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Administrative Professionals of the Third Kind


Every April as administrative professional’s day rolls around we see a plethora of articles pop-up on the internet with such titles as, the 10 Qualities Every Great Administrative Assistant Must Have, or the 6 Leadership Skills Administrative Assistants Need or the 8 Must-Have Skills to Become a Stand-Out Administrative Assistant, and even the 10 Characteristics of a Rockstar Assistant! These lists of essential skills typically include such things as, time-management, adaptability, flexibility, the ability to prioritize and problem solve, honesty, diplomacy, strong written and oral communication skills and a can-do attitude.

The truth is that there is no more a perfect, inclusive list of skills or attributes that all administrative professionals must possess than there is a list of traits the ideal wife, or mother or Baptist must have.

Having worked with tens of thousands of administrative assistants, executive assistants and secretaries over the past forty-seven years at my seminars and conferences, I am often asked what, in my opinion, are the essential traits and attributes of a successful AP? I always respond – it depends. lt depends on the administrative professional we are talking about. I believe there are three types of individuals fulfilling the role of administrative professional today.

  1. The Administrative Professional of the First Kind – The Secretary

She or he is almost certainly not going to carry that moniker today, rather the functional title may be administrative assistant, office coordinator or administrative aide. Nevertheless, this individual essentially fulfills the traditional role that was associated with Secretary in the censurable, ‘Mad Men’ days of the last century.

This individual usually does a little bit of everything. One day they may be creating and disseminating mail-merge letters and organizing files and documents the next. They manage office communications—handling phone calls, emails, and traditional mail. They may also coordinate travel plans, create itineraries, and complete bookings, scheduling and managing calendars as well as track and order office supplies. Staff often look to this individual for a wide range of support. They perform numerous need-todoy functions around the office, helping others accomplish their objectives and keeping the office operating smoothly.

Obviously, the person with these responsibilities must have the ability to manage time, quickly strategically, and accurately completing a variety of duties without letting anything fall through the cracks. They must take initiative to solve problems independently and effectively and have the ability to make decisions and deal with relatively minor or routine issues without requiring input from management.

  1. The Administrative Professional of the Second Kind – The Administrative Assistant

These mid-level personnel are most often called executive secretaries, administrative support specialists or administrative assistants. Like the Secretary, these mid-level assistants do a little bit of everything but unlike their entrylevel counterpart, the administrative specialist typically performs fewer, but much more specialized tasks, such as bookkeeping and payroll, planning events and meetings, creating reports and occasionally presenting them as well as overseeing the work of other office support staff and resolving conflicts within the support team.

Additionally, the Administrative Assistant may be called upon to design and implement policies to improve company operations. They are commonly called upon to participate in larger company projects, such as company

mission-driven initiatives, reward programs, and marketing campaigns. These essential members of the management team must have the ability to think strategically and creatively providing executives with sound guidance. Analytics skills and the ability to problem-solve is vital.

The Administrative Assistant must be emotionally intelligent, working harmoniously with others and having the ability to gracefully handle pressure as they prove themselves as a reliable resource to management. They must be capable of effectively communicating with a variety of different audiences and in a variety of different formats. The Administrative Assistant has the ability to delegate, encourage and lead others.

  1. The Administrative Professional of the Third Kind – The Influential Assistant

At this level, there are a plethora of job titles that attempt to capture the eclectic nature of the job. In addition to administrative and executive assistant, office manager, administrative services manager, personal assistant and administrative manager are not uncommon. I have even heard director, executive office operations.

These high-level individuals spend more of their time working with specific executives or senior managers. The Influential Assistant spends more of their time ensuring the realization of their focus areas of concentration rather than attending to fragmentary problems, routine tasks or minor emergencies. While they may engage in some of the activities that are the perquisite of the Administrative Assistant the focus is usually more in depth.

As the title, the Influential Assistant suggests, they often form liaison as they collaborate across disparate office teams. They may guide and manage the entire administrative support team, and it is not uncommon for them to perform a variety of human resource functions related to both hiring and discipline. They typically have well-honed strategic and critical thinking skills often on par with the executives they serve.

The Influential Assistant understands the unspoken needs and operational style of the executives with whom they work. Their emotional intelligence skills are well developed, allowing them to respond tosubtle cues their manager may reveal, enabling them to react with situational appropriateness. Indeed, if= there is one thing that sets the top-level administrative assistant apart, it is the quality of the partnership that they have with their boss. They are keenly aware of their boss’s behavioral style, its strengths, and its weaknesses and can sync with it. They understand that timing and judgment are the foundation of a smooth working relationship and have the innate ability to know when to speak and when to listen.

Whether Secretary, Administrative Assistant or Influential Assistant, administrative professionals are indispensable and, in many ways, form the backbone of today’s organizations. This year as you celebrate administrative professional’s day first determine what kind of AP you are as well as what type you hope to become and commit to developing those skills to the best of your ability.

By: Dr. Paul A. Douglas, Founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.
Dedicated to the Education and the Professional Development of Administrative Professionals


Paul Douglas is an internationally acclaimed speaker and consultant to scores of major corporations, universities and governments. He is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and holds a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Alberta, where he taught in the Faculty of Business. He also has a doctorate (Ph.D.) in business administration and organizational psychology. Paul is an accomplished author, professional speaker, consultant and corporate trainer. His company, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc. is the global leader in the training of administrative professionals having worked with over 100,000 administrative and executive assistants over the past forty-seven years. Paul has authored eight books on the role and responsibilities of the administrative professional as well as numerous articles and videos. A complete listing of seminars, books and self-assessment instruments offering a broad range of high-performance solutions can be found at


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