power skills for administrative assistants

Power Skills for Administrative Assistants

News Flash! Soft skills are now being referred to as power skills. In recent articles and blogs from reputable sources in the training and the administrative industries, soft skills are being touted as power skills. That makes a lot of sense because when all things are equal with assistants—such as technical aptitude and years of experience—it is the ability to employ and demonstrate strong soft skills that will make the difference.

I would add to that by saying we have had to focus on our tech/hard skills since March 2020 because our world changed quickly and we had to adapt. Assistants had to step up to the plate and learn how to schedule and launch virtual meetings, use all types of apps, communicate remotely, and so much more. Now, almost everyone has settled into a rhythm, and I believe 2022 should be the year to put the spotlight back on soft skills (which, remember, are your power skills).

So, what are some of the “power skills”?

Emotional Intelligence:

Daniel Goleman identified four dimensions of emotional intelligence as: #1 Self-Awareness, #2 Self-Management, #3 Social Awareness, and #4 as Social Skill or Relationship Management. I highly recommend executive and administrative assistants focus on #3 this year because this dimension is powerful. It is described as:

  • Knowing others and recognizing the impact we may have on them.
  • Paying attention to emotional cues when interacting with others. You are intentionally listening for them and adapting as necessary.
  • Showing sensitivity and understanding the other person’s perspectives.
  • Adapting your communication style to compliment others.


I’ve always told assistants that they don’t have to be in a management position to be a leader. Leadership is a set of characteristics and actions. It should not be up to only a few to take the lead. Instead of looking to others to forge a path or clear the jungle ahead, why not “see it and own it” and do something about what you’d like to see, or wish were reality? Each administrator has special gifts and talents. Start there.


At Office Dynamics, we have been teaching collaboration since 2013 so this is nothing new to us but maybe to you. Did you know that collaboration is different than teamwork? Collaboration is about coming together and putting your best ideas into the service of something bigger than yourself.

    • Dena Plotkin, Psychotherapist, and Collaborative Strategist says, “The most important thing in any collaboration is being able to know the perspective, needs, and desires of those you are working with. This is probably one of the main ways that collaboration differs from teamwork. In teamwork, there is the assumption that everyone is on the same page. Everyone is working together and is aware of it. Working together is the goal, and the goal is a result of how well the team works.

The focus of collaboration is the process. The act of collaboration creates and shapes the work that must be done to finish a project to completion. As the work progresses the goal is defined. It is more like a living document: it is dynamic and flexible.”


There are so many facets of communication. My top two tips are:

  • Pay attention and see if a person has a preferred style of communication. This does not mean do they prefer IM over email. I mean do they like the information in nuggets? Or want the big picture? Do they need specifics and details? Are they matter-of-fact or more imaginary? Adapt your communications to meet them where they are to be more successful.
  • In our virtual, high-tech world, it’s really important to have more human moments whether you can meet up at the office occasionally or use a virtual platform.


For years I have believed this was the #1 skill needed for all employees at every level. And since 2020, I am absolutely convinced this is the #1 skill. For assistants, it’s not only being resilient to workplace changes. It’s being resilient to what your executive throws at you in the way of work. It means to let certain comments roll off your back and not take them personally.

Typically, we think of resiliency as the power to bounce back. I would like assistants to go one step further. Practice proactive resilience. Instead of waiting for things to happen to you, take on a challenge to grow this skill.

Strategic Thinking:

This skill takes time to develop and thinking strategically takes time. In strategic thinking, we have to see the big picture, the long-term, ramifications or impact. We have to think logically. When I think of strategic thinking it is getting our priorities in order. Breaking those larger tasks into bite-size pieces, mapping out a plan, setting target dates, assigning who will do what. But it starts at a high level and works its way down. It’s tactical thinking.

Business Acumen:

This is a great power skill for assistants. David Zion describes business acumen as “a keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a ‘business situation’ (risks and opportunities) in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. It’s that extra little something top performers bring to the table—a special quality that enables them to see beyond their immediate job requirements and short-term performance goals in order to comprehend how things taking place elsewhere in the organization impact their success (and vice-versa). We may be tempted to think that business acumen is something only managers need to worry about cultivating, but that’s too short-sighted. A well-developed sense of the big picture benefits any worker, at any level of organizational responsibility.”

Openness to change:

This seems to be a daily event for us anymore. We think we are moving forward only to be stopped in our tracks. It can be very frustrating. Let’s take a deep breath. For real. You are not alone. We are all trying to do our best every day and I guess that is all we can do. Continue to remain open to changes, being adaptable, and focus on the areas you can control.


This is a power skill in that when we can’t manage the things around us, we at least have the power to manage our thinking or our reaction. Self-management is not always easy, though. There are numerous books, blogs, and articles on self-management and mindfulness.

I hope you will begin to think of “soft” skills as “power” skills. Think of them as the powerful engine that
will . . .

  • move the needle for you
  • improve relationships
  • create win-win situations
  • give you the edge
  • help you get more of what you need in the workplace
  • build that strategic partnership with your leader
  • eliminate or reduce conflict.

No matter where you are in your career, you might want to assess which “power” skills you most need to learn, polish, or upgrade. And remember, Office Dynamics has a full range of courses, videos, and information to help you hone those power skills.

Joan Burge


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