The International Year of the Secretary and Administrative Assistant 2014, initiated by South Africa’s Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (PAFSA), was launched to commemorate and mark the 30th anniversary since the first year of the secretary which was celebrated in 1984 in the United States.

The year 2014 also marked the 9th year of the prestigious annual South African Personal Assistant of the Year Award (PAOTY), hosted and organized by PAFSA in association with Dictum Publishers PTY Ltd. This award was established a decade ago created to recognise the achievements of PAs across South Africa, and to enhance the stature of the Personal Assistant.

The title this year went to Lizzie Mudzingwa of Telkom SA SoC and the five finalists were Sharin Duncan, Susan Engelbrecht, Tracy Dardis, Wilna Joubert and Zorro Nyathi. Below all share their experience of taking part in this auspicious event.

Lizzie Mudzingwa (Telkom SA SoC)

With PAFSA having celebrated Secretaries Day on 3 September 2014 and hosting the official IYOTSA banquet, it made it all extra special for us six finalists of the PAOTY Award being presented and becoming known as the “Tribe 2014”.

Tribe 2014 is now embarking on an incredible journey to reach out to fellow professionals and infuse a robust, career-enhancing mindset. Part of our mandate is to rekindle the passion for pride in the profession. It’s high time that we stand up to enhance the status of our profession in the eyes of all.

A Burning Passion for the Profession + Powered by Excellence = Ability to do more for our fellow professionals, and the profession itself, through our home PAFSA.

Tribe 2014 certainly wants to continue the history-making path of IYOTSA and leave a rich legacy to our young PAs – nurturing them as they are the core of our survival and success of our profession, just as we today are what we are because of those who walked the journey before us.

Tribe 2014 together with PAFSA will bravely take on the challenge of making our profession one to be reckoned with!

Sharin Duncan (Sanlam Investments)

The process of going from nomination through to selection was such an incredible personal growth journey for me. I wish that this growth was somehow measureable because in my world it was enormously valuable.

I felt proud to represent Sanlam throughout the competition. Attending the Annual PA Summit and Secretaries Day Gala Lunch as a Finalist was a very special experience. I may not have walked away as the winner, but I met many wonderful people, all of whom are exceptionally talented PAs and I am very much looking forward to engaging with the 2014 Tribe over the next year and beyond.

The manner in which PAFSA delivered the Summit and structured the PA of the Year Award selection process was in itself a great learning curve. I hope to use the experience gained to encourage a few exciting internal initiatives to motivate Sanlam PAs to operate at an even higher level going forward.

I will be forever grateful for the wonderful support and encouragement shown to me by Sanlam. I could not have wished for a more challenging and memorable experience – many thanks to PAFSA and everyone involved in the event. This experience will remain a highlight in my career.

Susan Engelbrecht (Discovery Health)

What makes the PA of the Year Award unique for the secretarial profession is that the judges are peers. The Summit also provided an opportunity for high level PAs to form part of the thought leadership. It was an opportunity to network, and to engage in conversation with others in their field.

The summit and the award process itself was an experience that I will never forget and that I most certainly will recommend to all professional assistants out there. I feel honoured to be one of the six finalists of our chosen profession and look forward to the challenges that this holds for me.

As Debbie de Jager, PA of the Year 2010, stated: “Being a PA is one of the roles I play in life. It’s part of who I am. As a PA, I always represent my company and my manager. Being a PA is so much more than just assisting with the typing of communication and arranging meetings. Becoming someone that your boss and office truly depend and rely on is someone every PA should strive to become. My main focus as a personal assistant is in the title: assisting. I am, in essence, a helper to someone who will not be able to play his game to the best of his ability without my assistance or help. To be the best assistant my manager could ever wish for, I have to assist him firstly according to his requirements and secondly I have to be innovative enough to assist him in ways in which he didn’t even realize he needed assistance. To achieve this, I will have to go beyond what my role requires and do it to the best of my ability.”

It is important that today’s PAs acquaint themselves with their company’s strategic goals and objectives, and drive the brand, products and services to ensure that the targets and goals are achieved. We have learned to work smarter in order to be more effective and provide a professional service to our manager/s and the company that we work for. It is very important that you and your manager are comfortable with each other and communication plays an important role in this relationship.

The PA has the dual role today of part-manager, part-PA. She needs the skills of an executive PA and the attributes of a manager. Meeting the expectations of everyone around her is par for the course. Staying cool, calm and collected is the alpha and omega of everyday coping skills.

Tracy Dardis (Telkom SA SoC)

I have said it before and I will say it again: Wow, what a ride! My PA of the Year journey was one filled with jubilation, apprehension, awe, laughter and pride. I was so honoured that a fellow Telkom colleague nominated me for this award. For the first couple of weeks I soared on a cloud in anticipation of what was to come.

Then the rollercoaster of apprehension, awe, laughter and honour began. The questionnaires and interviews were gruelling and really pushed me to my limit and beyond. The wait in between each submission to find out if I had made it to the next round had me on a knife’s edge – I was often referred to being like a cat on a hot tin roof.

When I received the notification that I was a finalist, I was filled with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment which however was quickly overshadowed by apprehension as I read the second line of the email that notified all finalists that we were expected to present at the finals in front of an audience of 220+ fellow colleagues and peers. Cue the nerves!

3 September 2014, the day had finally arrived and after many pep talks and numerous updated versions of my presentation, I was ready. Upon my arrival I was seated alongside my fellow finalists. To this day I am still in awe at what a dynamic, innovative and daunting set of industry leaders I am sharing this experience with. The cream of the crop was seated in this auditorium and immediately I knew that we as the PAOTY Tribe of 2014 were going to rock this event.

Four months later, after the award was handed out and the title holder was announced, I sit back and thank my lucky stars that I was able to be a part of the experience. Often I am asked by fellow colleagues “Should I enter in 2015?” to this I answer, most definitely do! We as Personal Assistants, Secretaries and Administrative Assistants are a force to be reckoned with and we often overlook our own accomplishments and do not take the time to celebrate our achievements. Be the shining stars you all know you are and reap the rewards.

Another question I am often asked is “would you ever do it again?” Yes I would do it in a heartbeat because the other five finalists and I have become a family: we are the Tribe of 2014 and, watch out world, greats things are coming. I as a person have grown from this process, I have been pushed beyond my boundaries and out of my comfort zone, but you know what? The grass is definitely greener on this side!

Wilna Joubert (Novartis SA (Pty) Ltd)

It is now four months ago that we had our amazing day as the six finalists of PAOTY 2014 – and I am still in awe of it all. Not being a PAFSA member before, this was all very new to me – a whole new world opened for me – a world with wonderful people, websites, magazines, information, Facebook, Twitter – a world of information and people, all about my chosen profession.

Initially, just after I got the message that I was nominated, my first reaction was one of mixed emotions: I felt so honoured and humbled to have been nominated by my peers – at this stage I did not even know who nominated me – and at the same time I thought: “No, I’m not one for the limelight and I certainly do not have the time to fit this into my life!” A bit embarrassing to admit this but, nonetheless, the honest truth!

I was asked in the email to either accept or decline the nomination and I decided to “sleep” on it. And then, a little spark got ignited within me. My two wonderful daughters cheered me on: “You must do this Mom, you can do this Mom!”

I started to think about all the advice I give others: “Embrace new experiences… Stretch yourself a bit so as not to get stuck in your comfort zone… The fact that you tried, already makes you a winner… If you do not try, you’ll never know what you are capable of.” It was now time to follow my own good advice!

Then came the questionnaires to be completed as part of the judging process, telephone calls from journalists – also part of the judging process – and all of this in the midst of probably the busiest time at the company where I work. Questionnaires were completed pretty much on the deadline date – there was no time to “overthink” any of my answers – it just came straight from the heart and experience!

Of course it came back to haunt me later on as some of these responses were quoted in newspapers, on the website etc. I cringed and thought I could have put it so much better… but then again, I had to remind myself that it is not about perfection, but about excellence, and the mere fact that I made it to the final six candidates must be proof of some excellence!

It was absolutely fantastic to receive all the good wishes from my work colleagues and peers who all said that my nomination was well deserved and no surprise to them. My husband, daughters, friends and family all cheered me on – I was basking in all the good wishes and goodwill!

When the email informing us about the session with the judges arrived it was horror of horrors – a speech in front of 220 other people at Emperors Palace! Panic hit me in the pit of my stomach – I can’t do public speaking! You might as well ask me to go and wrestle a crocodile on the banks of the Nile River! So once again, I had to remind myself about that s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g, that embracing of new experiences… I was amazed at everyone’s faith in my ability to do it – why did I not feel that faith myself?

The day of meeting the judges arrived and with a heart beating in my throat I set off to meet them. And something amazing happened. I was met by Sonia Salgado, the warmest, most assuring person you can imagine. Sonia immediately made me feel at ease, made me feel welcome and like one of the family. Next I met Susan Engelbrecht, another fantastic warm person – a fellow finalist and fellow member of Tribe 2014. Just before I was ushered into the room with the judges, Tracy Dardis joined us, having finished her session declaring: “Tomorrow we are all going to rock, girls!!”

Long story short, the 3 September arrived, the day of the Summit – I met lots of people during the morning, people who shared the same profession and passion for this profession. I felt at home – we were spoiled and looked after by Tribe 2013. We listened to amazing speeches from the other finalists – I was blown away by the talent. Who will ever forget that Hen-speech from Zorro? When it was my turn to get up there and deliver my speech, all nerves and anxiety disappeared and I just spoke to people who shared the same passion for this profession.

Lizzie Mudzingwa walked away with the title – a worthy winner. And I was now part of an amazing group of women – PAOTY 2014 Tribe.

This was an amazing experience which I will cherish for a long time to come. I am so glad to have had the privilege (and may I add courage) to go through this experience and I am looking forward to doing great things on the journey ahead, together with my fellow Tribe members, to raise awareness and passion for our profession.

Zorro Nyathi (Exxaro Resources Limited)

I must confess that the process undergone was a true test of self-leadership and the understanding of the profession we are in.

It gave us all an opportunity to prove how the role of an Office Professional has actually evolved over the years, from traditional coffee making and receiving visitors, to something more strategically oriented. Throughout this process, we still had our daily office duties to accomplish, proving the importance of time management in the life of an Office Professional. Tribe 2014 pulled through.

Since then, the journey we embarked on has been such a wonderful experience accompanied by responsibilities that include: regular interaction with other Office Professionals, reminding and encouraging one another on trivial matters that could potentially improve or negatively affect our profession. Also, appreciating one another on the good work we do almost every day, working extra hours, supporting more than just our managers and ensuring that the departments we work in are positively viewed, both by other departments within the organisation and stakeholders outside these organisations.

As a Tribe, we now strive to live up to the title and set an example of what is expected of a good, responsible and accountable Office Professional. We may not always get it right, but are consciously aware to:

  • Show respect for everyone
  • Appreciate diversity of views, interests and personality
  • Value attitude over aptitude
  • Have an honest and open communication with those around us

This is not an easy task and most of the time we may not succeed. But one thing we promise is to continuously self-introspect, take a firm stand on self-leadership and engage each and every one of us in building a lasting brand, which is that of an Office Professional.

Lucy Brazier, OBE is one of the world’s leading authorities on the administrative profession. Author of ‘The Modern-Day Assistant: Build Your Influence and Boost Your Potential’, she is the CEO of Marcham Publishing, a global force synonymous with world- ... (Read More)

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