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Administrative assistant: the real right hand?

Guylaine Prévost
Administrative assistant: the real right hand?

The administrative assistant plays an essential role in the organization. Firstly, for the person they assist by saving time, and secondly, for the organization, as they often have a multi-faceted role, ranging from administrative support to human resources, accounting and operations.

Guylaine Prévost explains why the role of a good assistant goes far beyond this somewhat simplistic summary.

Note: the feminine is used here as a convention, although the position can be held by either men or women.

What is an administrative assistant - general

The National Occupational Classification (NOC) refers to an administrative assistant while the Labour Market Information (LMI) refers to a secretary. In reality, they are the same position.
The role of an administrative assistant is generally to be autonomous in organizing and managing the activities of his/her manager, or even part of the organization. Writing correspondence, taking notes, arranging meetings, maintaining databases, etc. are all interactions that are intended to make the work environment more fluid.

What are the essential skills of an administrative assistant?

As an administrative assistant, you will be working with a variety of departments and with a wide range of people, so a few minimum skills are required:
- A certain sense of organization, so as not to lose track of all the files in which she is called upon to intervene
- Good time management (and by extension, good management of the manager) to ensure efficiency and productivity
- Communication skills, whether in written or verbal form.
- A real adaptability, both to the context and to people
- A sense of discretion, as confidential or personal data will need to be handled
- Good knowledge of office automation, but this is quite obvious
- Thoroughness, as some contexts may involve administrative procedures to be respected
- And also versatility to be able to handle a wide variety of tasks and to be able to take notes at all times

What are the advantages of an administrative assistant position?

The relative autonomy that comes with the position allows you to manage your days a little as you wish (without completely freeing yourself from the rhythm of your n+1 of course). This does not mean doing anything, let alone nothing, but on the contrary having the latitude to define how you should do what you have to do.
The nature of the position allows you to interact with other departments in the organization, to be in contact with many people, and to work on a wide variety of files, both in size and complexity.
Why become a better administrative assistant.

Beyond the obvious generalities outlined above, it is important to note that the role of the administrative assistant is essential. Precisely because it's not just about support.
It's about both efficiency and trust

Efficiency

The assistant's level of know-how and interpersonal skills (office automation, time management, communication, etc.) will help organize deliverables and save time for the manager. Time being a scarce commodity, any gain is therefore appreciable (and generally appreciated by the person who benefits from it).
What's more, the assistant's role requires her to play firefighter on various fires, as she liaises with everyone: team members, management, partners, service providers, etc. Being organized makes sense because it allows you to provide answers quickly, or at least know where to look for them. The responsibility of interacting with each other contributes to a good knowledge of the files and the need to have a good relationship. These last two elements are as true for the people who come to the assistant as they are for her/his manager.
This brings us to the other dimension of the assistant's profile: the bond of trust

Trust

This is both the most difficult and the most important point to develop. The manager to whom the assistant reports probably has neither the desire nor the time to micromanage. That is, to tell him or her exactly what to do, when and how, and then to verify that it is done as directed. If this is the case, either the assistant needs to take training to acquire the skills she lacks, or she should look for a position elsewhere, with a manager who has a better understanding of their respective roles.
Getting out of micromanagement involves trust. Trust that emphasizes the obligation of results and not of means. In other words, for the manager, this means saying to the assistant "here is the objective, you are free to achieve it as you wish". This is where personal organization and autonomy (among others) come into play. This is also where things get more interesting for the administrative assistant, because she is no longer subordinate to her manager, but literally becomes her right hand. Someone who knows the files, their issues, knows how to use discretion, can intervene with other stakeholders... make executive decisions on an ad hoc basis and contribute to the achievement of objectives.
While it is likely that the praise will go to the manager when it comes time to be accountable, everyone is aware of the role played by the assistant, even if she or he is less often in the spotlight.
It is not innate and some may have more difficulty than others in developing this autonomy. It can be intimidating at first to go out and get the job rather than wait to be given something. But it's also what makes the difference between an assistant who will be given exclusively administrative tasks and one who will become a full-time collaborator, able to organize, prioritize, be creative, proactive and follow through.
Let's be honest, the tango is a two-person affair, and for trust to reign, the manager must also go some way to accept to leave some room for manoeuvre.

Through her professionalism, the assistant contributes to the success of her manager. It is therefore understandable that when the relationship is effective, it continues from one company to the next: a manager who moves to another position will be tempted to ask his or her assistant to follow him or her.

If you too want to give yourself the means to become an autonomous administrative assistant, a true right-hand man:

Administrative Assistant: Role Performance

 

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