skills executives want from assistants

The Top Skills Executives Want From Assistants Today

Office Dynamics often surveys managers and high-level executives as to the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are most important for an assistant to possess. Here are some non-edited, direct quotes from them. See how you measure up. If you are doing these already, then ask yourself . . .

  • “How often do I do this?
  • Am I doing this every single time?
  • Over a year’s time, what percentage of the time do I do this?
  • How can I get better at this?”

“It is very important for my assistant to be “smarter” than most. The ability to organize and prioritize is right behind SMART! You have to organize to be able to know what is in front of you. Since there is always more than you can get done, the ability to prioritize is critical. The most important ability an assistant has to learn to do is to figure out what NOT to do. Throw those items out of the boat and prioritize the rest.”

“Communication skills, both oral and written, are a must-have. It almost goes unsaid that if you cannot communicate in a clear, timely, and concise manner you will never make it.”

“Technological skills are a must-have to keep up with the pace and dynamics of the job. You are not trying to keep up with yourself, but usually the department. The right tools and the common sense to apply them appropriately are a given in any role today.”

“Toughness is key. The job is usually under-rated. You are steering the ship. Suck it up and make it work.”

“The ability to be a team player in the larger sense of the corporate mission, goals, and objectives. It’s not about your desk, but the big desk in the sky. You are a little fish in a big pond that can really make a difference!”

“Assistants need to do a better job of understanding their executive’s needs; anticipate and go in well prepared.”

“A must-have skill when managing your executive’s calendar is to understand your executive must have down time.”

“When you speak on my (executive) behalf, you need to use my voice. Communication is important; ask questions; build a relationship with others.”

“Communications: When an assistant is writing an email on her executive’s behalf, acknowledge who you are communicating with and how you are communicating with them. If they are a high-level executive, you need to craft your message as such (and select your words carefully).”

My intent in this blog was to bring you into the world of executives and share with you some of the traits, behaviors, and skills they view as valuable. This is just a small snip-it of what I have heard. I hope you are curious to learn more about the skills you need to truly be successful in the administrative profession.

Joan Burge


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18 thoughts on “The Top Skills Executives Want From Assistants Today”

  1. Thank you for a great article. Communication is so important. I believe that I communicate well in the written form, but have difficulty communicating verbally. I often feel tongue tied during a conversation. I find it difficult to listen AND form a response. So much so, that I often do not respond during meetings. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  2. This was a great article and the comments were very helpful. Communication is so important. I believe I am clear in my written communications, but get tongue tied when communicating verbally. I have difficulty getting my point across and often think of a better way to express my thoughts once the conversation is over. Any suggestions on how to listen AND think through my response prior to speaking? I find this difficult and it is causing me angst to the point where I do not voice my opinion in a conversation or meeting. Thank you.

  3. Joan, great article and all the comments added on are very useful, thank you! I too love my job and grateful for an amazing boss. I want to constantly improve, as the role is always evolving, so connecting and hearing other points of view and tidbits is essential to keeping fresh and open. Thanks all!

  4. Great information! What about budgeting and accounting skills? How important are those skills in today’s workforce?

  5. One of my tasks is to craft the monthly update (using bits/pieces/tidbits) from my Executive to the agency (she’s the CEO); over the course of the year we’ve been working together its become easier to write in her voice as I’ve come to understand how she thinks and communicates. And it makes it a lot easier for her when she’s reviewing it before I send it out as well.

    Thanks for another great article with relevant information to keep on my radar!

  6. Gloria von Gesslein

    I love how this article gives direct statements and insight from executives that they normally would not provide.

  7. Great comments, would love to hear more of what other executives have to say, if you find room to share them in another blog. Thank you Joan for all you do!

  8. Interesting comments. Many of these are so true. It is very different when one works for a CEO/President in an organization. You represent them in everything you do and you are his voice to many of the staff. Just think of yourself as an extension of them. Read emails as if they would be coming from them; tone of voice, how does the message come across, etc. You also need to ‘think ahead’ and ‘think outside the box’ when working for this person. I am going away next week and have looked ahead to pre-plan for my backup. I have tried to think of anything that might arise that she should be aware of. I love my job!

  9. Joan, with this latest job I have, I’ve learned to not only bring in the “issue” but to bring in my thoughts for a solution. This is the first job I’ve been forced to do that with and your newsletter and articles and webinars help. Thank you.

  10. Wow! It’s good to hear what executives really think. Since I am so used to working with them on a daily basis, I can easily take it for granted on what they really need. Thank you so much for the good advice to follow.

  11. All are fantastic comments.

    The comment: “Toughness is key. The job is usually under-rated. You are steering the ship. Suck it up and make it work.”

    My boss and I have discussed this numerous times over the last two decades. To be an assistant is not for the week of heart. You have to be able to truly roll with the punches.

    The benefit that has comes from looking at it this way is the opportunities you look for to make your job better. I am supporting the same person for all these years but my job has morphed over this time into much more than it was when I started.

    It has been beneficial for not just me but also for my executives.

    Yes I love my job!

    1. Melissa, I am with you 100% I have been working for my boss for 15 years, but throughout those years, he has moved into higher level positions, and therefore I have as well. It’s a big change, but necessary to keep pace with the additional tasks, responsibilities, and cultural change…with more and (and more important) eyes on you, the more proficient we need to be.

  12. This post answered my question and really made me think about my relationship with my executive. It’s very important to me to understand my executive’s daily needs and anticipate accordingly. Thanks, Joan, Jasmine, and Office Dynamics for your support of our profession and the learning opportunities you provide!

  13. “Toughness is key. . .Suck it up and make it work.” THIS–it took me quite a few years to switch to “solution provider” thinking. And I used it again today in space planning–I was asked to make a sub-optimal situation (spreading the team over 3 floors) work out. I thought through my options, reviewed my team leaders’ ability to deal with being on an orphan floor and chose one of the stronger managers to take his team off to the third floor. I presented my logic and the final result to my manager, who’s only question was, “is this good for the team?” My reply, “it’s for the greater good of our division” got the reply. “Good.”

  14. I.Love.This.Post. This is so helpful to get this information straight from execs themselves. I’m printing these out because I don’t often think of them. I especially like these two nuggets:

    “A must-have skill when managing your executive’s calendar is to understand your executive must have down time.”

    “When you speak on my (executive) behalf, you need to use my voice. Communication is important; ask questions; build a relationship with others.”

    They are so true and I’ve personally experienced situations where these come into play.

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