Don’t Call Me a Secretary. I’m Much More Than That

Never underestimate the power and influence of an executive assistant. Just as technology has rapidly evolved, so too has the role of a secretary. In fact, calling an executive assistant a “secretary” is about as archaic as that typewriter. Article by Sarah Daffy.

What was once a low-paid, subservient “secretarial” gig is now a valuable career that comes with great benefits and opportunity for career progression.

The job requires a high level of intellect, professionalism, and resilience. Often times your intelligence needs to match that of your boss and you need to be three steps ahead of them all the time. It’s just as rewarding as it is exhausting.

And for those of you who still think executive assistants are just secretaries or admin clerks, it’s time to update your knowledge.

So what’s changed?

It’s not breaking news, but these days we live in a digital age and staff productivity has tripled. We’ve needed to upskill our workers to take on larger responsibilities in all levels of business. Large companies and even small start-ups are now tackling things like innovation, strategic development, multi-channel social profiles, operational effectiveness, and cyber security. Companies have reshaped the way in which they operate to facilitate the expansion of unpredictable market trends and demands.

An executive who oversees the interest of a company needs someone reliable to depend on — a right-hand man, or woman, in most cases. The secretary who used to sit on the end of the phone opening mail and making coffee doesn’t cut it anymore. Power players in the digital age need a smart assistant they can rely on to oversee much larger responsibilities. Someone who can think for them and de-clutter their brain when they’re managing smartphones, laptops, ipads, desktops, tablets, blackberry’s, Skype, and global video conferences from their desk.

Successful EAs are born with the ability to be abnormally intuitive. We know what our boss is thinking before they’ve thought it and it’s our job to deliver on that need before a request has been made.

We are the masters of multi-tasking and pro-activity. The most important part of our role is discretion, so you need to be able to prove that you can keep your mouth shut.

I’ve done just about everything during my time as an EA. I’ve sprinted in six-inch-heels to florists and jewellers on the uneven surfaces of Brisbane’s CBD in a last-ditch attempt to buy roses and diamonds to save my boss from divorce when he “forgot” his wedding anniversary.

I’ve worked 24-hours straight with execs on multi-million dollar proposals and strategic reports. I’ve been the eyes and ears for my bosses who have climbed the corporate ladder high enough to not know who they could trust. I’ve coached staff members on how to approach my boss for a pay rise or the best way to confess to making a catastrophic mistake.

I’ve been privy to the types of conversations that could bring businesses unstuck. I have been the confidant, adviser, friend and ally to executives who needed to know that there was one person in the building that they could rely on.

The thing that I love most about being an EA is that the scope of the role is endless. If you work hard and show your boss that you can manage their correspondence and schedule with your eyes closed and demonstrate your insight and knowledge about their business ventures — eventually you’ll be asked to provide your opinion on massive business decisions before your boss has made them.

You’ll get phone calls at all hours of the day or night to help with something that’s come up unexpectedly. You’ll be the sounding board they need and the person who they see as more than a “secretary” or “assistant”. You’ll be the person that goes to their meetings with them, no matter how confidential. You’ll be the person they trust to give advice to others on their behalf without their consultation.

If you’re really good, you’ll be their shadow, they won’t be able to get through a day without your help, and you’ll be someone who they call into their office one day to promote.

So please, don’t underestimate the ability of an EA or her intelligence. She may be the person sitting outside of the chief’s office letting you in, but she knows exactly what he’s going to say to you before you’ve walked in and she knows that by doing more than getting his coffee order right.

Sarah Daffy is an Executive Assistant at News Corp. Her article, “Don’t call me a secretary. I’m much more than that”, was originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 23 February 2016.

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