Secretary vs Assistant – do they think differently?

Do I have your attention? Good. Should your title be “secretary,” please do not take offense to what you are about to read.

Secretary vs Assistant

Do secretaries actually think differently than business professionals? Are people with the title “secretary” viewed differently than people with the titles “administrative assistant” or “executive assistant”?

This all has to do with perceptions. Often when people in today’s modern world hear “secretary” they think of the woman sitting behind a typewriter with a bun on her head. In other words, they think of the past and what this role involved 20 or 30 years ago. While this is a very small thing . . . just one word . . . it can be a big thing in how non-administrative professionals view the role.

In my World Class Assistant™ Certificate Program held in Las Vegas, the attendees and I delve into this topic. We have attendees who come from all over the world and it is interesting to hear everyone’s perspective. One thing everyone shares in common is that they need to break through some old beliefs or paradigms that are preventing them from becoming all they can be. My goal is to get our attendees to see how even their own language, thinking and behaviors can hold them back from being taken more seriously in the workplace.

Here are some of the things I hear assistants, secretaries and managers say:

  • “I would dress better if they paid me more money.”
  • “I’m just an assistant.”
  • “Assistants/secretaries don’t need training.”
  • “I don’t care what people call me.” Personally, this comment really bothers me. I understand the individual saying this means “My title does not matter because the work is the same work.” Your title should matter to you because most people form perceptions about you based on your title. Plus, the longer you have been in the field, you have earned that new title. Managers work hard so they can be promoted to Director, and then Sr. Director and VP, EVP, and maybe even President or CEO. Why would assistants not care about their title reflecting what they worked hard to achieve?

Even if you are a progressive administrative assistant, you probably still embrace perceptions about your role that are holding you back from being seen as a business professional. This usually happens at a subconscious level.

How can you gauge how others perceive you in this role?

  1. By the way they address you or how you are spoken to.
  2. The manner in which your executive introduces you.
  3. The degree of involvement you have in projects.
  4. The types of tasks you handle.
  5. Are your ideas taken seriously?
  6. Does your manager give you his or her full attention when you speak?
  7. Are you invited to staff meetings or executive retreats? (Or are you only involved in the prep work?)

While we cannot control how people will perceive us, we can do something to change people’s perceptions of us.

Here are some behaviors you might want to consider developing to be taken more seriously in the workplace.

  • Ownership
  • Present solutions
  • Cheerleader (not a moaner or groaner)
  • Tactfully fend off verbal attacks from others
  • Be a pacesetter
  • Be assertive
  • Take the lead
  • Act appropriately in the face of problems.

World Class Assistants shift their beliefs about themselves and their role; see themselves in a higher light; demonstrate courage in teaching others about their role; and set the stage for how they want to be perceived. In our workshop, we define World Class Assistant as someone who is on the cutting edge; leads the way; always strive for improvement and excellence; is a risk-taker and more. I encourage you to do the same and watch how much better people will treat you.


PS check out a presentation assemble by my World Class Assistant students on what they learned from the program.

What WCA Students Learned In The World Class Assistant Certificate Program:


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