We're also talking about two separate cases here: managing servers, and managing interactive machines (most probably desktops).
Managing servers you typically take a more conservative approach to. I'm more in the server than the desktop profession, but I can see the need to be more permissive with desktops.
With desktops I can see a use for a package manager that allows non-root installations in arbitrary paths, for instance to a network home directory that would then be available in any workstation you logged in at.
Even on (most) desktops, I can see not allowing normal office workers full root on the machines. However, there would likely need to be exceptions for certain classes of users -- basically people doing experimental stuff with their desktops. I'd perhaps setup an automated request mechanism for doling that out, so a) I'd have a record of who did it, and b) Id' have at least a chance to talk to the users and see what they're doing, and if they really actually need root, or could do with something else.