30 July 2008

The Future of the Administrative Profession: Where do I Think We Are Headed?

As a secretary I typed letters, answered the phone and did the filing. As an administrative assistant I manage my boss's practice so he can do his job. I draft letters, schedule his time, set reminders for deadlines, bring forward items, make travel arrangements, make some business decisions, arrange conferences, manage client relations and some bookkeeping. An administrative assistant can be indispensible to an executive. An executive assistant does this and more, including taking minutes and organizing board meetings.

Where do I think the secretarial profession is headed? The role of the secretary/assistant has always followed the needs of management. With the advances in technology, management's role is changing and ours most certainly will follow suit.

New executives are computer savvy and are comfortable on a keyboard. They also rely on their wireless hand-held device for access to their e-mail account and voicemail. Why hire an assistant? With the pressure to be available 24/7 however these new working habits are not sustainable without help. As they try to juggle the role of doing their job and the administrative part of the work as well, that makes for a heavy workload that could easily be handled by the administrative assistant.

But how can we help?
The up and coming assistant will need to be knowledgeable and skilled in what they do and assertive in doing it. Their role will be to assist and manage executives to become the best they can be. A good assistant should be able to free the executive up to pursue their expertise and not be burdened down with the day-to-day running of an office. 

In the past the Administrative Assistant was the face and voice of the organization to anyone who called or visited the office. An assistant would often be the professional gatekeeper as to who gets in to see the boss and how quickly they get to speak to them on the phone. No longer are people only going through the assistant to contact the boss, many times they are going directly to the boss through the wireless hand-held device.Some professionals out of necessity have given their assistant access to their Inbox so the assistant can screen messages and weed out what they do not need to look at, or things that the assistant can handle on their behalf.

It is becoming increasingly important to read e-mails thoroughly to look for action items or dates that need to be put in the bosses' calendar and handling requests for information. The ability to be organized has taken on a whole new meaning for the assistant as we turn our attention to helping our professionals cope with the demands.

Our roles are changing and I believe e-mail management will be a key role for the assistant as well as document management and time management. These are the areas where I believe the need will be the greatest for assistants. Having advanced level software skills will also be a must.

I believe satellite offices and working remotely from home will become more prevalent. With technological advances we will be able to file everything electronically and have the office at our fingertips at home and still be in direct contact with our bosses and co-workers through e-mail and the wireless.

The services of the virtual assistant will be something we will utilize a lot more and will be a great tool to delegate work. The administrative assistant will be a key player in managing that delegation process for the executive.

The US Department of Labor reports that the demand for administrative professionals is going to increase. Are we ready?


nahmismom said...

How do you balance being the one who can "free up" the manager's time to being the one everyone dumps all their work on so that they are "freed up" to focus on personal stuff,play and leave early?

I have been an admin in several different fields and types of organizations. I've also been a manager. It is very surprising and frustrating to experience just how many managers don't know how to work with an admin, and how they so often look down on those who "choose" to do admin work. It becomes difficult to remain professional and engaged in my work when they see that I can manage quite well, and leave me to it, even though they are paid handsomely to be the manager and make decisions that my position should not make.
Are there really organizations that respect administrative work and workers?

Patricia Robb said...

I see where you are coming from and unfortunately that is the case sometimes. If you have a strong admin and a weak manager, they will tend to 'rely' on your services to make them look good, but you could end up doing all the work.

I have only worked in areas where my boss has been a professional, i.e. lawyer, doctor, engineer etc. so there is no way I could do their actual work, just the admin part and that is what I was referring to when I said to let them pursue their expertise.

I find the office dynamics can be different depending on where you work. In the many law firms I have worked in the lawyers, in a majority of cases, do not seem to see the admin as anything more than the 'help', but where I am working now, in a Not-for-Profit organization, I am looked at as a contributing member of the team and I find it refreshing.

I have never been taken advantage of by a manager, but I have normally worked for high-level executives and I think it would happen much less at that level, although I'm sure there are exceptions.

I have written an article today, August 31st, on the to-do list and as I suggested in that article, it might be worth your while to track your tasks on a to-do list so you will know what is on your plate and if you ever had to show someone what you were doing, you would have an easy reference to what you do all day. Sometimes your job and your manager's may overlap and you actually are doing most of the work. That should be picked up at your performance review. Most organizations have a meeting with your immediate supervisor, but also independently with the Human Resources Department. This would be the time to discuss being overworked and underappreciated and you would have your to-do list to show exactly what you were talking about.

Lower level managers also have performance reviews and will need to show what projects they have completed and what is on their plate. They are however expected to delegate the work and not to do it all themselves, but if the admin is too loaded down then there is something wrong with that picture.

Patricia Robb said...

Just to be accurate. Upper level executives also have performance reviews and are accountable for the work they produce.