Lottie Mayland22 Jan 2020
  • Insight
  • Work Advice

These Are The Soft Skills Managers Most Value In Their Assistants

The top soft skills of an executive assistant, as revealed by their managers.

The working world is changing and as it does so does the role of an assistant. While once learnt skills such as typing speed and short-hand were considered crucial to the job, today an assistant is hired and progresses up the career ladder based more on their problem solving and lateral thinking skills rather than whether they are good at taking notes. Executive Assistants and PAs are just as crucial to a well-managed business as they have ever been, but as the world of work changes so does the scope of their jobs and as an assistant it’s important to keep revaluating what skills are valued by managers and will therefore help you progress in your career.

No one is better equipped to explain what makes an exceptional modern-day assistant that the people who hire them and work with them – their managers. While we were judging the Anderson Hoare Assistant Awards we were lucky enough to speak to broad range of managers from different job industries and were so interested to hear why they considered their assistant to be so good at their job.

Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News, has two PAs that work on a successful job share basis, talked about the idea of an assistant’s skillset working like concentric circles, describing how a PA’s talents are often extremely broad and varied but it’s how they use them together that makes a great PA stand out from the crowd and excel in their job.

We first spoke to Jim when he nominated his assistant for The Anderson Hoare Assistant Awards; while chatting about what made his assistant worthy of winning Jim talked more broadly about what he considered the soft and hard skills of a great PA to be and his opinions were eye opening. Jim described that while at a basic level what makes a great PA is having all the traditional assistant hard skills such as diary management, IT proficiency, organisation and proactivity, what he calls a ‘PA toolkit’, as more companies adopt open office styles and flexible ways of working the role of the modern day assistant now goes further than just looking after an individual and acting as their ‘gate keeper’ or guardian.

A great, modern day PA will be an active member of the entire team, helping their boss to work in the most optimal way by ensuring they are open to all internal and external opportunities, aware of and involved in everything going on in the office and at the heart of the business rather an on a pedestal above it. Obviously, it’s not possible for a senior employee or board member to be involved in every social occasion or attune to the minute details of the day-to-day office but the idea of a senior manager working behind closed doors with a secretary guarding their time is just not the case anymore.

Jim described how in 2020 PAs and their bosses need to work collaboratively together and that what elevates a good PA to a really exceptional PA is someone who can extend this collaboration to the whole team and possesses a wide range of suitable soft skills. A PA with strong emotional, as well as regular, intelligence will actively seek out ways to help the wider team and make the office a better place to be for everyone that works there. By acting in this way a PA can have a hugely beneficial impact on the company; collaborating and communicating across departments and with different employees allows them to understand how the business works and to make more informed decisions and pre-empt issues or problems when working alongside their boss. By simply being open to opportunities, on both their behalf and their boss’s, a PA can totally transform a working environment, making the office feel like a more collaborative and accepting place to be and putting everyone on a more equal level. This can help people have the confidence to voice their ideas, thereby increasing morale in the team and also the potential for ideas and opportunities to flourish.

In 2020 an assistant is a crucial part of any team and in order to stay at the top of your game it’s important to keep revaluating how you can improve. Based on Jim’s insight and our further research we’ve summarised what we consider to be a selection of crucial soft skills and personality traits of an exceptional assistant in 2020: • Emotional Intelligence – sensing and reacting appropriately to how others are feeling and being able to handle situations and relationships effectively • Pro-active nature – not waiting to be asked and always looking for ways to make things better or room for improvement • Open to ideas – being willing to adapt and change your ways of working or standard procedures based on other people’s ideas • Collaborative – enjoying and working well with other people • Willingness to get stuck in – not thinking you are above a task and actively helping without being asked • Listening – rather than just hearing. An exceptional EA will actually listen to what other people say in order to learn what needs to be done, asking appropriate questions to ensure they have all the right information • Flexibility – being willing to change plans right up until the last minute in order to ensure the best outcome • Managing up – having the diplomacy and confidence to be able to express your opinions and ideas to your boss if you think something could be done better. Having the tact and self-restraint to back off when necessary • Common sense – when given incomplete ideas or requests an exceptional assistant will be able to use their knowledge of their company or their boss to work around them • Integrity – as an assistant you are representing someone else in your work, therefore honesty and strong morals will help ensure you always represent that person in the best way possible

If you are an assistant and you are currently looking for a job then you might like to visit our job board here. If we can help in any way or you have any questions in regards to working as an assistant then our consultants are always happy to chat, please email us on enquiries@andersonhoare.co.uk.