April 26, 2023

What Does It Take to Be a Great Executive Assistant?

Each year in April, the business world collectively recognizes Administrative Professionals' Day and celebrates the integral work done by the more than three million secretaries, administrative assistants, executive assistants, and other administrative office professionals in North America. The holiday dates back to 1952 and was created to show appreciation for the hard work and dedication of administrative support professionals around the world. As nearly every business manager can attest, these are the people who keep businesses running smoothly every day.


What is an Executive Admin and what are some of their responsibilities?

While a traditional administrative assistant performs many of the duties involved in the role of an executive admin, the roles do differ in the breadth and depth of what is expected.

A typical day in the life of an Executive Admin (EA) could include such duties as fielding and screening calls, managing and overseeing the coordination of corporate executive calendars, handling and facilitating travel arrangements, coordinating meetings, events, and internal presentations, and preparing reports, all while maintaining impeccable customer and client relations.

Simply stated, an executive assistant is expected to perform their role with significant autonomy and a higher level of initiative than that of their administrative assistant counterparts. A recent study found that independence was among the top five desired traits of an executive assistant. The role of an EA of course is to relieve some of the executive’s burdens and help make their business life easier. As such, the ability to work, think, and react independently is beneficial because it saves valuable time for the executive, the managerial team and organization they’re supporting.


Why is this a critical role for an organization?

An Executive Assistant who supports extremely senior level leadership can facilitate a significant return on investment for an organization. Robert Pozen, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, indicated that a “top-notch assistant is crucial to being productive,” and claims that an efficient and talented Executive Assistant could theoretically make help a manager to improve productivity by in excess of 8%. This is achieved by ensuring that meetings begin on time with preparatory materials delivered in advance, optimizing travel schedules, enabling remote decision making, and keeping projects on track and on budget. They can also improve time management by filtering the many office distractions that could divert a from the important business upon which they should be able to focus.


What type of skills/qualifications make someone a good fit for an Executive Assistant position?

Versatility is key to being successful in the role of an EA. The ability to pivot and adapt to many tasks and expectations and keep track of the numerous deliverables of the role is integral. The Harvard Business Review states that, “effective assistants can make enormous contributions to productivity at all levels of the organization.” So, what does it take to be a great executive assistant?

Some of the traits and qualifications necessary to excel in an EA role are:

·        Detail-Oriented
Success is all about paying attention to details, and often executives don’t have time to manage all those details. An EA who possesses the skills to manage details, remember nuances, and document the “nitty-gritty” can make all the difference in a manager’s success, especially if they know that they can rely on their EA to keep up and methodically anticipate their needs.

·        Problem Solver
The strongest EAs are effective problem-solving masters who aren’t afraid to make decisions when the situation arises. They aren’t impacted by “paralysis by analysis,” and will independently find efficient ways to fix problems in the absence of authority.

·        Critical Thinking
Ideally, a great EA can and will demonstrate flawless critical thinking skills. They can think outside the box, but will do so within the company guidelines, enabling them to find innovations, solutions, and improvements to each of the challenges presented to them.

·        Active Listener
Top-tier Executive Assistants possess impeccable listening abilities. They listen to conversations in the office, among their peers and within office networking groups. They also keep attuned digitally, monitoring social media trends and industry news and keeping their finger on the pulse of the communities surrounding them. They listen actively to even those non-verbal cues and can discern the best course of action when they hear something that requires attention.

·        Excellent Communication Skills
An EA will shine when they possess the unique ability to identify the difference between conversational communications and professional liaisons. The EA will find themselves communicating with a broad range of departmental staff, vendors, customers, or clients. Being able to identify the audience and shift your communication style to address them appropriately will help facilitate success.

·        Master of Organizational Management
The best EAs will be masters at the craft of organization. They could see an operation that appears to be a sea of chaos and, without hesitation, turn it into a well-oiled machine. An EA who can demonstrate unique organizational skills, take initiative, and not become overwhelmed will prove themselves indispensable in their role.

·        Technological Savviness
With businesses continually evolving and becoming more dependent on technology to optimize their profitability, an EA who isn’t afraid of new technology but who actually embraces it is a star among their peers. Great EAs are always on the lookout for new efficiency tools and resources to help streamline organizational communication processes and to boost effectiveness.

·        Strategic Planning Abilities
The most productive and efficient Executive Assistants have the know-how to strategically plan for weekly, monthly, annual, and long-term objectives and initiatives. They are able to foresee future needs and plan daily agendas that meet big-picture objectives for the executive partners they support.


If someone is interested in being an executive assistant, how can they develop their skills?

To become an EA, a candidate must typically have relevant administrative-based support experience. Most C-level executives would feel uncomfortable entrusting confidential conversations, passwords, and other sensitive information to someone without a proven history of trustworthiness.

In most cases, a role as an executive assistant doesn’t require a degree, however many employers will prioritize candidates who have an associate or a bachelor’s degree for selection.

A higher-level executive assistant to a C-level executive might be required to have a master’s in business administration to enable them to address greater responsibilities in the operation of a business.

Many continuing education facilities and community colleges offer business courses in business administration, management, accounting, and various software programs that can help a candidate develop skills towards becoming an executive assistant.


While an EA supports the organization, how can the organizational managers support them?

While the best EAs are indispensable and seemingly mind-readers who have abilities to predict obstacles and challenges and divert them before they’re even known to the executive team, the relationship between the EA and the executives they support is most effective when it’s a two-way street.

Executives who keep track of tasks assigned to their EAs and delegate manageable workloads will see the highest quality of deliverables. Providing the opportunity for open communication and an environment where questions are encouraged will enable EAs to gather all the data and information they need to execute and deliver on assignments correctly the first time.

Acknowledging and valuing that a great EA wears a vast variety of hats and regularly pivots to perform as a troubleshooter, translator, help desk attendant, diplomat, human database, travel consultant, amateur psychologist, and ambassador to the company will help executives to appreciate each and every effort that is put forth on their behalf on a daily basis.

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