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    Executive decision

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    Climbing the ranks to deal with top-level executives can come with its own set of rules and ways of working. Nicky Christmas has these essential etiquette tips to ensure you present yourself in a professional manner

    As assistants, most of us will interact with our organisation?s management team on a daily if not hourly basis. Your manager may well be part of the executive team. If that is the case you will have even more phone calls, meetings and general engagement with other directors and top-level members of staff. It can be a little intimidating dealing with the people who run your organisation, especially if they are prickly characters or highly demanding.

    Unlike with other members of staff, working with the executive team brings a whole host of rules and a particular style of working. For instance, if you?re a board-level assistant then you should ensure you use the appropriate style of address, as some execs may well object to being called ?mate? or ?darling?.

    Having a good working relationship with the executive team is mostly down to common sense, but for assistants it is a relationship that needs to be carefully nurtured and taken seriously. Here are some etiquette tips to keep in mind when it comes to working and liaising with board-level management.

    ? Always appear calm, even if you are feeling under pressure. You don?t want to let the executive team ever think that you are not in control of the job.

    ? It?s fine to share a joke with members of the executive team, but if you don?t know them that well then it?s advisable to let them be the first to make a joke, while you remain polite and approachable.

    ? Some board-level directors tend to ask whoever is nearest to them to do something for them (particularly if the nearest person is in an administrative role). This can be frustrating, especially if you are busy doing something else. If it is something small, for example replenishing tea and biscuits in the boardroom, then it?s probably best to show willing and do as asked.

    If you are in the middle of an urgent task, or you are doing something for your actual boss when another director comes to you with a request, let them know you will come back to them ASAP. If it is an unreasonable request, make sure you stand your ground and calmly explain the situation. Offering an alternative solution is always a good approach. You can also ask their PA to pick up the task by pointing out that you are too busy to help.

    ? You may be asked to support additional executives while their own assistant is on holiday. This is a perfect way to get to know other directors and understand other parts of the business. The opportunity to support executives who are new to the organisation might also arise and this is a good chance for them to see how you work and the contribution you make to the organisation.

    ? Confidentiality is key to an effective working relationship with your executive team. This is a crucial part of the role, but it bears reiterating here. The moral of the story is don?t gossip, even if the gossip is really juicy. If the executive team finds out you have talked about what happened in last week?s board meeting, when one of the directors went haywire, that is not going to reflect well on you.

    ? Remember they are people too. Exchange pleasantries as you would do with anyone else. Executives tend to be less guarded around assistants because they know what the relationship is like between an assistant and a director and they realise that assistants can be trusted and are used to dealing with top management.

    It can be daunting working with the leaders of your organisation, but once you understand how to communicate and how to present yourself the rewards are high. Supporting people who make the decisions in your business can be exhilarating, so it is worth investing the time in making the relationship work.

    Nicky Christmas is the founder of practicallyperfectpa.com, a website dedicated to the support and development of assistants throughout the world. Nicky worked her way up from junior administrator to executive assistant/marketing manager at a global events company. She has experience of working in a variety of industries, including accountancy, banking, insurance and the public sector

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    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson