When comic strip becomes reality – the Avenging role of an Executive PA

‘Earth’s mightiest heroes’, The Avengers, have recently hit the cinema again with the likes of the Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor joining forces to fight the biggest foe they’ve ever faced. They’ve changed slightly from their 1960’s make-up, adapting and evolving to suit the modern world and there’s been much hype around how the characters have been refined. However, what still remains are their key skills, very clear identities and the very clear roles they play within their team as they set about fighting evil…and this got me thinking.

So where am I going with this and what’s it got to do with you? Well as I was pondering over how the characters have united as a multi-tasking dream team, it got me thinking about our working days and how we have become not just masters of multi-tasking, but also of ‘multi-jobbing’. Whilst many of us do work within teams where we have access to a number of varied skills, there are also many cases of individual superheroes holding it all together, and it struck me that this often lacks recognition even though they are everywhere we look. I am of course talking about the role of the Executive PA.

Thinking about it, you are the entire Avengers team – covering everything from admin and accounts to law, marketing, HR and nowadays, a good working knowledge of digital marketing – the remit of your role is unlike any other. You’d not only struggle to come up with just one character name, but you’d need a different outfit for every hour of the day!

More than the sum of their parts

In one review of the new film, Forbes Magazine lead with an article quoting that five characters within the film were ‘more than the sum of their parts’. They said: ‘It has these wonderful characters who have been made even more wonderful just by being in the same room together’.
What they’re talking about here is the power of the complementary skills that come together to create a whole, using key specialisms to make the world a better place.
This is what I believe makes Executive PAs great – rolling all of this into one. It’s the ability to wear so many hats, to look at things from multiple angles, to interpret information from multiple sources, to respond to several potential disasters at once, and to generally hold everything together that makes a great Executive PA invaluable.
I’m sure in your role it can often feel like you’re fighting the bad guys as you try to go about doing the best job you can, coming up against obstacles at every hurdle. I really believe that the role of an Executive PA is unlike any other job specification, which is something Director really need to appreciate. To be honest, your role is not too dissimilar to that of a Director (or superhero for that matter) – the challenges of both are extremely alike in many ways – no day is the same as the next, you need to be in 100 places at once, your to do list only gets longer, and you’re thrown curve balls pretty much every hour of the day. Sound familiar? To top it off, both live on the basis that multi-tasking is just an existence, which is by and large part of the attraction and excitement behind the roles!

The key is in recognising that this is how you both work, and in acknowledging the importance of constantly developing your skills. Working to ensure you continue to evolve across all the disciplines you’re expected to work in, is absolutely crucial to staying at the top of your game.

Unleashing your superpower

We’ve done a lot of research over the years, honing our training programmes, and agree there are some key areas that must be covered. Skills including financial planning, advanced office administration, enhanced communication, problem solving and management, are all areas we feel are important in your world, and are all areas that sit within our Executive PA Diplomas.

But we don’t think you should stop there. Not if you want to be the best.

To further elevate your position and step into worlds that others perhaps haven’t, why not step a little further outside the box? So no-one says you should do a course on PR, Journalism or Marketing – but why not? Wouldn’t it just add another string to your already multi-faceted bow? Think back to the time you had to take a call from the press asking for your Director’s position on your new business acquisition, or the time you got dragged into the marketing meeting and ended up writing the brochure copy. The more you can arm yourself with skills outside of your ‘natural remit’ the better, and the more valuable you will become – not just in your current role, but as a strong candidate for future positions as you continue to develop your career.

So, how do you raise the question of adapting your training? Especially in areas where there’s already a team of people working in that discipline?

The key is in convincing key people that there’s a benefit to be gained for the organization and thus a return on their investment. Here are a few top tips:

1. Know your audience.
Be aware that whilst you obviously need to get the buy-in of your Director, it may actually be the Head of HR who is instrumental in making it happen for you. You need to have planned out your approach to each, and be aware that they will each have a different agenda, and therefore different triggers that will lead them to agree to your training.

2. Work within the system.
Make sure you understand how training programmes typically work within the organisation. Can you just apply at any time of year? In which case, make sure you do so at a point that illustrates your need for the training e.g. you’ve just had to deal with something you weren’t too comfortable handling. Or, do you actually only have a small annual window, and you need to feed in your requests as part of your annual review?

3. Choose training that suits your organization.
Whilst the HR Manager will be keen to help you on your path of career development, your Director might not want you leaving the office for days of training, so it’s important to choose the type of training that will best fit into your working life. This may be part time learning where you visit a centre for an hour a week, or it may be distance learning where you carry out training online from your desk. Show your employers you have considered the different options and have presented an option that will suit everyone.

4. Make it clear you’re not after anyone’s job.
Politics can be one of the biggest hurdles in getting training signed off. ‘Why do you need to learn about marketing? We have a whole marketing team down the corridor!’ You should re-assure everyone you’re not gunning to move roles, or take on someone else’s responsibilities, but you’d like to be able to add value, to help and support, and be able to step in when required. Use examples of where this situation has previously arisen. Highlight that you being trained in this area can help save stress, time and money.

Ultimately, as long as you present a strong business case for your training, very few employers will look to deny you development, but just be prepared to put up the fight if need be.

Having a broader suit of armour not only makes you stronger, but it makes you feel more confident, so those challenges that are thrown at you every day are a bit easier to deflect. It’s a fast paced exciting world you work in, and the thrill of this can be addictive – I’d just encourage you to help yourself, to bulk up your defenses and ensure you’re as strong as you can be. That way, the next time your boss says ‘suit up I’m bringing the party to you’* you’ll be ready and raring to go, whatever they’re referring to.

*(Avengers quote)”

Claire Lister is the former Owner of Pitman Training Group (www.pitman-training.com). 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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