The executive assistant: a special cog in the company wheel

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Prioritisation and organisational skills are also important for this cog in the company’s wheel. The executive assistant is the gate keeper for the executive and has to limit distractions and ensure the most pressing issues get attention. This is also where organisational skills help to develop systems that save time in the office.

However, the gatekeeper must not become an obstacle or kill deals. You are not a jail manager, but a conduit for the most important issues in the company.

The most common mistakes executive assistants make, especially when they are new in the job, are misreading corporate culture, not building bridges with other executive assistants, not asking enough questions about tasks to be completed, never saying no, taking on too many tasks and speaking out when they should keep their lips sealed.

The mistake of misreading corporate culture can be avoided by building knowledge about the company, while building good relationships with other executive assistants is part of networking.

Executive assistants are expected to get everything done in time, but this can only happen if she or he is absolutely sure of what needs to be done and how it should be done. This information can only be gathered by asking penetrating questions until everything is clear.

The inability to say no to more work could be avoided by doing just that: saying no, I cannot do this. Executive assistants should remember that they are not in the position to make friends. They should have good relationships with everyone, but must draw a line to avoid being taken advantage of.

Speaking out about confidential company matters loops back to being trustworthy. Good executive assistants do not gossip, allude to trouble between board members or entertain friends with juicy stories about executives. Trust and confidentiality are probably the most important determining factor in being a successful executive assistant.

This is why robots can never take over the job of an executive assistant. The future might hold fewer positions for executive assistants, but the ones available will require more of the person to fill these big shoes. Executives will always need another human to be there.

*Auguste (Gusti) Coetzer is a Director of Signium Africa (previously Talent Africa), a leading South African-based executive search and talent management company servicing sub-Saharan Africa.

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