Are you really a great Executive Assistant?

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

To be a high-performing EA means being resourceful, innovative and proactive.

Someone who thinks independently, is a natural decision maker, confident, excellent communication skills and an ability to think under pressure and display good judgement. Below, I have highlighted a few of the most important skills and traits to have to make an exceptional Executive Assistant.

Having options and answers for everything: Being an EA comes with a lot of expectations and having an answer or quick thinking is one of them. It is common for EA’s to have let’s say ‘a little black book’ of resources, services contacts and links handy for issues that may arise. This can take a lot of pressure off yourself as an EA and save copious amounts of time which can be very limited when you have a million and one other tasks at hand.

You have to be able to see ten moves ahead and anticipate issues before they become full-blown problems. There’s two ways of looking at this, the first is

Seeing a potential problem coming together, and you work proactively to prevent them from developing. The second is about knowing the preferences and idiosyncrasies that are unique to your boss. For example, if your experience has taught you that your boss is sharper in the morning hours than after lunch, schedule that tough meeting in the morning, not the afternoon.

In both cases, anticipating problems and nipping in the bud can save you countless headaches down the road, and allow you and your boss to focus on the important stuff.

Organisation: It go without saying, however organisation is imperative for Executive Assistants. An EA role is a fast-paced and anything goes. You are effectively running the Business with your CEO/MD. Their problems are your problems so you can’t afford to waste precious seconds being unorganised.

Priorities: Limiting distractions for your Boss for them to focus on the most important task or project can be a job in itself but you need to be ruthless, make judgements to work out what warrants their attention now, what can wait and what time is being wasted on but this is not all down to you, having a trusting, close knit communication and full understanding of the goals and objectives of the business is key. Your Executive will need to be clear and transparent with you from the start for you to gain what is important and what is not. This can take time but you both will get there!

Staying calm under pressure: An EA’s role can be very stressful and demanding. In most cases, your Executive is in a high-pressure role themselves and as mentioned previously, you are basically running their business and tension is passed onto you. Fear not, it won’t be everyday that you are having to face the worst of the worse however functioning in tense and stressful situations in a calm (I got this) manner is critical. Training yourself to keep your composure and taking the time to invest in your mental tools and abilities will truly help your everyday life. Look at the bigger picture and know that regardless, it will be okay. So take a deep breath and focus on what you can do and what is in your control. Getting flustered and panicking won’t help anyone, especially you.

Communication: Again, you are a spokesperson for your Executive and most of the time you will need to respond to things in a very similar way as to how they would. As you would be representing on their behalf, great phone etiquette and polished emails are vital. A lot of communication you may be doing for you Executive could be reaching larger departments, companies and other VIP clients. So with that said, having clear and accurate communication between yourself and your Executive is a must. Carve out time in their diary, even if it is 15 minutes in the morning to run through things, catch up making sure you are both on the same page. Failure to understand each other can cause huge problems for you both and don’t forget to be confident and speak up, you’ll need to be their reality check every now and then. Give your opinions and input.

IT professional: Just to add to the long list of what you are expected to do as an EA, being savvy on all things tech is one of them. In addition to the usual professional tools like Microsoft Office or Google’s G-suite, today’s EA has to be proficient in the myriad systems, apps, and plugins that executives use to do their jobs. There are constantly new apps/software’s being made to help business’ so you cannot know them all before you start your role but keep an eye out and check in with what is new and out there to make your life easier by understanding and utilising these tools. As for technical issues, you may be the closest thing to an IT specialist in a start-up environment so having the ability to troubleshoot is a skill you need to obtain and be prepared for.

People skills: Reading people’s emotional cues and body language is essential. You could be dealing with people from all walks of life and roles such as entry level to C-suite . You need to build a healthy rapport with these people. EA’s quite often may need to ask for favours and being pleasant and open to reciprocate will mean you are more likely to get the help you need to smooth out tasks. the help Folks are more inclined to lend a hand to pleasant individuals. Having a good relationship with others around you and clients may also be the difference of throwing your boss under the bus or being able to diffuse a difficult situation.

Aside from this, getting to know your team and the people you work with can be just as important. Have lunches together, ask questions about the company in a positive way to get to know the goals of the company and what role they play in this. This will circle back to being able to prioritise well and overall help your understanding of your Executive’s delegation.

Trust: This is single-handedly one of the biggest determining factor when it comes to success in the EA role. You will be trusted in your role until you break this. Sensitive information will be in your hands and keeping this confidential is one of the most important things you can do. By gossiping, involving yourself in rumours or posting company matters on any social platform is and never will be ok. Should you find yourself having innocently slipped up, your next best step would be to own up, inform your Executive of the situation and work together on a solution should you need it. Your Executive needs to have full trust & confidence that they can leave you to also work independently and act on their behalf. This part is fully down to you by proving yourself and quite often going above and beyond the call of duty (ABCD!)

Multi-tasking: Our brains just aren’t made to handle more than one complex task at a time and there isn’t actually such a thing as multi-tasking or doing more than one complex task at a time. Saying this, to some degree you will be expected to be doing multiple things at once but it doesn’t mean you will be doing this any faster or efficiently as apposed to finishing the task properly and then doing the next. Should you find yourself having to do more than one thing at once then pair up simpler tasks like responding to emails or booking travel. If you’re on hold, why not do some quick filing or data entry?

Focus-intensive tasks need your full attention and I would definitely suggest knocking them out one by one but again, when you can, pair the more mindless activities together to maximise your time.

In conclusion, EA’S/PA’s will rarely have a boring day, it is usually full and different each day. Be sure to keep your cool and wits about you. Don’t take things personally and understand you play a huge part in the success of the business.

Posted by: Kelly Ratcliffe, Director of Business Development