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In this increasingly complex world, being a successful administrator is a challenging task. Whether you are a department head of a federal, state or city government’s executive administration, a business administrator in a major company, managing a hospital or educational institution, running a non-profit organization, or serving in an administrative assistant position, the demands on your organizational, technical, and management skills have grown exponentially in the modern era.

Ensuring that staff is being managed properly, budgets are being met, successful programs/produces are being developed, and ethical/legal issues are being addressed all fall under the domain of high-level professions in today’s administration positions. In turn, many of these professionals increasingly rely on administrative assistants, who are now expected to take on far more than secretarial duties. Today’s administrative assistants have often become project managers, staff supervisors, and schedulers who act as gate-keepers with increasing power to allow people access to corporate/organization executives.

Five Elements of Administration

Even as the administrative fields require greater sophistication of knowledge and skills, there are basic founding principles that still guide professionals just as they did starting from the late 19th century. That is when Henri Fayol’s book General and Industrial Management laid out the “5 elements of administration” that made a transformational contribution to the theory and practice of organizational management. His administrative theory stressed the importance of forecasting and planning so that managers would be able to adapt to any situation.

Fayol’s 5 elements were:

  • Creating a plan of action for the future
  • Organizing the tools, materials, human resources, and capital needed to carry out the plan
  • Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of personnel and providing a support system to motivate people
  • Harmonizing all activities
  • Maintaining an orderly, problem-free environment to maximize performance, which must be measured. If the project fails, corrective actions must be taken.

These elements provided the foundation for the ongoing development of administrative management theory, which seeks to find a rational way to design an organization. Some of the best practices that have emanated from this theory include establishing a formalized administrative structure, having a clear division of labor and delegation of power, and giving authority to administrators in areas that are relevant to their areas of expertise.

Another major pioneer in the fields of administration and management was Frederick Taylor, who wrote Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. His four principles of management included:

  • Replacing rule-of-thumb work methods with methods based on a scientific study of the tasks
  • Selecting, training and developing each employee in a more scientific (data-driven) way
  • Providing detailed instruction and supervision
  • Dividing work nearly equally between managers and workers, with the managers mainly focusing on planning issues while the workers make sure all the tasks are done correctly

In today’s computer age, scientific management has taken on greater meaning. Computer system administration professionals must now create their own best practices. According to the INAP COLO CLOUD Network (, the five recommendations for business administrators to succeed are:

  • Always monitor, measure and record your work
  • Develop project management habits
  • Develop a system for day-to-day work
  • Develop communication skills – especially for sales presentations
  • Start preparing for “what if” scenarios because invariably things go wrong

It All Started with Public Administration

According to most historians, the oldest form of administration goes back to the kings, Pharaohs, and emperors who required tax collectors, treasurers, and pages to administer the practical business of government. Management principals originated in China, which is the first known, highly centralized bureaucratic state. It was the earliest nation (by the 2nd century BC) to run its administration based on merit through testing.

In the United States, Woodrow Wilson is considered the father of public administration. His article “The Study of Administration” advocated for:

  • Separating politics and administrative duties
  • Comparing political and private organizations as part of analyzing how a project/program can be better carried out
  • Improving efficiency by using business-like practices and attitudes toward daily operations
  • Improving the effectiveness of public service through the management of trained civil servants, who receive a merit-based assessment

Wilson’s ideas about effective public administration continue to resonate today, and perhaps are needed now more than ever.

Whether its Fayol, Taylor, Wilson or the ancient emperors of China, today’s administrative professionals continue to benefit from their legacy as they take on the oversight of increasingly challenging functions and operations that are central to the work of corporations, non-profit organizations, and government entities throughout the world today.


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