Career Profile: Roxanne Matthews

MEMBER PROFILE, JULY 2020

This month’s profile is all about IAM Fellow Roxanne Matthews

1) Tell us a little about your career.

My career has been incredibly varied and I have now come full circle.   I began as an executive secretary, progressed into HR administration and, over time, became an HR practitioner with various roles in recruitment & selection, organisational redesign projects and staff engagement initiatives.   During my career I have worked in different kinds of businesses within the private and public sectors, and I have met some inspiring colleagues.  Now whilst I reconsider my work/life balance, I have returned to the executive assistant role.

b) How did your career start and where has your career taken you?

Without a clear career direction at 19 and fresh out of a Dorset girls’ grammar school, I moved to London and began an intensive one year’s course at secretarial college learning typewriting, shorthand, book-keeping, office practice and the media & journalism.  It sounds dated now, but it was a solid foundation from which to launch into corporate life.

I went on to work for high profile companies in London and Birmingham across different sectors such as broadcasting, antiques, manufacturing and banking. After several years, I followed a long-held ambition to move into HR using my secretarial experience as a stepping stone to become an HR Administrator.

Secretarial skills are also very portable.  When I was 24, I self-funded a 12-month working holiday to Australia working as a temporary secretary in Sydney & Melbourne. 

c) What are the challenges you find in your workplace?

I am an Executive Assistant at Birmingham City Council working for two Councillors.  The past decade has been enormously challenging for the Council as it reduces in size to meet budget constraints.  This has meant our workplace has become increasingly uncertain and less secure. I have been through several restructures and compulsory & voluntary redundancy processes, and have said goodbye to many colleagues along the way.  At times, it has not been an easy environment to work in and the changes have been difficult and sometimes painful.  However, on the plus side we are now part of an emerging next-generation public service which has presented us with opportunities to gain experience in ways which would not have happened in the past.  It has made me think a lot about change at work, and how adaptability and resilience are key skills to have.

d) What are the challenges you find in your role?

As you can imagine the council provides many different services, and a challenging part of my role is to answer a diverse range of enquiries from residents needing the help of their Councillor.  These can vary from complaints about missed bin collections and fly-tipping reports, to more complex situations relating to social care or benefit claims.  Each call is different and I never know what to expect.  I need to be able to manage individuals who are upset by the circumstances they find themselves in and are understandably looking for speedy action;  those who are reluctant to hear the messages I need to convey; and those who are looking for a sympathetic ear.   At the same time, I also have to gather accurate detail from them in order to ensure their queries will receive appropriate investigation by relevant colleagues.   It certainly keeps me on my toes.

e) What is the best advice you could give to someone in a similar role and how to progress?

I was once advised by a colleague to look for ways of adding value and improving the outcome of my work in some way.  This advice made a lasting impression on me.    By using this approach where you can, you personally contribute to the end result and become an integral part of the process.  It will also provide you with concrete examples to demonstrate your value and prove your worth at appraisals, career development discussions and interviews.  The administrator role is key in any team.  Without it, the day does not run smoothly for anyone.

f) What do you think the most important things are for people to develop in the current market?

I think it is being aware of the strategic picture within which you are working.  This was emphasised for me last year at a Continuing Professional Development session run by the IAM called ‘Being Strategic: Sound Judgement & Making Decisions’.   Andrew Jardine, General Manager of the IAM, discussed the type of skills which will be needed in the future world of work.   As we know most roles and particularly administrative roles are evolving and some aspects are becoming computerised, but what cannot be automated are skills such as complex problem-solving and independent thinking.  This is where initiative still adds value.

In my experience, when I am familiar with the business strategies, the purpose and the business objectives of those I support, it is much easier for me to apply my expertise to any of the variety of challenges I face to create better results and outcomes for them.

g) What do you feel your best achievements are?

When I look back over my career, I feel great professional satisfaction knowing that I have enabled people at work to achieve their objectives and plans because I successfully managed and organised the administrative detail for them.

My personal highlight was the work I did as a member of the HR project team responsible for implementing the new staffing structure at the Library of Birmingham.  It was such an intense 12-month period because we were working to a fixed deadline and the high profile opening of the building by Malala Yousafzai (the Human Rights advocate) and City Dignitaries.  Demands were     challenging, timescales were short, hours were long and there were some sleepless nights – but it was also very exciting.  I loved working in a highly motivated team committed to a common purpose.   Every time I pass the building I have a real sense of personal achievement – and of legacy.  I can say I was part of making that happen!

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