What is an executive assistant?

What is an Executive Assistant?

An Executive Assistant is someone who provides high level administrative support to an Executive of a company or division under minimal supervision. Their role has a broad range of administrative duties and activities such as management of the executive’s calendar and appointments, booking travel and organizing and scheduling meetings..

An executive assistant is proactive and will involve managing and reviewing administrative work procedures, policies and operational methods and identifying and documenting them as applicable. Executive Assistants may also be responsible for training and coordinating the work of other administrative or temporary support staff.

The Executive Assistant uses initiative and an advanced knowledge of administrative skills, methods and analysis to choose appropriate alternatives from among pre-defined policies and procedures. They are required to complete the majority of activities without direction and informs their executive/supervisor of on-going progress.

While the role of the executive assistant can vary from one organization to another, generally speaking, their role is pivotal to ensuring the executives day-to-day operations run smoothly, allowing them to focus on strategic initiatives and decision-making.

What does an Executive Assistant Do?

  • Manage day to day schedules in such a way that the executive is able to complete their obligations in an organized, efficient way
  • Coordinate internal and external meetings including team meetings, staff meetings, off-site meetings, one-on-one meetings, meetings with stakeholders and customers.
  • Manage the executive’s calendar, schedule meetings, and ensure smooth transitions between daily appointments. Manage calendar priorities based on customer meetings, release cycles, fiscal calendars, current projects and team needs.
  • Book both domestic and international travel within the company’s travel policy. Be familiar with travel visas, costs and proper travel documentation. EAs may also be responsible for coordinating personal appointments, family events, and company social functions.
  • Effectively interface with executives, employees and customers.
  • Manage business related meetings including assisting with food orders and luncheon planning. Prepare and organize necessary materials and provide meeting reminders and updates to the executive. In addition, executive assistants may also be responsible for notetaking, distributing action items, and following up on task completion.
  • Handle correspondence, including email management, categorizing, prioritizing, and responding to messages.
  • Perform administrative duties such as document editing, data entry, data collection, filing, printing materials, and registering for events.

Basic Skills Required to be an Executive Assistant

1. Time Management and Organizational Skills

To succeed as an executive assistant, you need to be accountable not only to yourself but also to your employer, coworkers, customers and clients. In order to do this effectively, you need good planning and organizational skills to make the day flow productively, manage your workload and complete your tasks on time.

Time Management is the practice of organizing time and work assignments to increase productivity and personal efficiency. Time management and calendar management go hand in hand and requires communication and coordination on behalf on both the executive and executive assistant.

Organizational skills involve being self-disciplined, setting attainable goals, keeping your workspace neat and orderly and exhibiting professionalism. Organizational skills and time management skills can be learned just like any other soft skill with a little planning and organizational awareness.

2. Strong verbal and written communication abilities.

It’s important that you cultivate effective communication skills as these skills will determine your success as an executive assistant and will enhance your personal satisfaction in your job.  Communication will be the key to building trust between the EA and their executive so understanding each others communication styles and methods is key.

In the workplace, communication is a way of making sure the job gets done and is the responsibility of every employee in the organization.  As the executive assistant, you will be communicating externally with your company’s clients and internally with many of the employees of the organization. 

More than ever in our digital age, it’s important to know how to effectively convey and receive messages in person (verbally) as well as via phone, email, chat, and social media.

3. Soft Skills, Social Skills and Emotional Intelligence

For the Administrative Professional who wants to get ahead in the 21st century, basic office skills competency is no longer enough.  It’s now important that Administrative Professionals not only be technically savvy but also socially competent. Having the soft skills necessary to be able to communicate clearly and get along with their coworkers, colleagues, supervisors and clients is now more essential than ever.

Administrative Professionals are taking on more responsibility now than at any other time in history. Administrative Professionals today need strong communication skills to effectively collaborate with a variety of people and job functions, accomplishing tasks of moderate to high complexity and scope. Administrative Professionals may also be required to keep their team’s business operations and activities organized and moving forward. They’ll need to be self-starters who can recognize where processes can be improved and who will take the initiative to improve them.

Administrative Assistants, particularly Executive Administrative Assistants, must also possess strong business judgment, professional etiquette and organizational, analytical and problem-solving skills to be able to interact with high-level executives both inside and outside of the company. In addition to doing the more traditional tasks such as managing correspondence, office budgets and space planning, moderating office calendars and communication, creating and maintaining office policies and procedures and organization of office events, the executive assistant must manage their time well and acquire a thorough knowledge of their company culture, structure and products and services to be able to effectively analyze and anticipate the needs of their executive, team members and their projects. 

Emotional Intelligence is another skill that executive assistants should take some time to learn and understand. In her book, “Top 10 Soft Skills you Need”, Dr. Pamela R. Wiggins defines emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize and manage our feelings so that they are expressed appropriately.  The book “Soft Skills in the Workplace” defines a persons emotional intelligence as the ability of a person to perceive emotions in one’s self and in others and use this information to guide social behavior.”  Experts believe that people who have a high EQ often find soft skills easier to acquire. 

4. Basic Office Skills and Computer Literacy

For the executive assistant, hard skills are the basic office skills, such as computer and technology skills, that you bring to your business. EAs need the basic office skills like word processing, spreadsheets, email and calendar management or other specialized skills to perform the job and to effectively support their executive and his office. These can be Microsoft 365, Google Suite or open source software like LibreOffice.

Executive Assistants also need to be proficient on data collection and electronic filing systems to keep track of data that is important for the business. Knowledge of Google docs, word templates, online calendars and cloud services like OneDrive or DropBox are a must. It’s important for the EA to be adaptable and embrace constantly changing technology and make adjustments as needed.

5. Meeting Management

Meetings are a way of life in most organizations so those responsible for planning and running meetings need the skills to run effective and productive meetings. As an executive assistant, you need to be aware of not only the different types of meetings and formats of meetings, but also all the planning tasks involved in planning a successful meeting. Meetings can be held practically anywhere nowadays making for a variety of meeting formats and complexity that an executive assistant needs to master. This begins with knowing the purpose of the meeting to creating and sending out the meeting agenda and managing the executives calendar and time. Due to the nature of shared calendars, the executive assistant will often find themselves scheduling meetings on behalf of their executive, while allowing them time left on the calendar to complete tasks and other responsibilities.

The executive assistant may also be tasked with taking the meeting notes and preparing the minutes of the meeting. Meeting minutes are notes that are recorded during a meeting. They serve as a permanent record of the policies, what’s discussed, motions proposed or voted on and any other business that occurs at a meeting.

If you, as the executive assistant, are tasked with taking the minutes of the meeting, your role is to support the chair or your executive. However, taking minutes isn’t necessarily easy and it takes a certain level of expertise. That’s why it’s good to get familiar with some of the basic proceedings beforehand.

6. Calendar Management

One of the responsibilities of the executive assistant is making sure their executives calendar is well maintained and kept up to date. It’s important to make sure all meetings, travel, tasks, public holidays, school holidays, and trade shows are reflected in the calendar. This is the key to calendar efficiency and will save you oodles of time having to reschedule in the future due to meetings clashing with other important events.  

7. Booking Business Travel

One of your responsibilities as an Administrative Professional will be handling business travel arrangements for executives, clients, other employees or even yourself.  These can range from domestic travel to more complex international travel requiring travel documents, visas, vaccinations and currency.

Executive travel planning comes down to efficiently getting your client/ executive from A to B with the least amount of trouble.  You need to be on top of flights, ground transportation to and from the airport, hotel accommodations, meetings and other event details. 

The good news is that while booking travel for executives in the past has often been time consuming and tedious, today there’s many online services and resources available to you that can make the life of both your executive and yourself so much easier and efficient.

8. Be Adaptable and Flexible

Two of the most important soft skills you can develop are adaptability and flexibility.  Adaptability is the willingness and ability of an individual, team or organization to adjust or change to best meet the needs of the situation or environment.  While this soft skill is a very difficult quality for many people to meet, the dynamics of the work place today is constantly changing making it very important to understand what it means to be adaptable and flexible. 

Adaptability is a sought-after soft skill in the 21st Century as it shows that the administrative professional can adapt to new technology trends and ever-changing company processes and customer needs.  Adaptability rates right up there along with other highly desirable hard and soft skills and some employers state that people who are highly adaptable are actually considered more valuable employees than those who are highly skilled but less adaptable.

Improve your Office Skills

To improve your office skills  today, take the Administrative Office Professional online course or the Soft Skills Training for Administrative Professionals on officeskills.org. The Receptionist Online Course offered on officeskills.org also teaches valuable hard and soft skills required of the general receptionist in business today.

These courses are taught in the Office Skills Collaborative Online Classroom. The Office Skills Collaborative Online Classroom is a fun and interactive way to learn Soft Skills. Get the benefit of learning online while being in a classroom environment with an instructor, other students, discussion forums, chat rooms, lectures, presentations and video demonstrations.

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