Kate Warburton discusses the role of an EA.
The EA (Executive Assistant) role is an incredibly broad and varied one. The duties are as wide as is necessary to provide support to boost the success and profitability of a business. In order to fulfil this broad requirement, the modern EA is resourceful, diligent, organised, creative, commercially aware, intelligent, good at communicating, able to multitask and help expand the business. The role is very diverse, because the needs of executives and business leaders vary according to the maturity of the business, the industry, company size, goals, and many other factors.
The modern EA needs to possess these skills with a high level of expertise. No wonder the Guardian’s digital editor, Claire Phipps, said: “a secretary is the most essential asset in every office. It is shocking that still today there are those who see PAs/EAs/Secretaries and Assistants as merely staff who type letters, answer phones and make the coffee.
Interviewing Anita Dobney, the PA to the vice presidents of Prologis Developments, a property development company with a base in Solihull, commented that “years ago, the traditional PA waited for things to happen, the bosses would give you the work and you’d do it. Now you have to be one step ahead. The pace of business is so fast, you have to constantly plan and almost pre-empt what happens next week, otherwise you would not be able to do it all.”
What’s in the EA and PA’s job spec?
As mentioned, the most disappointing detail of an EA’s duration however, is the persisting ungracious opinions from other employees in their company. Whereas the job descriptions for other professions leave little room for staff to have flexibility in their role, and for the organisation to ask more of the employee than is in their specific detailed duties. An Assistant who would rather not be named, explained that she had attended an annual PA conference, where “during the afternoon, there was a very interesting break-out session on Job Specs which had everyone hooked. The lady to the left of me had inherited a 12-page job spec which had not been updated in 10 years, whereas the lady to the right had a 6-page document. Mine was 1-2 pages in length and had not been updated in 5 years. We all belonged to varying industry sectors, but one thing united us all – that we had all inherited generic job specs full of clichés rather than ones based on our actual remits and duties”.
So how do we improve the effectiveness of leaders in the workplace and award some of the praise to the EA? In my opinion, focusing purely on the EA role, the mission should not only promote the role, but also help leaders get the most out of the unique synergy between them and their EA. Focusing on the “fit” between the two, can help Leaders become more efficient and be able to have a greater impact in their role.
I consider the EA role as a business accelerator when the “fit” provides an executive with an EA who is their right hand, as well as their eyes and ears. And just as importantly, other staff in the office need to listen to and take note of EAs ideas and suggestions, as they most likely know ‘everything’ about the company, arguably more than anyone else except the CEO. This is thanks to the meetings they attend and the conversations they have with their boss and clients. It’s safe to say that EAs have a hand in nearly every aspect of the day-to-day team operations.
One consistent ad hoc duty for Anita has been fixing printers/scanners/fax machines, as she is ultimately the person who troubleshoots the machine in question. Anita goes on to say that “there is always the level of expectation that I will sort it. It is my role yet this is not listed in the job spec?”. A proficient assistant can take on a variety of roles at any given moment. They are the ultimate super-jugglers who have the ability to throw a to-do list up in the air and catch it in a different order, depending on the situation at hand, a challenging job to say the least!
With the modern EA possessing the already mentioned extraordinary expertise, and Claire Phipps, the Guardian’s digital editor naming secretaries “the most essential asset in every office“, it is shocking that today there are still those who merely turn a blind eye to them.
Businessman Sir John Timpson once said, “the best answers are found in a happy workplace, based on kindness and respect, where everyone understands the background to stress and frustration”. Advice that I think pertinently, if implemented, will help raise the EA role to an even higher level.