communicate your role

Hallie Warner shares her top 5 tips to help you communicate your role to your colleagues and the senior leadership team

I’ve been working with Adam for about 10 years now, and a couple of years ago the CFO for one of our companies said, “You realize no one has any idea what you do, right?” He went on to say, “You take care of Adam’s schedule and do this and that and some other things,” as he waved his hands in the air.

“Oh, you mean magic?” Yes. Yes, I do.

Okay, all humor aside, does anyone really know what you do at the office all day? If you’re an Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff, chances are they have very little, if any, clue. And should we blame them? Not really. This is on us.

It is not that our colleagues or leadership team don’t care what we do; it’s just that they have their own stuff to handle and concern themselves with. While we may know all the detailed responsibilities of our team members throughout the organization (it’s part of our job to know those things!), our job description isn’t necessarily at the top of their lists.

It would be easy to just shrug it off, keep our heads down and keep doing our thing. But it is vitally important that we communicate our role to our organization – especially those with whom we work most closely. Why? you might ask. Would they even understand or appreciate the nuances of our role? If communicated effectively and often, then the answer is yes. If we want to continue to elevate the role of executive support professionals, increase our visibility, and earn a seat at the table, then we must. Here’s how:

1. Keep your Executive Assistant job description up to date

I don’t know about you, but my role has changed quite a bit in the 10 years I’ve worked at our company. While in theory I’ve been a Force Multiplier since day one, my title has changed three times and my day-to-day responsibilities have changed drastically between 2010 and today. You may be in a similar boat.

As your organization has grown, maybe your responsibilities have too. Are you managing additional staff? Maybe a director left, and you and two other team members have inherited some of their projects. Perhaps you are supporting two VPs instead of one executive. Are you running a division? Job descriptions evolve as the needs of your executive, the industry, and the organization change.

I recommend you start with updating your job description at least once a quarter. This is also a great time to review not only what you do each day, but what specific contributions you have made to the organization. What new ideas, cost savings plans, streamlined systems, or project implementation have you brought to the table? What impact did those have on the overall organization? Keep a running list. You never know when you will need it, for example, to explain your role to new business partners, when you are negotiating a raise or promotion, or when you want to take on a new project.

2. Know your value and how you benefit the company and its leadership team

Now that you have an updated job description, take it a step further. Next to each task, project, or responsibility you have listed, outline how that specifically benefits your leadership team (or colleagues or board – whoever needs to understand your role). After all, most people don’t really want to hear about the minutiae of your day, but they do want to know how you can benefit them and how your role helps them be more successful. Here are some examples to get you thinking about how to own your role and communicate your value to the organization:

ResponsibilityValue and Benefit
Manage the CEO’s calendar

I manage the rhythm of the business through strategic calendar management and meeting planning. I ensure the CEO’s time is spent on the most important activities that will help the business grow while making sure you have time with the CEO as needed. In addition, I help keep the channels of communication open when he is busy so that your projects continue to move forward and you have the information and answers you need in a timely manner. I also help plan, organize, and prep meetings with the CEO to make sure the right people are in the room at the right time, ensuring decisions are made and we can continue to move forward quickly and effectively.
Conduct meeting follow-up on behalf of the CEOI track all relevant information, data, action items, decisions, and deadlines during meetings so you can stay present in the conversation. I then remind you of project deadlines as needed. In addition, if you need time with the CEO, another set of eyes on your pitch, or to brainstorm the best ways to communicate the vision via a new marketing campaign, let’s set up a meeting to discuss. I’m here to help you stay on track and successfully complete your most important projects.
Support and drive the organization’s and the executive(s)’s objectives, goals, and KPIs  No one succeeds alone. I work alongside you and our CEO to ensure the metrics and KPIs that we are tracking and driving forward align with the CEO’s agenda and goals for the quarter and year. If they change, I make sure you are notified, and together we come up with a plan for new KPIs and reporting measures, as needed. If you need additional clarity or resources to ensure you are meeting the company goals, let’s schedule a time to discuss your needs and work through options so you can bring a viable solution to the CEO.
Lead strategic initiatives  If it is important to the CEO and the organization, and doesn’t fit neatly into any one business unit or division, I take the lead. I may lean on you as the subject matter expert of your respective division to help provide context as the initiative progresses. In addition, I am constantly looking for existing gaps in the organization that need to be filled. Very often, I will fill those gaps and lead the project until such time as it makes sense to transition the project to a particular department or a new hire. I’m a utility player and will jump in where needed to help get projects off the ground and moving forward effectively.

You get the point. Next to each responsibility, get very clear on what you do, why you do it, and who it benefits. These points may be adjusted and tailored slightly to the audience to whom you are communicating. The leadership team may get one explanation of your role, while external stakeholders get another. The key here is to be able to explain the value you bring and how what you do benefits them.

3. Create a quick list of tasks you can help the leadership team with

In addition to the job description, I would recommend creating a brief, one-sheet list that outlines the questions or tasks that the team can come to you for, the problems you can solve, and your general area of expertise. This may need to be tailored to each department or group of stakeholders, but the premise is the same. If the team is unclear on what they can ask you or what requests are acceptable to make of you, they may not come to you at all (or, on the opposite end, grossly overstep). List whatever makes sense for your role.

My list includes:

  • Questions about recruiting and hiring talent
  • Reviewing new marketing campaigns
  • New business ideas that you want to discuss to determine their viability before scheduling a meeting with the CEO
  • Requesting that the CEO be present at a company retreat
  • Discussing your team’s hiring needs and resource allocation

This may seem a little redundant with the job description, but I still think our roles are largely misunderstood, or just not understood at all. It is up to us to provide that clarity. The more information we can equip our team with, the better. Not to mention, I think that this exercise alone explains just how much impact you bring to the company, and that’s before you even show them what you are capable of!

4. Set a time to communicate your role to key stakeholders

Now that you are armed with this enhanced job description and the one-sheet of how you can help, it’s time to take it to the team. It will likely be a team effort between you and your executive to share what you do and the impact you have on your executive, the leadership team, and the company. Explain to your executive why you want to share your role more publicly and put yourself on the agenda for the next leadership team meeting. Bring your enhanced job description and your “how I can help” document (tailored to the specific group) to the meeting. Distribute the materials, briefly explain your role, ask if anyone has any questions, and then follow it up with an email so they can reference these documents wherever they are.

Now, this will not be a one-and-done type activity. After you provide that initial clarity, you may still need to reinforce and remind your team for a while. And for each new team member with whom you may be working closely, you’ll want to have this same conversation and distribute the documents. I would also recommend reminding the team with a quick email every quarter, or at the very least, every six months. Your job description will likely evolve, and when it does, make sure that your documents are updated and that this information is communicated to the team.

5. Create more understanding for your team by including a user’s manual

Another approach would be to combine the job description and “how I can help” document with the User’s Manual exercise. The User’s Manual is a great tool to use with new team members or simply if your executive team hasn’t touched based on their communication preferences, expectations, or work styles in a while.

The User’s Manual is a quick start guide for how others can best work with you. It is great if others know what you do and even how you can help them. It is equally important for those you work closely with to understand your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, how you approach problems, etc. The User’s Manual covers the following categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Quirks, Values, Expectations, and Processes. 

Complete this document and encourage your team members to do the same. Then sit down and discuss each person’s categories. It’s a great exercise to do individually, as it gives you time to reflect and get clear on how you show up and what you expect from others. It is also great to hear these things about others. You may be holding on to a lot of assumptions about another team member, and meanwhile, they have drastically different expectations than you do. Now you know! Or you may have the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses from one of the vice presidents. Now you know! No one is right or wrong. Starting with this common framework facilitates a necessary conversation about how you can all work better together and ultimately achieve more.

Whether you work for a two-person start-up or a multi-national conglomerate, as an executive support professional, it is your responsibility to explain your role to your leadership team and colleagues. In addition, you must share the value and impact you can have on their success and the success of the organization. And, of course, the more you can go above and beyond, make your executive’s life easier and help support your leadership team to accomplish their goals – the more they will see just how valuable you are. I think that is what we’re after, after all.

Hallie Warner is a strategy and leadership coach, writer, and force multiplier. She has worked in the executive support and entrepreneurship space for 15 years and finds so much fulfilment in supporting individuals with their goals and helping them turn ... (Read More)

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