The UN's administrative arm has developed largely in accordance with the demands made upon it. In the process, it has evolved a distinctive character of its own, in keeping with its status as a constitutionally defined organ of the world body.
The Secretary-General has played the main role in shaping the character of the Secretariat. As chief administrative officer, the Secretary-General has wide discretionary powers to administer as he thinks fit. As Eleanor Roosevelt, a former chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, noted in 1953, the Secretary-General, "partly because of the relative permanence of his position (unlike the president of the General Assembly who changes every year) and partly because of his widely ramified authority over the whole UN organization, tends to become its chief personality, its embodiment and its spokesman to the world."
Each Secretary-General tries to develop the positive functions of the Secretariat. Although each has had his own views on the role of the office, all have shared the belief that the Secretariat is the backbone of the UN system. The most eloquent statement of that belief was probably made by Dag Hammarskjöld in a 1955 address at the University of California: "… the United Nations is what member nations made it, but within the limits set by government action and government cooperation, much depends on what the Secretariat makes it." In addition to the Secretariat's function of providing services and facilities for governments in their capacity as members of the UN, he said, the Secretariat also "has creative capacity. It can introduce new ideas. It can, in proper forms, take initiatives. It can put before member governments findings which will influence their actions." Stressing the fact that members of the Secretariat serve as international officials rather than as government representatives, Hammarskjöld concluded that "the Secretariat in its independence represents an organ, not only necessary for the life and proper functioning of the body, but of importance also for its growth."