Diane Bramson runs PACE, an organisation specifically aimed at administrative professionals that work in third sector organisations
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from?
I’m a Londoner
What is your background?
I’ve been working in charities and doing voluntary work for 35 years.
How and why did you become an administrative professional?
My first job was as a GPO/BT operator back in 1977, but I didn’t find it very satisfying. I wanted to work for a charity and applied to a Jewish community organisation on the off-chance that there might be a vacancy – and there was! I had no secretarial experience or training, although I had taught myself to type (on a manual typewriter), so I think it must have been my enthusiasm that got me the job. I worked my way up to being in the second most senior administration role in the organisation, and later worked in various charities as the Assistant to the Chief Executive.
What are the main changes to the profession that you have seen in your career?
The advancements in technology and needing to be more of an all-rounder in terms of your skills and abilities.
You run PACE, which is an organisation specifically aimed at administrative professionals that work in third sector organisations. How did you come to be involved with this?
I attended a training course at the Directory for Social Change on enhancing the partnership between the Chief Executive and their Assistant. The course itself was excellent, and it was great to chat and compare experience with other CEO Assistants during the breaks. This made me realise that a network was needed for people in this role working in charities, who often feel quite isolated due to the challenging nature of the job and the high level of confidentiality involved. The network has grown to over 220 members over a period of years. We run on a purely voluntary basis with no funding.
PACE members work in many different types of charities in all parts of the UK. We exchange information and share good practice by email, and support each other through networking and development sessions, and mentoring. Members feel that belonging to PACE, where everyone is ‘in the same boat’, is valuable and empowering. We focus on building the partnership between the CEO and their Assistant and developing ourselves on a number of levels, plus helping the CEO to run a successful and professional organisation with good governance. Some of the topics covered at networking sessions and development days include being underestimated, setting objectives for ourselves and the people we manage, the differences between EAs and PAs, change of Chief Executive, the challenges of telling people more senior than us what to do, managing upwards, downwards and sideways, new technology, time management, minute taking and writing.
What inspires and motivates you?
Running and developing PACE gives me a lot of stimulation and motivation. In my paid administrative work I enjoy solving problems and making things happen.
What are the main challenges facing the profession at the moment, especially in the third sector?
I think one of the biggest challenges is rapidly changing technology. This means senior staff often deal with their own diaries and correspondence and can do this both in the office and remotely. This provides a challenge for the EA/PA to ensure they remain ‘in touch’ and properly informed. But it can provide different opportunities as it means EAs/PAs can be freed from some of the more routine tasks and are able to take on other managerial and strategic duties. The increased use of technology together with current financial constraints means that many organisations now have fewer administrative staff so senior PAs and EAs are taking on other duties – for example supporting more than one person, managing junior staff, taking on office or facilities management or discrete projects. This offers development opportunities and enables PAs and EAs to be adaptable to change, which will become one of the key criteria for future success in the role.
What advice would you give someone just starting in the role?
Soak up as much information about the organisation as you can and start building up trust with your boss. Be flexible and have a ‘can do’ approach. Identify a good EA/PA support group within your sector and network with fellow EAs/PAs. The support and advice of colleagues who do a similar job to yours and understand the challenges you may be facing will be invaluable.