There are all sorts of myths about being a Personal Assistant (PA) or an Executive Assistant (EA). Most of them stem from what we see in movies or in fancy TV series, but the reality of these roles may come as a surprise.
Having spent much of my professional career as a Senior PA/EA and EA Team Manager, I can confidently say that there is not one key attribute that enables you to be a successful PA and/or EA, and there are most certainly numerous misconceptions about the role which in large part (I believe), are based on a failure to understand the evolution of the role.
The evolved role of a PA/EA has subtly (and unexpectedly) become the catalyst of positive change and transformation in many businesses across the globe, and (in turn) we now have a further responsibility to bust the myths around the profession.
The historical narrative and traditional associations with the role continue to play a fundamental part in a ‘story’ that is not objectively true.
So, let us start eliminating these false ideas about the PA/EA role.
1- They do not have influence.
2- Their skill set is not transferrable.
3- There is no career path.
4- Anyone can be a PA/EA.
5- It is not a strategic or leadership role.
6- The role is thankless.
7- It is a glorified secretary.
8- They are a spy.
9- Technology/AI will replace the need for a PA/EA.
As a PA/EA professional, you observe (not spy) and dive into the business on all levels, whilst analysing all opportunities and planning and preparing for every eventuality. You are quite simply the business equivalent of a multipurpose, all-terrain, military vehicle that you would take to war with you.
The unique position of this role can be one of the most influential roles in the business, enabling influence over all aspects of the business (through relationship building), using the power of conversation, knowledge, and connections.
But what skills are behind the influencing, and what skills are allegedly not transferrable? Resourcefulness? Leadership? Communication? Resilience? Decision Making? Project Management? In what world are these not transferable? What employer would not value these in an employee? Let us not forget that not only are these clearly transferable, but they are also a skill set delivered by a professional who is an expert in navigating these skills during times of pressure and expectation, often with an audience!
It is this evolution, and this updated version of the role that brings fluidity to its future career path. Extensive C-Suite options are now a natural progression such as Chief of Operations, Chief of Staff, Director of Business Development, Public Relations Director, and the list goes on!
Post- pandemic, the world is different, we are all sick of hearing about it, but it is. More than ever before, leadership positions are flexing focuses between strategy, projects, and operations because they now need to. All of which, require a professional with key essential skills that are now crafted in the PA/EA role.
However, whilst the PA/EA Role can be a stepping stone to your next role, it is also a career in its own right.
Yes, the role may not have a formal leadership title that automatically gives it an air of authority, but that does not make the role any less of a leadership role. With its unique position of sitting in the heart of the organisation, it is most certainly not for the faint- hearted or for just anyone.
That’s right, it is not for just anyone!
It is my belief that the core skills of many roles can always be taught, and that knowledge gaps can always be improved, but the specific personality attributes (for this role), such as good instincts and logical judgement should not be underestimated, and are often something you that you simply cannot teach. You either have them or you don’t, simple as that.
Now, do not get me wrong, there are elements of the role that (of course), are thankless but tell me a role that does not have this?? It is simply that, an element of the role, a moment, and nothing more.
The role itself explores the use of your physical, emotional, and mental ability to be purposeful and to have impact. It pushes you to work in a deliberate manner by doing the best you can (to accomplish the most you can), whilst gaining authentic fulfilment. Tell me what is thankless about that?!
Anyway, we move on, as remarkably, there is still more to address!
Let us look at the next two myths:
1- They are a glorified secretary.
2- They are a spy.
What is there to say? If you have made it this far in my blog, then you already know the answers to these two. No and no, what else do I need to say?
So, we have made it to the final myth: AI/Technology will replace the need for a PA/EA.
It is most certainly true that technology and automation are constant evolutions within the PA/EA role, and there is no denying that technology was once perceived (and still is in some respects) as a threat to, and/or a replacement of the Assistant role.
What is clear though, is that the fundamental core requirement of relationship building in the PA/EA role has not changed.
We have already identified that the course of the PA/EA role has grown in recent years, and what was once purely an administration role fuelled by relationship building, is now an essential (strategic) business role that is still fuelled by relationship building, commanding higher salaries than ever before. Why, might you ask?
Well, because, there is no replacement for human (emotional) intelligence.
There is no denying that (in many aspects), AI is clearly an asset to us all, both personally and professionally. However, I am confident that what it cannot replace are the fluctuating considerations that are fundamental to relationship building, and it most certainly cannot think outside the box!
AI has its place, for sure, but it is pre-fed with historical data from past learnings, so by its very definition, it is already biased and can never be creative. Therefore, it is far more likely that the PA/EA role will use AI as an Assistant to enhance their role and not replace it.
So, now you have it!
The myths really are exactly that, and just a collection of inaccurate assumptions and beliefs.
The PA/EA role is a career, a career of choice, and one that has firmly earnt its new found reputation within the world of business.
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