Executive Assistant: Key Skills Required for the Role

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Introduction

In the past, executive assistants to top management were known as “secretaries.”

They mostly dealt with general admin such as travel, expenses, and calendar management.

This job has evolved, however, with what we now know as an Executive Assistant (EA) taking on more and more responsibility.

As I am an EA, I wanted to find out what other people thought are the key skills required to being a top Executive Assistant. To achieve this, I had the pleasure to interview Tatiana Faure, and receive feedback from other Executive Assistants at a networking event in Geneva hosted by the Executive PA Network.

What makes a good Executive Assistant?

The job of an EA is unique with interesting opportunities, especially here in Geneva, as many top executives and High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) relocate here due to the stable economic situation, high level of security and international environment.

Being a good EA is always dependent on the person. You need to be a good facilitator and mediator. You need to think of the role as if it is “haute couture” that requires three main skills;

  • good leadership (very strong personality) as you are working with a leader, so you need to approach the job on an equal basis;
  • bring your soft skills (such as listening and multi-tasking) and use them fully, depending on the executive’s needs;
  • whilst being flexible and adaptable, from prior experience we need to anticipate and be proactive – being reactive is redundant.

These three skills are essential to progress as an Executive Assistant.

What are the future trends for the Executive Assistant – will the job evolve in the next few years?

The job of an EA is constantly evolving. For example, when the Covid outbreak started in 2020, who imagined that it was possible work from home and still support top management remotely. As an EA, if you just follow your job description and nothing more, you will not evolve. An EA should want to learn more and provide more support than expected. Go above and beyond!

If you have a desire to evolve as an EA, the journey to grow within a company can be easily accomplished as you gain the trust of top executives.

Why is the role of an Executive Assistant underrated in the growth/development of a company?

My profession has several names – Executive Assistant/Personal Assistant/Team Assistant.

In the role, you are always just one step behind your manager. While the spotlight is always on the executive, the EA is always accumulating a lot of information regarding the company and sometimes your help is required urgently. This makes the role very crucial as the executive needs someone who is extremely trustworthy and reliable. The EA, when undertaking tasks for the executive, needs to think about how they would do the same task if it was for themselves. You need the ability to put yourself in their shoes.

As an EA accumulates information, it makes them very important for the growth of the company – it is important not to judge what the executive is doing but help (advocate for) them even if the direction/decision is something you don’t agree with. EAs are always required to use their judgement and think on the spot to help avoid conflict within meetings (take a decision). Whilst EAs prepare everything for the boss to approve, at certain points you have to take responsibility and make decisions as if you were the executive manager.

How do we remove the perception that an Executive Assistant is only about diary management and travel bookings?

This is all dependent on the person. Whilst an EA will handle all administrative tasks, they need to show that they are capable of more. If you prove your qualities and value, top EAs can earn as much as a trader – which is not something offered if the assistant is only concerned with travel and diary management. An EA is like being a conductor in an orchestra for the company, manager, and team – and sometimes instead of being at the same level, you are above looking at the whole picture and seeing what can be improved.

Conclusion

A university degree is not a prerequisite for being an Executive Assistant. What is required, however, is common sense, the ability to think outside the box and find solutions, being able to multi-task, and being a good listener.

An EA role is like a private leadership course whilst working with an executive. Consequently, it is a shortcut to leadership – should you want it – as you work with top leaders in their field. Additionally, paying attention to developing your personal brand will help you to stand out from the others in this competitive field.

Image: Canva

Further reading: Work ‘for’ or ‘with’ someone? That is the question by

 

Harold Thambipillai Harold Thambipillai

With 10 years’ experience as an executive assistant, I help top management make the best use of their time and facilitate the flow of information within the team. I am the face of the office and what I love about the job is developing relationships and building trust.

I am also a wordsmith. This helps when writing emails or newsletters on behalf of the executive. An unknown fact to many, is that I like writing poetry!

Always with a positive attitude, I like helping people both professionally and personally whilst respecting their boundaries and my work at GBN is helping me to share tips I have picked up.

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