The vast knowledge that can be sourced on the Internet tells me that the world’s best juggler can handle seven balls at a time, with 352 moves. A competition I’d like to see is him taking on my very own PA who seems to juggle well over 353 moves a day!

I have always been aware of how hard she works, and can assure you I appreciate everything she does for both myself and the business, regularly going well above and beyond her official job description (which, as I’m sure you all appreciate, continues to evolve constantly).

However, I don’t think it was until recently that I actually took on board her vast array of skills. Having been back in the office after a few weeks away on international trips my eyes have been opened and something has really sunk in, in terms of just how diverse her day is.

It’s a busy time for us, and we have a very tight team, which is great as it means everyone gets involved in a wide range of activities across the business.

Recent day-to-day activity for us has included updating our staff’s payroll – with the introduction of RTI (Realtime information), launching new courses, including Sage 50 Accounts with RTI, showcasing Pitman Training at national events, working with new suppliers to further increase our efficiency and continuing to build our franchise network, with international expansion.

My PA has been involved in all of the above in some way, shape or form, yet I can’t imagine she sets about her day expecting to be dealing with half of what she ends up doing. I started thinking about the many impromptu skills PAs & VAs need. Not just to conduct their roles, but also in their wider role, as the “glue” in many organizations. Often PAs and Exec Secs end up being the “go to person” – and their resourcefulness and multi-tasking skills means they end up covering roles when staff are off sick, or if department cuts or budget cuts have been made and there is a void in need of being filled.

First let me say that by no means do I believe in taking advantage of the qualities of PAs and Exec Secs. This is something to be very careful of, if this is your role. Many bosses do see their PA/Exec Sec as the answer to all their prayers, and you most probably are, but ask yourself these questions before you agree to taking on new work:
•Is their request fair?
•Are you able to take this on without jeopardizing other responsibilities
•Are you equipped with the right skills to be able to help

The urge to say yes to everything is largely in your nature – and this supportive quality is very valuable, however do not bite off more than you can chew, and do not feel railroaded into agreeing to everything, especially if you feel out of your depth.

One answer to feeling more in control and armed and ready to go at a moment’s notice is to build up your knowledge bank.

We’ve done a lot of research over the years, honing our training programs and there are some key areas that must be covered. Advanced office administration skills, enhanced communication skills, problem solving and management skills along with an understanding of finance are all areas we feel are important in your world, and are all areas that sit within our Executive PA Diplomas.

But it’s rare your job will stop there. Consider other areas of the business that you’d benefit having skills in – a course in PR, Journalism or Marketing could help you better manage that call from the press asking for your Director’s position on your new business acquisition, and would definitely prove useful for the next time you got dragged into the marketing meeting and end up writing website copy. The more you can arm yourself with skills outside of your “natural remit” the better, and the more in control you’ll feel. This boosted knowledge bank is also always working to build up your career and helping your CV stand out from the crowd.

Here are some things that might be useful to have up your sleeve.

Social media
Social media crosses over so many different departments – it is bound to land on your desk at some point. Whether from a customer service point of view, a marketing perspective, or a Director reputation management perspective it pays to be clued up. Discover how the different platforms work, how to use LinkedIn to build connections and influence, and how to use it to promote events – amongst many, many other things!

Sage 50 Payroll
As payroll systems become more automated it seems more and more common that PAs are getting involved in processing it – “Well, you don’t need an accounts person to input a few figures and press a few buttons do you?” In actual fact it is more complex than this and requires a good level of understanding of PAYE (including RTI), holiday pay and employee records, so don’t be caught short taking this on if you’re not trained to deal with it.

Event management
Whether organizing a staff meeting for 10, client event for 100, or exhibition to thousands having an understanding of effective event management can make your life 10 times easier. Consider budgets, project plans and supplier negotiations to ensure your event succeeds on all levels.

Successful meetings and minutes
This could be one of most valuable skills you top up on, giving you the gift of time back and making every meeting you attend really deliver. Meetings are one of those things that can turn into a giant black hole – and people lose hours on ineffective meetings. Learn how to direct them, control them and create structured outputs from them and you will not only make your life easier but all involved will thank you greatly.

There is no doubt that you could handle pretty much whatever is thrown at you but why should you always feel on the back foot? If you can top up your skills to help prepare you for the inevitable, that seems like a sensible solution all round.

If you need to convince your boss that getting you some training would be beneficial to the business try using the following approaches:

1 Highlight your need
This isn’t a case of revealing any weakness but it’s about showing situations you are put in that you’re not properly armed for. Use recent examples of having had to deal with something you weren’t too comfortable handling and highlight how you believe a better outcome could have been achieved.

2 Choose training that suits your organization
Whilst there are many very real benefits to taking a bit of time out for up-skilling, your Director might not want you leaving the office for days on end. No worries, it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider part-time learning where you visit a centre for an hour a week, or maybe online learning where you carry out training from your desk, or from home. Show your employers you have considered them and present an option that will suit everyone.

3 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!” Reassure people that you’re not looking to move roles (as the thought of losing you as an Exec Sec would terrify them!) but that you’d like to be able to add value, to help and support other teams and be able to step in when required.

Ultimately as long as you present a strong business case very few employers will look to deny you development. But, likewise, most employers will not push it upon you. It’s up to you to take control and make that call of how many things you can juggle before you drop the ball – then ask for the chance to hone some skills before you take on any more. It’s what all good performers do and it could stop you packing it all in and running off to join the circus.”

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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