14 qualities of a highly successful executive assistant in 2021
Company execs are notoriously busy individuals. The endless to-do lists, back-to-back meetings, strategic planning, and more require nothing short of superhuman effort and time management. So how do they manage all of this? A successful executive possesses a secret weapon, an equally successful executive assistant.
Also known as administrative assistants, personal assistants, executive secretaries, or EAs for short, the executive assistant job is essentially that of gatekeeper, confidant, and overall support system to c-suite executives.
EA’s are essentially an extension to top-level executives meaning that they are also normally the first point of contact for anyone trying to reach them. They manage their schedules, prepare reports, provide general administrative support, and are essentially involved in most if not all of their work.
For a more in-depth look at the job description of an EA, check out this guide’s next article on the responsibilities of an executive assistant.
The importance of executive assistants
Due to rapidly changing work environments and technological advancement, executive assistants work on and occupy even more roles than before. Gone are the days where EA’s were seen purely as gatekeepers to execs, there to answer phone calls and take messages.
Technology now provides execs with a plethora of tools that can carry out such tasks for them. Note-taking apps, scheduling solutions, business travel platforms, and task management platforms mean that the level of administrative support execs need has decreased over the years.
But EAs are far from obsolete. They now occupy a strategic role as well as an administrative one. They jump from helping out with decision making, to technical assistance, internal communications, overseeing business travel and event planning to name a few.
The 14 skills top executive assistants possess
If this crazy yet highly rewarding career path sounds like the right fit for you, we’ve put together a list of 14 vital executive assistant skills to help you become a top notch administrative professional.
1. Be super organized
It might come as no surprise that the best executive assistants possess otherworldly organizational skills. As an EA, you are essentially in charge of two extremely busy workloads, your own and the executive you work for. You need to be able to prioritize all that there is to be done and see to it as efficiently as possible.
Being proficient at multitasking is also crucial. No matter how well planned your day might be, emergencies and urgent issues that require your immediate attention will inevitably pop up and you must be flexible enough to handle these. Once the fires have been put out, you should be able to return to your schedule with ease.
You must be organized in a way that any information you or your executive needs at a moment’s notice is at your fingertips.
2. Be Tech-Savvy
We’ve already outlined how technology has drastically changed the job of an EA by providing execs with solutions to some of the more traditional administrative functions. EAs are expected to be more analytical and strategic in their work but being technologically proficient has also become crucial.
Administrative assistants should have a strong grasp of the traditional Google and Microsoft Office programs like Excel and Powerpoint as well as have a list of tools and resources that will ultimately help them do a better job such as Slack, Calend.ly, and TravelPerkto name a few.
Data entry, minute-taking, and record-keeping are all important parts of what executive assistants do, and staying up-to-date with the latest applications and solutions on the market will definitely make your job a lot easier.
The fact that more execs are using some of these technological solutions themselves often means that EAs often need to take the time to assist them with troubleshooting whenever the need arises.
3. Be cool, calm, and collected
Ask any EA how to be a better personal assistant and they will probably tell you that it’s important to know how to remain calm and keep a level head in stressful situations. Higher level executives are normally under extreme pressure and this is normally passed on to their EAs.
Maintaining your composure will make your life a lot easier and will help you deal with the many crises that are bound to pop up on a regular basis.
4. Be an ambassador
As a gatekeeper and representative of your executive, you need to familiarize yourself with their goals and values as well as those of the company. You need to understand the bigger picture and keep it in mind, particularly when dealing with people external to the organization.
Take the time to understand the values as well as the intimate workings of the company. Get to know all the team members and what their duties and responsibilities are. This ensures that you are prepared to answer questions and even take decisions in the best interest of the exec as well as the company.
5. Be trustworthy
Working closely with a top level executive means that you are likely to be privy to sensitive and confidential information on a regular basis. This could include the company’s financial information, HR issues, trade secrets as well as being aware of (and often having to solve) crises of a delicate nature.
It is of the utmost importance that you maintain confidentiality and discretion for the sake of the exec as well as the organization. Losing the trust of the executive you work for will make it practically impossible for you to do your job.
6. Be an excellent communicator
An EA constantly deals with people. From the executive they work for, to other team members within the company and clients and stakeholders outside of the organization. You are a spokesperson for the executive and for the company and must therefore possess great communication skills as well as people skills.
Possessing a skill set that includes empathy and emotional intelligence will help as you build relationships that will become crucial for you to do your job. A good EA is active on LinkedIn, Meetup and busy during social events, networking with other EAs and contacts who will come in handy further down the line.
7. Be an adept anticipator
This is a tricky one and normally comes with years of experience. By using their experience and possessing an understanding of both potential situations and your boss’ habits and needs, a great executive assistant is able to anticipate and overcome stumbling blocks before they occur.
Becoming an expert problem solver of this level will not only make you an invaluable personal assistant but will also help make your job feel a lot easier. Crisis after crisis can be averted with a little strategic planning.
8. Be an on-your-feet thinker
Along with being able to anticipate problems, you also need to know how to solve them on the fly. As an EA, you will face countless situations that might not necessarily have textbook solutions you can refer to. You will need to think outside the box and use every tool at your disposal to get to the bottom of a problem.
With this comes a certain level of autonomy. You will need to feel comfortable taking decisions yourself and make those spur-of-the-moment calls at the right time. Of course, it’s important to understand the limits of your power and find the right balance between the two.
9. Be a sharp negotiator
You’ll be surprised at how useful this particular skill is for an administrative professional. EAs spend a lot of time dealing and communicating with vendors and service suppliers and need to know how to negotiate to obtain the outcomes needed for the company or the exec. This could be for an executive’s travel needs, finding a table at the right restaurant for a business lunch, getting the best deal on office supplies, or even obtaining tickets or passes to exclusive events.
The time you would have invested in networking comes into play here as EAs often use these contacts to call in favors and get inside information or recommendations.
10. Be proficient in the art of project management
When you think about it, an executive assistant is essentially a project manager tasked with handling a single but highly complex project. The needs and requirements of a high-level executive. A firm grip on some of the key concepts and practices of project management would therefore go a long way.
EAs are often tasked with event coordination including planning team-building events aimed at enhancing company culture. Being a great company ambassador (see point 4) will put you in a stronger position to execute such tasks in the most efficient and effective way possible.
11. Be analytical
As we’ve already mentioned, the advancement of technology has made the role of an executive assistant less administrative and more strategic or analytical. The more of an analytical thinker you are, the better you will be at your job as an EA and the more valuable you’ll be to the execs you work for.
You will be better equipped to deal with sensitive and complex situations. As you’re faced with having to make one decision after the next, your analytical prowess and attention to detail will be your secret weapon. This will be particularly valued by your employers since an EA will often occupy the role of unofficial advisor and confidant.
12. Be a leader and a team player
As the person working in the closest proximity to some of the key individuals in an organization, other staff members will often turn to you for guidance and advice. You possess insight and knowledge on the needs and wants of the execs and of what is best for the company. You also hold the key to a trove of great contacts and connections. From time to time, you will be asked to pass on messages to the rest of the company on behalf of the c-suite team.
This puts you in a position of power but also requires you to be a team player. You must represent the executive but should also be someone people feel they can turn to when the need arises. The nature of your job means you will need to collaborate with different team members at different moments depending on the situation. This is particularly true when you need to take the lead on projects like organizing team-building events, overseeing office works, or coordinating meetings logistics.
13. Be ready to adapt
As you’ve probably gathered by now, a dull moment is a rarity and a luxury for an executive assistant. Crises pop up, the phone is always ringing, emails constantly flood in, and, of course, execs require constant attention.
Change needs to be something you embrace. You should be able to deal with an ever-shifting environment but also constantly evaluate your own processes and find ways to make them more efficient and effective.
14. Be willing to learn
When your day is moving at a hundred miles an hour, finding ways to enhance your skills or even learn new ones might seem like a tall order. That said, this is the best way to advance in your career and add more value to yourself as an executive assistant.
Start off by dedicating some time every week to keep up with the latest news and trends within your industry and be on the lookout for the tools that could help make your life easier. This alone will instantly put you in a stronger position as an EA.
Executive assistants are essentially the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife to their organization. The skillset outlined in this article is quite extensive and might seem a bit daunting at first but don’t let it put you off. If you want to excel as an executive assistant, the first thing you need to possess is a willingness to take on this intense yet rewarding role and to learn as you go. Mistakes are inevitable but take it all in your stride, learn from them, and you’ll be just fine.