In almost every profession – whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business – people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it. (Hillary Clinton)

One of the most important and valued qualities of a good Administrator is maintaining confidentiality.  The majority of PAs, EAs, secretaries and other executive support professionals are privy to confidential information relating to their organisations. It therefore goes without saying that one needs to appreciate that confidential information should be kept private and only shared with authorized personnel.

However over the past twenty years advances in technology have created a minefield which some Administrators find tricky to navigate.  In the days prior to intensive computerization and digital communication, most information was in paper form.  This meant that if you wanted to forward a document to someone you would have to take the file or copy the document. With the advent of first fax and later internet, it has become so easy to forward information to third parties at the click of a button. The Internet (and it’s spawn social media) has also created a new phenomenon where people feel the need to share everything about, not only themselves, but everything they know and come across!  In many organisations there are certain things that are kept private or on a “need to know” basis but could be of interest to people who do not necessarily need to know.

The traditional title for the position we now refer to Administrative/Business/Executive Assistants, etc is Secretary.  Many professionals still proudly call themselves secretaries but the trend is to have all sorts of interesting titles. However this does not change the original function of the position. The job title Secretary derives from the Latin Secretarius which in turn had its root in the word clerk  secret us meaning secret, hidden or confided to a few .   A Secretarius was a private clerk.  So, it is clear from history that a Secretary was someone entrusted with confidential information.  Sue France in her brilliant book, The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook highlights the importance of trust and integrity among assistants and secretaries

It is vital that top assistants are seen to have integrity as they deal with highly confidential material and are trusted with information that perhaps only the Chief Executive Officer and possibly the board have sight of. They are often the only people their bosses can confide in and can be used as a sounding board. (Sue France, 2009) pp24-25

The temptation to share confidential information is increasingly difficult for some people, especially those working in showbiz or for people in the public eye.  The situation has been made worse by the abundance of celebrity gossip magazines that offer cash for secret information and increasingly  the allure to expose confidential information in a bid to gain fame. However, as a professional, all temptation should be overcome.  Although there is no Hippocratic Oath-like professional guidelines for Administrators, it is still important to maintain integrity at all times.

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Heather Bones (nee Dziva) currently works as PA to Head of Metabolic Medicine section in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College where she has been for nearly 10 years. Prior to that she worked as a PA for the National Social Security Authority in ... (Read More)

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