Make your assistant a true partner

Can you guess?
What position is often involved in choosing the new phone system, human resources problems, purchasing equipment and new software training? The answer may surprise you: In many organizations, it’s an administrative assistant doing these tasks, not a higher level manager. Talented assistants have proven to be one of the priceless jewels of the new workplace.

As companies scale down and are forced to do more with less, the administrative assistant has risen to new importance. A good assistant is worth his or her weight in gold, and many managers would pay a king’s ransom to get a talented one. The shortage of qualified assistants is so severe, many assistants now find themselves working for three or more bosses. As a result, salaries are on the rise, along with their status.

Technology has played a large part in their liberation from the days of typing and shorthand. Many managers were caught flat footed when computers evolved from a word processing machine to the dominant tool they are today. It was the assistant who was the first to learn how to use the mouse and the modem and they had to teach the rest of us. Many assistants have become the technology pioneers in their organizations: upgrading software, customizing databases and even hiring and overseeing IT vendors.

Assistants are also on the front line of personnel issues. They are the infantry with their ears to the ground. As a result, they often play a formal or informal role in administering human resources policies. Progressive organizations now invite administrative assistants, managers and other employees to sit down together to hammer out new recognition systems and performance review policies.

This new level of performance and professionalism has led assistants to search out new resources to help them keep up. One such resource is the Website, This Website was developed and is completely maintained by assistants. It offers everything from forums for asking other assistants questions about the latest software to certificates for the best and worst boss.

Are you maximizing your partnership with your assistant? Here are some ideas that could help:

§      Meet with your assistant each week, for at least 30 minutes, to discuss changes in the schedule, ongoing projects and potential problems.

§      Once a year, have a career discussion with your administrative assistant. Ask him or her what their goals are and how you can help. Make sure the job is still rich with challenge and responsibility. Ask, "What new things did you learn last year?" "What would you like to learn next year?" "What do you like best about your job?" "What would you like to change?" "How can I help you?"

§      Appreciate your assistant. A poll on showed that one of the main reasons employees leave is because they don’t feel that their contribution is valued. Take your assistant to lunch (and not just on Administrative Professionals Day). Or, after a hectic project, give your assistant a thank you letter and a certificate for dinner for two. Most important, thank your assistant every day for the little things that make the difference.

§      Ask your assistant for his or her opinion. Make it easy for your assistant to be open and honest about what is going on in the office or the plant and what they think could be done about it. Often, they will have a more realistic and workable solution than the executives in the corner office will.

§      Give your assistant distinct projects, with authority to carry them out. Don’t just make your assistant a second pair of hands for you. Chose projects in which your assistant has skills and the interest to make it a success. Then lay the political pipe so their responsibilities can flow: make it clear to everyone that your assistant has full responsibility and authority on the project.

§      Reinforce your assistant’s credibility with outsiders. Often, outside callers view assistants as nothing more than a gatekeeper. Some people refuse to leave a message unless they speak directly with the manager, others are downright rude. Once your assistant knows you well, and how you would respond, stand behind his/her decisions. If you are communicating regularly, you will be able to anticipate each other’s needs and become true partners. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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