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The pivotal pro

Secretary/administrative assistant crucial to any organization

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Every month seems to have its day of celebration. And in the month of April, we have celebrated the well-known Secretary's Day and/or Administrative Professionals' Day since approximately 1952.

This special day is now celebrated across the world in recognition of all the important work these key professionals do to ease the challenges faced by management. As well, the Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (PAFSA) has declared the year 2014 as the International Year of the Secretary and Administrative Assistant. You'll note that I used the word, "professional" when discussing this job role, and I did so for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the role of secretary/administrative professional has one of the longest histories in our work world. In fact, a secretarial role was one of the first important support roles within a business and/or board situation dating back to biblical times. These individuals typically knew several languages, had extremely good penmanship and in the earliest of days, they wrote their notes on clay, wood or waxen tablets.

Secondly, I used the word professional because this role has proven itself tremendously adaptable. What other role do you know that has moved from clay tablets, parchment and paper, to typewriters and now advanced office technologies and continues to have significant value to organizations? This job role is an excellent example of adaptability.

Thirdly, the role played by these professionals has become increasingly important to organizations. Today, many administrative professionals have a college or university degree accompanied by certifications in areas such as project management. They also typically have good skills in records and database management, accounting, meeting and event planning, scheduling and customer service.

Lastly, the role of a secretary/administrative assistant has typically always been considered a "support" role rather than a key role in the management of an organization. Earlier in its history, the job was taking minutes, typing correspondence and handling managerial paperwork. However, with the advent of computers and now laptops and iPads, managers are now doing their own correspondence work, so once again, the role of secretary/administrative assistant has adapted to this change.

Much of work being done today by this historic role is to manage the administrative tasks of a senior executive team. It's a high-pressure job in a confidential environment where time is of the essence. The work tasks may range from managing and maintaining the schedule of one or two executives as well as that of a corporate and/or not-for-profit board to acting as the liaison between internal as well as external executives, managers, consultants and vendors. The job will require acting as the telephone "gatekeeper," gracefully screening and prioritizing calls for the executive in order to protect their time and energy.

Today, many administrative assistants have highly developed research skills including competitor analysis and/or market research. Their writing skills are superb as they are required to write reports or write the first draft of proposals, letters, briefs and memos. Also, because of their detail orientation, they are often asked to act as the "second read" on many important documents, a skill that is critically important at the senior executive level. Many administrative professionals today also supervise other clerical staff and keep an office and/or business unit running smoothly.

As the job role has evolved over time, so, too, have the skills and educational requirements needed for the job. Today, an individual needs exceptional managerial and organizational skills accompanied by computer software skills. They need to be excellent at project management and execution skills with the ability to track activities, followup and follow through in a timely manner. They need to be very disciplined in how they organize and do their work. They need to be creative with respect to where to go for their research and then apply well-developed analytical skills in order to assess their documents for the key points required by management. Moreover, these individuals need to show leadership skills, be absolutely trustworthy, proactive and skilled at troubleshooting on behalf of their employer.

While the role, educational qualifications and tasks have changed and evolved, so, too, have the opportunities. That is because the skills of an administrative assistant/secretary are needed by any and all organizations. Thus, a professional can choose to work for a not-for-profit, a small and/or large manufacturing firm, for the government or for other private-sector businesses. There are also plenty of opportunities to increase responsibilities and transition into new roles.

The role of secretary/administrative assistants isn't without its challenges. For instance, with corporate restructuring and the advancement of technology, an individual in this role is often now working with as many as 10 managers. As well, technology has reduced the overall need for this profession at the lower, front-line level, and so the jobs available are more sophisticated and require higher educational levels and more in-depth expertise.

Today, an administrative professional needs to have a college and/or university degree plus specialist certifications in other areas pertinent to the business. They must also be a continuous learner, keeping up with changes in technology, systems and organizational structure. And more so, they must be flexible in adapting to change so their career is secure in spite of technology changes, mergers, acquisitions and/or plant closures.

Another challenge this profession faces is that the "image" of a secretary/administrative staff person may not have tracked along with the growth of their professional role. In other words, many managers continue to think of this role as "support" rather than recognize the critical role they play in the success of a business. As a result, many incumbents in this position perceive the compensation for this role may also be lagging. A quick review of local salaries also suggests there is a wide range of offerings from $40,000 to $55,000, depending on experience.

So, while April and 2014 together are times for celebration of this historic profession, it might also be the right time to review roles and responsibilities within your organization and determine how you wish to go forward into the future.


-- source:

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group and Career Partners International, Manitoba. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 H1

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