The Roles & Responsibilities of a Chief Administrator

Your job includes supervising program managers.
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You're doing excellent work if you're considering a job as a chief administrative officer (CAO). This career is usually found in the education, government, non-profit and non-governmental sectors of the economy. Being a chief administrator requires many people skills, including the ability to lead and to suggest or interpret public policy. Expect multiple demands on your time and earnings lower than senior executives typically receive in the private sector.


    The chief administrative officer reports to the executive director or CEO of an organization. He or she might earn less than the top officer but will still have many duties, which could include fundraising, budgeting, overseeing administrative staff and program operations, staffing, human resources management, writing policies and procedures and representing the organization in different venues. A CAO works with the public: business leaders, community partners, program beneficiaries, private citizens and government agencies.

Span of Control

    Stakeholders in an organization may judge the complexity of an administrator's role according to his or her span of control. This term refers to the number of people a CAO supervises. Indirectly, span of control also refers to the number of people who report to the managers under the CAO's supervision. Not all chief administrators will directly supervise their own staff. As a CAO, you might need administrative support in the form of a secretary.

Broad Responsibilities

    Many CAOs start with a job that resembles the job duties of their predecessor. A recent Harvard Business Review article found that more chief executives are taking on a broader range of duties. However, a CAO might not be the top executive. You could report to a new CEO or executive director and experience a shift in your administrative duties. Consider negotiating the terms of your contract when your CEO changes. You can request changes in which positions you supervise as a way to accommodate the leadership preferences of the CEO.


    Chief administrators oversee the budget and ensure that it's implemented properly by program managers. In a nonprofit or civic entity, this could involve ensuring that spending fits government regulations. It's important for the CAO to review budgeting and spending procedures and to update them to accommodate changes in public policy.

Performance Management

    Being near the top of the organizational chart, you set many policies with the help of your program managers. This includes creating central goals that each department supports and overseeing goal implementation. Also, expect a high level of accountability for human resources and employee performance. Enlist the assistance of the HR officer to develop more people-friendly policies. By offering better HR programs, you help employees to do their best work. A chief administrator could have miscellaneous duties in any program area added to his job. Overall, he must be adept at managing and overseeing administrative operations while supporting the CEO.

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