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I am looking for a single word (noun) describing a person or any other entity that determines something. For example:

John determines next year goals for his employees. John is a ... of employee next year goals.

I was thinking about determiner but that somehow does not sound well...

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    Next year goals is an awkward noun phrase. Employee next year goals is more so. – snailcar Dec 23 '13 at 11:23
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    Agreed, it's better to rephrase it to something like "John is a ... of his employees' goals for the next year" – Vilmar Dec 23 '13 at 11:26
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It does not sound well for you because this word is widely used as a grammar term. However, if we look the word up in the dictionary, we see:

"a person or thing that determines or decides something"

Therefore this word is suitable in this context.

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The question may be a tad too general--much depends on the nature of the thing determined (is it as big and real as a war, or as small and abstract as a commercial slogan?) as well as the circumstances/bailiwick of the decision-making, especially the question of how weakly or strongly the outcome is contested. Depending on this plethora of factors, the person could be author (as in your example), judge, lynch-pin, final authority, powerhouse, trend-setter, juggernaut, mandarin, bulldozer, leader, boss, bigshot, arbiter, etc.

"Many people pushed World War II to its conclusion, from Rosie the Riveter to Adolf Hitler, but ultimately it was Winston Churchill who was the pivot on which it turned."

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