Business Administration vs. Business Management: Is There Really a Difference?
By Brianna Flavin on 01/13/2020
You’ve been looking into a variety of Business degree options and have started to narrow your interests down. While it’s pretty clear what degrees like Accounting and Human Resources would lead to, there’s one similar sounding pairing you’ve seen quite a bit—Business Administration and Business Management—that has left you a little confused.
The subjects Business Administration and Business Management sound extremely similar initially—but is there more to it?
The short answer is that Business Administration and Business Management degree programs do generally cover a lot of the same ground. That said, there may be some small historical distinctions based on the needs they were aiming to fill. Business Administration rose up to cover the wide variety of administrative tasks an organization needs, and Business Management came around to help business professionals become better managers of employees and resources. Those goals, however, have so much crossover that it can be hard to really distinguish them from one another.
In this article we’ll compare the two fields and discuss the similarities and differences between these two academic options.
Business Administration vs. Business Management: Contrasting and comparing
“I run a business, so I am a business manager, but my accounting services business provides business administration services. It's a perfect way to explain the difference between the two,” says Olga Bashkatova of NextStage Advisory LLC. Bashkatova explains that business administration tends to refer to back-office functions that help a company operate smoothly. “Office workers, accountants, corporate lawyers, marketing, HR, none of these are client facing roles,” Bashkatova says.
You could say business administration looks to the interior of the organization. In contrast, business management looks to the outside. Bashkatova says business management tends to refer to align with roles that make business-growth decisions from a bird’s-eye view of the organization.
Business managers might supervise professionals in sales, marketing and other client-facing roles. But according to Ellen Mullarkey, VP of business development for the Messina Staffing group, the lines between business administration and business management are very blurred.
“Honestly, this issue isn’t discussed too much in the real world,” Mullarkey says, explaining that academia may debate different education tracks, but says the distinction doesn’t carry much weight.
“If someone comes to me with a Business Administration degree wanting to work as a manager, I’m not too worried about it,” Mullarkey says. “I’m more concerned with their skills and experience than I am with the words on their diploma.”
Both of these types of degree will qualify you for many business roles, according to Mullarkey. Though, if you are sure you want to manage teams of people, a Business Management program would equip you with more of that direct experience. “In order to land a managerial role, people must have experience in management, which a Business Administration program might not expose you to,” Mullarkey adds.
Business Administration vs. Business Management: Common careers
“The essential difference is that business administration is all about setting things up, getting the rules down on paper and ensuring that they are the best option for the company,” says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. “Business management is about handling employees, ensuring that they are doing their jobs to the best of their ability and that they have the tools to do so.”
While you’re not likely to find a hard dividing line keeping you from one group or the other, the distinction between these fields may be clearer if you consider some of the common roles associated with each according to Steiner and Mullarkey:
Common careers in business administration
- Business analyst
- Financial officers
- Human resources managers
- Operations manager
Common careers in business management
- Sales manager
- Marketing manager
- Financial manager
- Account manager
While these may provide some insight into potential long-term career trajectory, expectations should be tempered in the short-term—graduates with a degree in either option will likely start in similar roles.
“But just because you hold a Business Administration or Management degree, doesn’t mean that you’ll land a managerial role the day you graduate,” Mullarkey says. “You’ll still have to work your way up the ladder. Although you may be fast-tracked due to your qualifications, you’ll still have to learn the ropes of your industry before you’re qualified to manage anything.”
Business Administration vs. Business Management: Important skills
You might be picking up on some elasticity in terms of where these program areas can lead you. So how can you decide which area to study?
“If you're great with technical administration of managing large and small tasks effectively you will do much better in Business Administration,” says Joel Mclaughlin, owner of Dataflurry. He explains that roles in this field tend to be unseen, but are pivotal in making the company operate effectively.
A task as small as making sure the company always has inventory ink for printers and a task as large as regularly launching new business locations could both come under a business administration role. “An innovative person who’s effective at multi-tasking and problem-solving is crucial for such positions,” Mclaughlin says.
“If you are a great people-person and excellent at achieving goals and guiding others, then Business Management is likely for you,” says Mclaughlin, adding that business managers need skills particular to delegation and understanding other people’s strengths. “Being able to motivate and guide employees to be more effective is key.”
Business Administration vs. Business Management: Education
Both of these programs should offer an essential array of business knowledge to equip professionals in all aspects of business. “Business administration classes should be focused on backend operations that teach about process flow, roles and various technologies that can make a business more efficient,” Bashkatova says.
“Business Management courses are supposed to teach decision-making skills,” she adds. “They are theoretical in nature. Everyone needs these skills. Everyone hopes to work their way up to management and it never hurts to be exposed to managerial problems and how to address them early on.”
“In my experience there is not an appreciable difference in a degree that has either sets of words on it,” says Paul Bromen, CEO of HelpfulHabitat.com. “Ultimately both should give a foundational business education in marketing, accounting, finance and operations along with broader strategic perspective on companies.”
Bromen emphasizes that a business degree in general is a great signal to your prospective employers about your commitment. “Rather than focusing on the title of your degree, look at outcome information for recent graduates and the broader network that you are joining. The community you are joining is a key differentiator.”
The difference between business administration and business management
As you can see, at a practical level the differences between Business Administration and Business Management aren’t significant enough to cause concern. These fields have plenty of give and take between them, and a good business program will make sure students are learning relevant material to today’s business world—no matter whether their degree says “administration” or “management”.
But looking deeper into a business program can also help to clear up the confusion. What types of classes could you expect to take? Do these programs actually help people find the careers they are looking for? Get more details in our article, “What to Expect in a Business Management Program.”