Secretary (title)

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This article is about secretaries as leaders in organizations. For the common meaning of secretary as an office support worker, which can be a title, see secretary.

Secretary is a title often used in organizations to indicate a person having a certain amount of authority, power, or importance in the organization. The term is derived from the Latin word secernere, "to distinguish" or "to set apart", the passive participle (secretum) meaning "having been set apart", with the eventual connotation of something private or confidential, as with the English word secret. A secretarius was a person, therefore, overseeing business confidentially, usually for a powerful individual (a king, pope, etc.).

The official title of the leader of most Communist and Socialist political parties is the "General Secretary of the Central Committee" or "First Secretary of the Central Committee". When a Communist party is in power, the General Secretary is usually the country's de facto leader (though sometimes this leader also holds state-level positions to monopolize power, such as a presidency or premiership in order to constitute de jure leadership of the state), such as China and Cuba.

In England, the term secretarius was used "from the beginning of the thirteenth century in the varying meanings of a confidential clerk, an ambassador, or a member of the king's council".[1] In the fourteenth century, the title became strongly associated with the keeper of the king's signet.[1] From the Renaissance to the late 19th century, men involved in the daily correspondence and the activities of the powerful assumed the title of secretary. With time, like many titles, the term was applied to more and varied functions, leading to compound titles to specify the authority associated with its use, like general secretary or financial secretary.

In some countries, such as the United States, the term secretary is used to indicate the holder of a cabinet-level post. This usage derives in part from the desire of the founders of the United States to differentiate the country from the United Kingdom, which denoted such offices as Ministers. There are a number of popular variations of the title used to indicate that the secretary in question has a high degree of authority, such as general secretary (or, following usage in the Norman language, secretary-general), first secretary, and executive secretary.

In a club or society, the secretary is also considered to be, in most cases, the third person in charge of the organization, after the president/chairman and vice president/vice chairman.[2] In smaller organizations, the secretary typically takes meeting minutes, notifies members of meetings, contacts various persons in relation to the society, administers the day-to-day activities of the organization, and creates the order of business. The secretary of a non-governmental organization (NGO) or international non-governmental organization (INGO) can be vice president/vice chairman.[2]

General secretary[edit]

General secretary occurs as the title of a ministerial position of authority found in various organizations, often including labor unions and communist party organizations. Examples include:


Examples include:

International intergovernmental organizations[edit]

Organization Title
Andean Community (CAN)
Arab League
Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT)
Association of Caribbean States (ACS)
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General of the ASEAN
Bureau International des Expositions (BIE)
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community
Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO)
Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)
Commonwealth of Nations The Commonwealth Secretary-General is the de facto leader. The secretary-general advises member nations and heads conferences with the Head of the Commonwealth, currently Queen Elizabeth II.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Council of Europe (COE) Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Council of the European Union Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union
EDU - Intergovernmental Organization (EDU)
EUCLID (Euclid University) (EUCLID)
European Commission Secretary-General of the European Commission
European Court of Auditors Secretary-General of the European Court of Auditors
European Economic and Social Committee Secretary-General of the European Economic and Social Committee
Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC)
International Civil Aviation Organization
International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol)
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)
Organisation internationale de la francophonie (OIF)
International Maritime Organization
The Permanent Commission for the South Pacific(CPPS)
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI)
League of Nations (1919–1946) Secretary General of the League of Nations
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) The Secretary General of NATO is the chief administrative officer of NATO and supreme commander of NATO forces when mobilized.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General of the OECD
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General of the Organization of American States
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Secretary General of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Secretary General of the UNASUR
United Nations (UN) The Secretary-General of the United Nations is described as the chief administrative officer and the de facto head of the United Nations. The Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations hires, terminates, and controls all United Nations staff and relief efforts around the World.
Western European Union (WEU) Secretary-General of the Western European Union
World Customs Organization (WCO)

International nongovernmental organizations[edit]

Amnesty International (AI)
Anglican Consultative Council (ACC)
Council of Diaspora Métis (CDM)
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award International Association (IAA)
European Law Students' Association (ELSA)
The European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment
International Alert
International Chamber of Shipping
The International Community of Breeders of Asexually Reproduced Ornamental and Fruit Varieties - CIOPORA
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
International People's Conference Organisation (IPCO)
International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS)
No Peace Without Justice
The Orange Defense Network (ODN)
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
World Organization of the Scout Movement

Sports governing bodies[edit]

- International Basketball Federation (FIBA)

First secretary[edit]

First secretary is the title of the chief officer or leader in many organizations, and is also a modern diplomatic rank. Examples include:

Executive secretary[edit]

Examples include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b J. Otway-Ruthven, The King's Secretary and the Signet Office in the XV Century (1939), p. 60.
  2. ^ a b Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 4th edition, Scott, Foresman and Company, Chicago, 1915, pp. 244–247.