Guest Writer: Adam Fidler – Adam Fidler Training Academy
I worked as a Senior Administrator for over 20 years; I now specialise in the training and self-development of people that carry out that role. Yet more recently, we’ve seen a big turn in the industry, at home and abroad, and I want to share with you what’s happening. EAs, PAs and Administrative staff have always felt a little under-valued – and that their job was not given the status and credibility it deserved. Then in the early 2000s when new technology, such as the internet and mailmerge was introduced, administrators were told that if they ‘knew’ technology, that would give them the edge, or the competitive advantage to remain valuable in their firms. Little did anyone say that some 20 years later, everyone would now do Word and Excel, and that far from being a differentiator, those skills would become the the norm.
Being good at ‘skills’ is certainly something to be proud of (after all, I was a high-speed typist and shorthand writer), but I recognised even at the age of 20, as a new secretary, that if I wanted to progress and become more powerful in the admin role, I needed more than just ‘skills’ on my CV.
The tide has certainly turned – and in the work that I do, I have been championing EAs, PAs and Administrators to think about what now, in today’s world of work, their ‘differentiators’ are. What’s a differentiator, I hear you ask? It’s something that sets you far apart from your contemporaries, and others within the same role. It’s when you personally raise the bar, change perceptions and give your colleagues and your Executive, a totally different perspective on what your job is.
Now this has all come at a time when, interestingly, we are seeing more Admin professionals empowered than ever before. In the UK, and Europe, we have an abundance of Assistant and Admin Associations and Networks; whether ‘in-house’ or a national body. That’s great – and it gives those in the role confidence to learn and grow. But, we need to ask ‘What gives those people credibility?’ and ‘What are those people doing to differentiate and elevate their roles?’.
Naturally, staying ahead of technology plays a big part – but that will only get Admins so far. The next step, in my view, is getting Admins to become more credible and valuable through the additionality (yes, that’s a word from education world) they can provide. Examples would be the Assistant who is also a competent Project Manager, or the EA that line manages other staff such as Reception or a group of Team Assistants. The things that traditionally ‘managers’ would do – are now being passed on to their Assistants.
If Assistants want to get credible, and gain the respect they deserve, then doing more of the same won’t wash. By leaning towards taking on more responsibility, and learning the traits of sound management, the Admin becomes not just a reactive, run-off-the-mill person, but someone who is an essential and integral part of the management team.
You may know this – I’m sure you do, but without reinforcing the role this way, we deflate it back to ‘secretarial’ work. Secretarial work will eventually be outsourced or automated; but the complex activities, that require human interaction, diplomacy and sound judgement, are what will remain. The synergy between ‘management’ and ‘support’ will get increasingly blurred.
If ‘Admins’ are to remain in a job, then they need to cross that line and become credible by their execution and ability to get things done without much support from those they support. That’s how I worked for 20 years – even as a junior secretary, I shadowed my boss and did project work. Not because I had to, but because I knew if I didn’t take ownership and expand my competencies, no one would do that for me.
The Executive Assistants I train are crying out for more involved work; they’re bored with the day jobs of transacting all the time. And my advice when they say ‘But the boss won’t let me…’? Do it anyway – for yourself, if only to prove what you can achieve. Then, if that boss or organisation doesn’t support you, you simply prepare yourself for the next move. There are 3.2 million people doing admin roles in the UK alone, but I would surmise only 25% of those are actually ‘stepping up’.
Are you one of them?
By stepping up, Executives give their Assistants raises, and not roses!
Adam Fidler is the Principal of Adam Fidler Academy, and specialises in the education, self-development and training of Executive Assistants. You can learn more about Adam at www.executiveassistant.org