What makes a good administrative assistant?

It’s often said that an executive is only as good as their administrative assistant (also known as an administrative professional, secretary or personal assistant). Handling day-to-day administration for one or more executives, a team or network, an admin assistant is the “eyes and ears” of a company, privy to unique and powerful insights about the company culture, performance and future direction.

Administrative professionals are highly valuable to the smooth running of a business, team or office. For many businesses, an administrative assistant is the very first hire outside the founding team, with many executives relying on the skill of their assistants in order to do their job effectively.

What skills do admin assistants need? 

To create value for their organisations and thrive within their roles, secretaries, executive assistants and general administrative staff need:

  • Strong organisational abilities – this is the cornerstone of the admin profession. It means staying on top of diaries and calendars, keeping paperwork (whether digital or physical) filed neatly, and always thinking ahead to what’s next.
  • Clear communication skills – admin assistants absorb all the communications that executives haven’t time to deal with. They often have to answer emails and take phone calls on behalf of executives and communicate with VIPs – so the ability communicate effectively, with good spelling and a personable phone manner – is essential.
  • Initiative and drive – the best admin assistants aren’t just reactive, responding to needs as they come in. They look for ways to create efficiencies, streamline operations and implement new programs to the benefit of themselves, their execs and the business as a whole.
  • IT literacy – this is essential to an admin role. Proficiency in the Microsoft Office package and any other tools that might be used in the organisation (such as project management tools) is a must.
  • Honesty and discretion – administrative professionals are often privy to confidential communications, strategy meetings, business performance figures and other classified information. They need to be relied on to keep this information confidential.

Employers also look for stability on a secretary’s CV, as this demonstrates highly prized attributes like resilience, the ability to make considered choices, commitment and reliability.

What do administrative assistants do? 

Depending on the job description and seniority, type and size of the business, and lots of other factors, a secretary or admin assistant will be found doing a huge (and often challenging) range of essential tasks.

These tasks might include ordering office supplies, taking the minutes of meetings, inducting new staff members, organising executive travel, co-ordinating appointments, answering emails on behalf of their executive, organising events, budgeting, boosting morale in the office, accounting, fielding customer questions, project management and many more.

In order to carry out these duties, a secretary or administrator needs certain skills, such as touch typing (at least 65 words per minute), Microsoft Office and general computer literacy. They should also be able to manage a budget effectively. On top of this, they need to be able to think on their feet and solve problems as they arise.

How high can an assistant go?

An ambitious admin assistant will be working on professional development consistently, upskilling in the areas of new technologies, HR practices, accounting or management. Many will take each job as a learning opportunity, and once they have mastered each role, will move on to a new role, developing for instance project and people management skills. Admin professionals may begin as a receptionist or part of an admin assistant team and can work up to operations management or senior executive assistant positions.

Some assistants go into the role specifically to learn how business is done in the C-Suite, so they can take this knowledge and pivot into a more hands-on business oriented role.

If you’re looking for an administrative role, speak to one of our specialist office support consultants today.