Thought leadership

Using Job Titles Effectively

Using Job Titles Effectively

The determination of appropriate organizational job titles is often a daunting task.  Generally, titles need to be consistent with (1) the type of organization, (2) size and degree of hierarchy in the organization, and (3) the pay philosophy.  In addition, as with cash compensation decisions, titles need to be internally equitable.

Some general criteria applicable to title selection are:

  • Consistency within the particular organization
  • Relevance & applicability to the nature of the job
  • Brevity

Employees often request particular job titles upon hire, or during their tenure with the organization.  Unless the request is consistent with the criteria noted above, and with the organization’s title definitions, agreeing to such requests may result in perceptions of internal inequity and may be misleading to those with whom the individual interacts outside of the organization.  Inflated titles, in particular, can also create legal difficulties and lead to costlier, higher pay levels.

The following list of job title definitions is intended as a general guide.  Even though these commonly used titles are reasonably definitive, there is some overlap.  The key is to apply them in such a way that they reflect the grade levels and functions of the jobs in a logical, consistent way.  Please note that not all of these definitions are necessarily applicable to small organizations.

OFFICER: usually applies to a senior level executive position in a large for-profit corporation, OR to a major functional head in a non-profit organization; can be used in lieu of a Vice President title; may imply fiduciary responsibility.

DIRECTOR: head of a major department/division, usually with a manager reporting to him/her; has full responsibility for decision-making and policy setting for the department/division.

MANAGER: head of a smaller department, and a bona fide* supervisor of at least two other FTE employees; has substantial responsibility for decision-making and policy setting for the department.

PROJECT OR PROGRAM MANAGER: manages projects and/or programs, having budget and outcomes responsibility for same; not necessarily a bona fide supervisor, but will usually have responsibility for directing some of the activities of other internal staff.

SUPERVISOR: a bona fide supervisor of at least two other FTE employees.

LEAD: someone who performs the same type of work as the others in the department, but who has the additional responsibility of (1) training new employees, (2) providing work direction, which may include scheduling, (3) assisting the supervisor with selection, performance appraisal and/or other supervisory activities, and/or (4) filling in for the supervisor in his/her absence.

ADMINISTRATOR: provides high level (not clerical) support for policies, programs, projects and/or functions associated with the organization’s business; may or may not supervise other staff.

COORDINATOR: brings together diverse information, events, people, and/or other elements, as appropriate, into a more cohesive, manageable process and/or product; involves significant interaction and communication with others to accomplish stated goals; usually is not a bona fide* supervisor; typically does not direct others unless in a lead capacity.

ANALYST: obtains, compiles, massages, and/or arrays qualitative and/or qualitative data/information in such a way as to increase its usefulness to the organization; may make recommendations regarding the application of such data/information; typically does not direct others unless in a lead capacity.

SPECIALIST: applies specific expertise to the solution of problems and/or the support of internal or external processes; may involve both coordinating and analytical activities; typically does not direct others unless in a lead capacity.

TECHNICIAN: provides technical, hands-on support to either the internal functional departments or to outside customers or clients; typically does not direct others unless in a lead capacity.

ASSISTANT: provides a broad array of support to other individuals within the organization; may include clerical, secretarial, data entry, word processing and/or reception duties; may also include recording, information gathering, communicating and any number of other activities designed to increase the work efficiency/effectiveness of those to whom the job reports.


* Bona fide supervision involves all of the following activities and decisions with respect to his/her staff: (1) hiring, (2) work direction, (3) training, (4) development, (5) performance appraisal, and (6) termination, if necessary.

Shari Dunn

Upon receiving her B.A. degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, Ms. Dunn headed to New York City to take a position in the human resources department of the Marine Midland Bank, and later worked at Nabisco in operations research. Returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, she became a Research Associate for McKinsey & Co. Next, she moved to Deloitte (then Touche Ross) as a consultant. It was at these two ...

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