The role of an Executive Assistant (EA) has traditionally been to provide high level support to their executive in order for them to concentrate on the business’s principal objectives and priorities. Fast-forward to 2021, and the responsibilities of an EA have expanded into strategic planning, project management, and even budget, office, operational and HR management.

At the end of the day, successful EAs must elevate their executive.

So what skills must great EAs be training in today to ensure they not only stay relevant but ahead of the game in the coming years?

EAs: then and now

In our fast-moving globalised world of business, the role of an EA has had to evolve to one of a gatekeeper and project manager for the CEO, all the while adding strategic value to the business.

From traditionally managing diaries, booking travel arrangements, running errands, arranging meetings and appointments, and communicating on behalf of the executives, the list of responsibilities of the EA has expanded immensely. The role is now known to entail conducting training for other admin staff, managing events, supporting more executives or a bigger team, and even having a real say in the company’s affairs.

According to Jonathan McIlroy, Executive Director of Education and Training at the Executive Assistant Network, there is one big difference between modern EAs and the traditional role of EAs of the past, where they were predominantly reactive and told what to do and when to do it.

“It’s now all about working strategically and in a proactive way – and I emphasise the point around being very proactive,” McIllroy said.

“Today, most great EAs don’t often need to be directed – they know exactly what their executive is going to need and when, and in anticipating those needs, they also develop other areas the executive is going to require so they can be even more productive and more effective.”

Executive assistants have more value than ever

For some, this new-found empowerment can seem like a lot to take on but don’t be overwhelmed – most EAs already have the basic skills and knowledge they need to be effective in this expanded role. It’s ultimately about gaining a strong understanding of how to utilise and refine those skills.

While rudimentary skills like being detail-oriented, articulate and independent are essential, a great EA today needs certain abilities to go a lot further. This means being:

  • A strategic multi-tasker

  • Highly organised

  • Resourceful

  • Trustworthy

  • A ruthless prioritiser

  • A delegator

  • Comfortable with the latest workplace technologies

Proving yourself in these key areas will make you indispensable to your CEO and the business, and also help you to stand out from other EAs.

Providing strong support

For EAs, it is essential to learn how you can help your boss be highly productive and successful. Learning the rules and undercurrents of the company, remembering your boss’s preferences as well as anticipating their needs will help you to adapt quickly and foster a stronger working relationship between the both of you.

With the current advances in technology, there are a lot of online platforms and workshops to enhance your productivity, minimise risk of errors and make your life more convenient.

A great EA will seek to proactively upgrade themselves with the necessary and most up-to-date skills.

How to upskill as an EA

If you decide to take up a course, do your due diligence as there are many on offer, such as short courses which will only cost a couple hundred dollars. But there are also lots of complimentary and free online learning platforms available. Coursera is an online learning channel supported by top worldwide universities, including Stanford and Duke University, which provides free courses across many specialisations. There are also online resources for EAs that provide free resources and articles, such as Practically Perfect PA, if you don’t currently have the time to take on a course.

Attending PA conferences is another good way to meet other EAs and administrative professionals and learn from them how to best adapt to this constantly evolving role – you might already have a network of contacts who you can draw advice from, particularly when you have unique or tricky scenarios that you can run by them. Otherwise, conferences and events are a great starting point for connecting and building a network of EAs you can call on.

RELATED: A guide to upskilling for professionals: why, how and where

New EA opportunities and responsibilities

McIlroy shares the hallmarks of EAs that will succeed in the changing business environment: “We’re seeing that great EAs should not only have great breadth but also a real depth of knowledge specifically around what their executives are doing, why they’re doing it, and how it contributes to the business overall.

“We have conducted internal calculations as to what the difference between having an average EA and a great EA can mean for an organisation. It’s astronomical, financially.

He said there are examples of EAs who are really working at a high level and achieving results for their executive.

“It’s great when they get deserved recognition, and it’s also great for their executive and organisation to be seen as being highly progressive. Importantly, it helps lift the bar.”

Typically, the more capable an EA or assistant is at their job, the more doors open up for them. This is something that happens across the board, with many businesses and executives requesting candidates who are able to handle more than one set of responsibilities.

Our advice to assistants is the more responsibilities you take on, the more you will learn, the further experience and exposure you gain, which eventually contributes to your career growth.

Above all, a good fit between executive and assistant is paramount, and setting up a great working relationship as demonstrated by the EA’s up-to-date skill set will make for success, relevancy and permanency in the administration profession.

Looking for your next EA job opportunity? Browse our open executive assistant roles here.

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