This month’s profile is all about IAM Member and champion of the profession, Paula Harding.
Paula gives us an insight into how her career started and provides us with some great tips and advice for anyone in a similar role.
1) Tell us a little about your career
I am currently working as Executive Assistant (EA) to the Dean of Education at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. For the first time in my career, I am in a role where I work in partnership with my executive and it really is the happiest I have been.
2) How did your career start and where has your career taken you?
The journey to becoming an EA has been full of twists and turns but I wouldn’t change any of it as it has led me to where I am today.
My first role at the age of sixteen was as an Office Junior. I then progressed to a Training and Development Co-ordinator, Sales Administrator, Editor’s Assistant, HR Administrator, Hospice Secretary and Personal Assistant. I feel very lucky as all of these roles and all of the organisations I worked at gave me the transferable skills and experiences of many different processes and systems that I use in my current role. More than anything, I gained confidence and the ability to build relationships which is one of the most important skills to have as an EA.
3) What are the challenges you find in your workplace?
I work for a charitable organisation which can sometimes be restrictive. I’m a very, very creative person and I love to be able to brainstorm and challenge new ways of working. There would be many reasons for me to go and work for a private company where money was not an issue but at the same time, I’m really proud of the people and organisation I work for and in my heart that makes me happy.
4) What are the challenges you find in your role?
I am extremely protective of my executive as I am fully aware of the ambitious targets he needs to achieve over a short space of time. As his EA, I want him to be the best that he can be and to not only achieve his targets but to leave a legacy that he made a difference. At the same time, there are the day-to-day issues you would expect in any organisation and his time is often needed in many different places. My executive very much believes in an open-door policy but at the same time, he needs time to plan ahead and work on strategic issues.
5) What is the best advice you could give to someone in a similar role and how to progress?
Communication is key. The most important part of our day is a half-hour catch-up first thing in the morning. No-one else gets that slot, unless it is the executive that he reports to and he has only ever asked for it once. Whether we have one thing to discuss or a hundred, we have that time to catch up and plan. By doing this, we know what the priorities are and we can then work in sync. I once saw a presentation by the Pelham Group and they compared progress and success to a ship container entering a port. It can only be managed by small nudges keeping it on track. That’s how I see our updates, as daily nudges keeping us on track.
Progression for me has been about having grit, determination and a willingness to constantly learn and grow. I learn from everyone and everything and adapt it to how I carry out my role. I also believe in being honest, I will speak up if I’m unsure or challenge if I don’t agree with something. I still have a lot to learn about myself, my role, the organisation I work for and the profession. I invest in my own development and I get out in the business community to network and engage with other people, to find out what is going on and to share thoughts, ideas and connections.
6) What do you think the most important things are for people to develop in the current market?
I believe that adding value is one of the most important parts of being an employee. Whatever you do, do it well, really well. Be known as the expert in your field. There are many reports about AI taking over roles and that will happen to a degree, however, AI will create different roles and we need to be flexible to learn new skills and adapt. The ones who are keeping an eye on the marketplace and learning the skills needed will be the ones who will be employable. If you are doing that and at the same time adding value and are known as the expert in your field, then you will be in a fantastic position.
7) What do you feel your best achievements are?
I believe my best achievements are ahead of me. There are many people in the industry who I admire and who inspire me and I want to be on that journey with them, gaining credibility for this unique, misunderstood and underrated profession.