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An EA is not the same as PA!


There still seems to be much confusion out there about the difference between a secretary, Personal Assistant (PA) and Executive Assistant (EA).  Adam Fidler, Founder and Director of Adam Fidler Academy, explains why an EA is not the same as a PA. Now, I’m not here to talk about secretaries, as that certainly isn’t a title I’d expect to see in the modern commercial world, although we may find people who are called PAs and EAs, still undertake secretarial duties. That is natural – and quite right. However, over recent years, I’ve seen the title Executive Assistant adopted everywhere, by employers and job-holders, with little evidence – often seen on job descriptions – on what the role of EA is versus a more traditional PA or executive secretary.

An EA is not the same as PA – key differences on a ‘real’ EA role vs PA, secretary or administrator

If we are to define the EA role we need to take into consideration a number of differentiating factors:

1. The EA title is not just a new name for a PA or Administrator

The EA is someone who doesn’t just provide mechanistic support, but also provides intellectual (thinking) support to those they work alongside. Notice that I’ve used the phrase ‘intellectual support’ deliberately – in other words, EAs do much more thinking and strategizing than their counterparts ever did. This includes problem solving, analysing, evaluating and critical thinking amongst other tasks. These are intellectual skills and require stepping back, reflecting and anticipating.  These to me are in abundance with someone who works as a real EA.

2. I would expect the EA has much broader responsibility than ‘looking after’ their boss

Yes, the boss is the main concern and priority, but EAs have other duties and broader responsibility to help run the business. It’s not uncommon for an EA to be a line manager, oversee a project, and even lead and create new initiatives. Mark those words carefully – ‘lead’, ‘initiate’, ‘create’…. far from secretarial words.

3. The true EA will often provide much more advanced duties

These duties often include writing speeches and reports, drafting correspondence and even supporting the roll-out of the strategic plan. Indeed, they might even formulate the company’s strategic plan. (There’s another great word – ‘formulate’.)

4. An EA is an integral part of the management team

Being part of the management team means the EA sits around the SLT table, not only as a minute-taker, but as delegate in their own right.  The EA might even chair the meeting, in the absence of their boss!

These are merely a few ideas of how EAs add wider organisational value. And, I now feel I must apologise to everyone before I make the following statement: if your duties are purely diary management and arranging travel, no matter how senior your boss is, that isn’t really an Executive Assistant!


Take a look at more career development articles by Adam Fidler.