people or activities within the business.
Managers are therefore, almost by definition, not at the bottom level of the organisational hierarchy, or they would have nobody to manage. However, the term manager is also used for anyone managing an area of business as well as people: for example: customer service manager, marketing manager.
It is therefore fair to say that within government, everyone is an administrator, but only some are managers. In other organisations, there are fewer people who are considered administrators, but probably more managers.
There is a fair amount of overlap between administration and management. For example, an office manager job would probably be considered both.
Administration and management across sectors
You will find administrators and managers in almost every sector. For example:
There are many administrators and managers working in healthcare. They are needed to run the large organisations involved, and ensure that healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses do not have to spend too much time on administrative work that is outside their core skills.
You can find out more about the specific skills needed for healthcare administration from one of our guest posts.
You will also find administrators and managers working in businesses. It is fair to say that most of the areas of work described in our page on Careers in Business could be described as management in some way. Indeed, many of these jobs will have ‘manager’ in their job title (for example, sales manager, marketing manager, human resources manager).
It is also worth saying that few people decide that they want to be ‘a manager’. It is not precisely a career choice.
Instead, people tend to take on management roles as they gain more experience and become more senior. It is therefore possible to acquire management skills over time, and also to be ‘a manager’ (that is, to manage people as part of your job) but have a job title that does not necessarily include the word ‘manager’.
Skills Needed by Administrators and Managers
Administrators and managers both need some very similar generic skills. However, there are also some that are specific to managers in particular.
Both administrators and managers need:
An ability and willingness to use electronic tools to manage work, including calendars and other planning or reporting software;
A strong ability to work with other people, including in teams and groups, because you cannot help an organisation to run effectively without working with people;
A growth mindset, with a positive attitude about learning and developing your skills to match the specific job, and also to understand your environment (see box);
Good customer service skills, because you may be responsible for working with external customers—but you are also likely to be asked to do things for other people within the organisation; and
A willingness to get things done, and particularly to get stuck in and just do whatever is needed. Administrative jobs are often a catch-all for a wide range of tasks, both ongoing and one-off.
Knowing How to Make Things Happen is Often Job-Specific
In any job, you will need to be able to work out how to get things done in that organisation.
Every organisation is slightly different. They may have a culture of doing things in writing, or orally. You may need to work through the hierarchy, or go direct to an individual. These things are job-specific, and can only be worked out by watching, asking questions and learning from experience.
On top of these skills, anyone managing people also needs what we might broadly call management skills. These include:
Delegating work effectively to individuals and across a team;
Motivating others to work, including through developing an environment that is conducive to this; and
Project Management Skills
One very specific area of management that is worth mentioning is project management.
Many organisations employ dedicated project managers to run particular projects, especially large, one-off projects that require considerable coordination. Project managers need particular skills, and you can find out more about the skills required in our pages on project management skills.
You may also find it helpful to read our pages on project planning, stakeholder analysis, action planning, and risk management if you want to develop your project management skills. These are all essential parts of project management.
You may also be interested to read our page on Avoiding Common Managerial Mistakes.
An Accidental Career?
Few people set out to become ‘a manager’. Indeed, few actively want to become administrators. It is not exactly the most ‘sexy’ of career choices. However, administration is often the most basic, entry-level position available, and therefore a reasonable target for school leavers and graduates alike. A few years of experience can then lead to a managerial role, or perhaps an opportunity to move into a more specialist role. What’s more, the experience and skills gained in administration will remain useful in almost any career.