As we all know, 2014 is the International Year of the Secretary and Admin Assistant (IYOTSA), and presents the perfect opportunity to really get to grips with how much the role of the assistant has evolved not only over the last five years since the recession, but over the last 30 years. It’s also a chance to see whether the perception of the role has changed accordingly and how we can specifically define it, if at all.

Whilst IYOTSA offers an opportunity to really consider your job title and the descriptions that go with, it’s also a great time to look inwards to reflect on your individual contribution and how this has enabled the role and professional landscape to progress, but also the business landscape as a whole.

It seems absurd that there are still connotations of assistants being no more than tea and coffee makers in today’s business environment. Gone are the days of the typewriters, and so too should the perceptions of assistants being disposable and undervalued in the workplace.

There is no doubt that today’s assistants are the backbone of any flourishing executive, and underpin the fundamental success of the business. But as true as this may be, there is a gap which needs to be closed, in order to bring you to the forefront and enable you to really stand shoulder to shoulder with your managers and executives – in order to be recognised and respected as one of the main innovators and contributors who helps drive and uphold the success of the business.

Below are a few ways in which you can consider taking a step forward to really exert yourself and your expertise, and to become seen as a key player in the world of business. They can encourage the profession and job titles you hold to genuinely be interchangeable and recognised as an essential part of the business landscape.

1 Gain autonomy

Do you feel you have the trust and confidence from your executive to have the freedom to carry out your own tasks without having to seek approval? Do you have full access to your executive’s emails and make important decisions on your own intuition and merit? These are very important elements to your role, which can not only hinder your performance and capabilities if denied, but also your confidence and value as an assistant.

Think about ways in which you can have more access and take on more responsibilities by making key decisions within your role – the independence of being able to make your own decisions will make you more efficient at work and enable you to progress faster. You’ll also gain more trust from those around you in relation to your capabilities. And you’ll build a better and stronger relationship with your executive as you continue to alleviate their workload and stress, organise them and ultimately secure their trust and confidence in your abilities to support and manage them in their role.

2 Speak up in meetings

If you have a good working relationship with your executive you will know as much about the business as them, if not more – not only do you know the ins and outs and how the business operates, but you know what’s happening at ground level, in the office. Just think about all of the resources you access; executives emails, business reports, finances, marketing, recruitment, client information, supplier information, the list goes on.

Can you think of anyone else in the business who has this kind of access to a number of areas? Use your access to become the gatekeeper of information and knowledge, and use this for your own career development. Ask your executive if you can contribute in meetings. Put yourself on the agenda. Surely this exclusive bird’s eye view of the business and its operations gives you enough ammunition, standing and confidence to contribute in executive meetings and offer up ideas, strategies and solutions, aside from note-taking?

You are amongst the powerful decision makers in the business, you have a right to be there, and you have the knowledge, insight and expertise to make a contribution. You may also find that you will be given the responsibility of implementing your suggestions, eg a new system to allow departments within the business to share information more frequently via an internal update, planning a staff day out to boost staff morale, organising staff training on a new Microsoft package etc. Your contribution will undoubtedly be valued and relevant to the development and success of the business and all who operate within it.

3 Become a leader: By speaking up in meetings, becoming an integral part of the decision making process and contributing ideas and strategies on how to improve or enhance the business, you are in a great position to step forward and take the lead on projects which implement the strategies you have played a part in forming. Not only will you demonstrate your true leadership qualities to your executives and colleagues, you’ll also instil trust and faith in them, and prove you can be relied upon to help take on the reins of the business, and lead and manage with the best of them. Becoming a leader in the business is no easy feat, but be assured, once you are looked upon as being at the forefront of the business, the outlook and dynamics of your role will change accordingly, and your role as an assistant will begin to gain the respect and momentum it truly deserves.

Leadership and management skills training is a must for any assistant, and is often overlooked, and deemed unnecessary by employers. However in your role, the ability to develop a style of leadership, alongside strong leadership attributes and emotional intelligence is of great importance due to the nature and momentum of your role.

4 Retain clarity: We all know it can be incredibly difficult to remain cool, calm and collected during your hectic working day. But it is incredibly important to take a “you moment” in really stressful situations. As impossible as it may seem to just slide away from the computer, look out of the window and take a few deep breaths during a state of panic, the benefits couldn’t be greater. Just a few moments of “you time” to take stock and gain clarity, can really help you centre yourself and allow a little head space to gain clarity and look at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes, or at least from a different perspective – whether that be asking for someone’s opinion or simply reassuring yourself that everything will be okay.

As much as you are used to working under pressure and to strict deadlines, taking a bit of time for yourself occasionally will really help you to work more efficiently, and reduce your stress levels. It’s extremely important to be seen by your executives and your colleagues as being in control, of not only your workload, but of you and the environment in which you operate. Being able to stop and take note for a few moments is key to this and shows an inner strength and ability to manage and present yourself with the best chance of making the right decisions.

By continuing to etch forward and carve your way in to the tapestry of the business in which you operate, the meaning and connotation of the word “assistant” will continue to challenge outdated industry perceptions. It will also enable you to persevere through the unrepresentative job descriptions within which the role continues to incorrectly be defined, and shout to the world what it is you do, and furthermore show them what you’re capable of.

Pitman Training has designed an app in support of IYOTSA, entitled My Career Selfie. We think it is extremely important to support you and other industry professionals in challenging role perceptions, encouraging confidence in the workplace and eliminating stereotypes which surround certain jobs and industries around the world. Visit for further information on how to set the record straight, and help assistants and undervalued professionals around the world become more career proud.



Recommended training programmes which support the advice given throughout this article are listed below:

  • Time Management – the perfect way to look at how you manage your time and can work more efficiently.
  • Business Communication – a great way to enhance your communication skills and give you the confidence to present information in any format
  • How to deal with Stress – a chance get a better understanding and self-awareness of how you react to stress and how you can improve performance through having a positive mental attitude and finding balance.
Claire Lister is the former Owner of Pitman Training Group ( Pitman is a market leader in the PA and secretarial training industry, delivering exceptional results for tens of thousands of students each year. Pitman also provide ... (Read More)

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