An evolving position Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
Administrative professionals often work behind the scenes in a business. But for busy executives, the administrative professional’s contributions are considered front and center. According to a new survey developed by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of highly skilled administrative professionals, 85 percent of executives say their administrative assistant is important to their success. The survey included responses from 150 senior executives from the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.

“Executives are increasingly relying on their administrative staff for more varied duties, including project management, research and budgeting tasks — as well as traditional responsibilities,” says Brandi Alexander, branch manager of OfficeTeam, based in The Woodlands.

Smart Business spoke with Alexander about how executives can best support their administrative personnel and how administrative professionals can establish a better working relationship with the executives they serve.

It seems that administrative professionals are doing much more than ‘traditional’ duties. How has the profession evolved?

You don’t hear the term ‘secretary’ anymore. These workers are referred to as administrative professionals because what they do now goes beyond the scope of taking dictation or typing up reports. Some have a staff reporting to them; they are managing facilities and reception desks, and sometimes other administrative personnel. They handle Internet research, track budgets and juggle schedules. They are often called on for support by other executives in a business. Because of technology and the increased work demands of executives, this has become a multifaceted career.

How can executives ensure that they have a positive working relationship with their administrative personnel?

The hallmark of a good working relationship is open communication and trust. An executive often works closer with his or her administrative professional than anyone else in the company. The executive needs to trust that the administrative professional can take on the workload, plus handle scheduling and other administrative tasks. The executive also needs to set expectations, communicating clearly what needs to be done and when.

Working as an administrative professional is a complex job that can often go unsung in a company. It is important that the executive maintain a positive relationship by recognizing an administrative professional’s work. It can be as simple as a verbal ‘thank you’ or a note written on a sticky note. These efforts seem small, but they go a long way in establishing a good working relationship.

What are some other ways an executive can recognize the administrative staff?

For work that exceeds expectations, the executive can also give thoughtful gifts to show appreciation, such as movie tickets for the administrative worker’s family.

Another idea is having lunch brought in to celebrate the end of a big project, or during the project when department personnel need to eat lunch at their desks.

Recognition does not have to be elaborate or expensive, but should be viewed as a token of respect and appreciation for what the administrative professional does on a day-to-day basis. The most important thing is just saying, ‘Thanks for your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.’

In our company, we celebrated Administrative Professionals Week (April 22-28), by treating our admins to a big breakfast and then sending them out for manicures and pedicures. This kind of thing is important, because, let’s face it, a business can’t survive without them.

How can an administrative professional ensure that the working relationship with his or her supervisor stays positive?

The key to being a successful administrative professional is being proactive. It is not a passive job where you wait for the next assignment to appear in your inbox. A good administrative professional meets with his or her supervisor and asks what is coming up next and helps to prioritize duties. The executive often has 10 or 15 projects and presentations going on at once and often may not think about what the administrative professional can do to help. It is the job of the administrative professional to ask about priorities and projects coming down the road.

Can executives support their administrative staff’s careers?

There are many ways to go about this, ranging from online training and classes to seminars and professional memberships. Providing professional development opportunities shows tremendous appreciation and respect for the profession. And it also helps the professional advance his or her learning skills — which is a win-win for both the business and the administrative professional.

BRANDI ALEXANDER is branch manager of The Woodlands-based OfficeTeam (www.officeteam.com), a division of Robert Half International, which has more than 300 locations worldwide. Reach Alexander at (281) 681-2940 or Brandi.alexander@rhi.com.