Job Descriptions and Rolls in the Domestic Service Industry

types of domestic services describe each of these home staff workers.
Historic picture of Domestic staff. There are different types of domestic services and skill sets for each staff.

Types of Domestic Services

When I first started working in the domestic field I had no idea what certain types of  domestic services were available or what the terms were or what the different roles were.  It took me a while to gather up and understand the terms and job description titles for certain positions.  The main term I was hearing all the time was the word “Principal.”  I thought what a strange thing to say or use the word principal when you are working at someone’s home.  For example, “the principal is not in today.”  I was saying to myself, this is not a school, what does a principal have anything to do with my job working in a home?  So I’m here to inform you, the uninitiated, of the different types of domestic services that could be helpful to know if you endeavor a career in the domestic industry.  For any industry or career you will have to learn the specific nomenclature in order to function in that role.  In other words you have to learn the technical terms and words specially used in that field.  This is to help with that:

Principal = The owner of the estate.  Head man or woman.  It sounds more proper or sophisticated when you use the word principal instead of saying owner.  You can say, “the principal is out today or the principal has left the house.”  Instead of saying, “the owner left an hour ago or the owner is over there.”  It is more proper and correct to use the term “Principal” in the private household industry.

Estate Manager verses House Manager

The next terms I want to clear up are Estate Manager and House Manager.  To the outside world these roles seem the same, but they have such different capacities in the domestic realm.  An Estate Manager is the person who will take care of all the principal’s properties.  There is a great definition of Estate Manager in my blog,  Butlers vs. House Managers.   Mrs. Starkey of Starkey International says, “an Estate Manager is a person that manages an estate that is over 18,000 square feet.”  An Estate Manager is usually managing two or more large houses or manors.  Running all estates, making sure everything stays coordinated and working with all the properties.

Now we get to the House Manager term.  This seems to give a good picture of what a House Manager consists of:  a House Manager holds the entire environment and all the people in their awareness.  Upholding the principals vision of quality of life.  My interpretation of that is, a House Manager is more hands on, running the day to day operation of the house.  Making sure everything is getting cleaned, stocked, running the staff, making sure schedules and budgets are kept.  It really depends the division of roles as to what is expected of the House Manager.  In general, an Estates Manager is responsible for the over all big picture.  A House Manager is just responsible for a single house and all of its details.  See my website for an example and list of duties of what a House Manager does,

Personal Assistants

Usually there is a Personal Assistant.  A crucial element to keep everything focused, rolling and things accomplished for the principal.  Personal Assistants do everything from scheduling, to travel arrangements, to keeping track of all the finances.  It really depends on how the roles are divided up and what staff are there to share the load as to what the PA duties are.


This is a role that seems to get to combine all the above described duties into one.  They get to be the catch all for every kind of duty that needs to be performed except or not to much doing the housekeeping or taking care of the kids.  Any house to be considered an estate has housekeeping. Housekeeping is self explanatory, there is no need to delineate that role.   A butler on the other hand is a bit of a jack of all trades.  Doing whatever the family needs to be done.  When a butler is employed there is definitely a more formal aspect to the house.  I suppose if the family does not want to hire a lot of staff they will just have a Butler do everything, except clean and take care of kids.  For a more in depth look at what butlers do you can find that role described here more thoroughly in Butlers vs. House Managers.

Other Rolls in Domestic Services

The Majordomo is another term that you may not be that familiar with.  A Majordomo is a person who is the highest in the household who acts on the behalf of the principal and takes care of overseeing all household responsibilities including the finances.  In my tenure in the domestic industry I have never experienced a Majordomo.  I have a feeling this is a historic or European type of role and not needed much in modern day America.  Same goes for the term, Governor.  My research reveals that a Governor is similar to a Majordomo.  The Governor is a head of household who controls the household and acts on behalf of the principal.  I don’t know much about this role, other than it was given to me by a instructor of etiquette and protocol.  The Governor employed a Governess (That term is described in the next paragraph) and she was in charge of educating and rearing the children.

Terms for Tending to Children

I would say that the word Nanny is the most common term for taking care of the kids.  As mentions previously there is the term Governess also.  This is more of a formal teacher, teaching role.  Typically a female teacher coming into the high-end homes to educate the children.  There is also the term an Au pair.  An Au pair is a more young female foreign domestic worker.  The girl can come from another country and maybe go to school part of the time.  The main part of the role is to work for the family in taking care of the kids for a place to stay or some sort of arrangement like that.


It really depends on the needs of the principal as to what staff and duties need to be performed and accomplished.  The modern domestic industry is interesting, expanding and evolving.  Steeped in tradition, some principals relish the formal lifestyle and yet others strike out to define their own rules and way of living.  It is interesting to be in this industry and see how it is changing and evolving. This is just a documentation from my experience and point of view, like my blog on Domestic Staffing Life in Los Angeles.   What role interests you the most?  Which types of domestic services do you like the best?  Which one you are going to make as your career?

This could be the look of todays modern domestic industry workers.
Image of modern domestic staff workers.




Meet the Author:

Kelly Watkins is a  House Manager, Housekeeper and Success Influencer at your service!  18 years of delivering domestic excellence in the private service industry.  Meeting requirements for running distraction free estates. I truly take pride in running a clean and orderly house delivered with superlative quality and dependability.  I am a people person at heart.  What I like about my profession is that I can take a house and move it up into a better condition in all aspects.  Continuously helping others is my successful action in life.



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