The role of the administrator

It may be appropriate to conclude this volume with a brief statement about the role and training of administrators. It has been suggested earlier that the decisions which might be uniquely designated as “administrative” decisions are those which are concerned with the decision-making process itself. That is, such decisions do not determine the content of the organization’s work, but rather how the decision-making function is to be allocated and influenced in that particular organization.

But to say that in any organization certain “administrative” decisions have to be made, is not to say that the person who happens to be designated an “administrator” in that organization makes, or should make, only administrative decisions. Whether or not it is desirable that there should be functionaries whose tasks are confined within these limits, it is certainly not an accurate description of administrative organizations as they exist today to define the administrator’s task in those terms.

In almost all organizations he has a responsibility not only to establish and maintain the organizational structure, but also to make some of the broader and more important decisions regarding the content of the organi- zation’s work. To mention only one of these decisions, the higher adminis- trator ordinarily has a considerable responsibility for budget decisions— that is, decisions as to the directions in which the organization’s efforts should be applied. Further, to him falls the responsibility, within the limits of his discretion, of formulating organizational objectives—that is, the values that will guide decisions at all lower levels of the organization.

The statement, then, that as we proceed upward in the hierarchy “administrative” duties come to occupy more and more of the administrator’s time, and “technical” duties less, must be interpreted with considerable caution.

What is the difference between these latter functions and the “technical” functions at the lower levels of the hierarchy? Simply that the content decisions of the higher administrator deal with more ultimate purposes and more general processes than the decisions of the lower administrator. We might say that the lower administrator’s purposes are the upper administrator’s processes.

The stenographer’s rationality is exercised in translating a piece of copy, whatever its content, into a typewritten manuscript. Her employer’s rationality is exercised in determining the content of the copy, taking for granted the very element with which the stenographer is concerned—its translation into typewritten form.

If the Chief Engineer’s decisions are less concerned with engineering technology than those of his designing engineers, with what are they concerned? If the Health Officer’s decisions do not involve the minutiae of medical knowledge, what do they involve? They involve the application of the criterion of efficiency to the broader purposes of the organization. Since the broader purposes of governmental organizations (and, to a lesser extent, commercial organizations) are predominantly social, and the larger problems of means are principally economic and fiscal, this means that the decisions of the higher administrators involve social science principles and economic calculations.

One further point should be noted that applies even to those decisions which deal with the organization structure itself. If, as has been suggested, administrative theory cannot be entirely freed from concern with the content of the organization’s work, it follows that sound organizational decisions require also a knowledge of that content.

We see, then, that the work of the administrator, as organizations are now constituted, involves (1) decisions about the organization structure, and (2) the broader decisions as to the content of the organization’s work. Decisions of neither type can rest entirely, or even primarily, upon a knowledge of or facility with administrative theory. The former must be firmly grounded in the organization’s technology. The latter must be grounded in the organization’s technology and requires in addition (a) a thorough appreciation of the theory of efficiency, and (b) a knowledge of those aspects of the social sciences which are relevant to the broader purposes of the organization.

If this analysis is correct, it has direct implications for the training of an “administrative class,” that is, for the training of persons who are skilled in higher administration.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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