The Future of the Administrative Profession

The Future of the Administrative Profession – Surviving or Thriving?

By Joan Burge, Founder and CEO, Office Dynamics International
Changing the Lives of Administrative Professionals Since 1990

It’s important to recognize the difference between surviving and thriving, because the key to success is available to those who successfully manage to cross the bandwidth between the two.

The global economic meltdown brought sweeping changes across many continents as companies made drastic changes to many sectors of employees, including the administrative profession. So encompassing was the economic climate that no vocation was immune.

Before the crisis, the administrative profession operated differently. Training budgets were ample; opportunity for advancement sparkled like diamonds for the taking. Administrators handled many tasks, and had backups, cross training, and team-shared projects.

Post-crisis, many people lost their jobs, and took any available position, even ones they were far overqualified for. Others could no longer afford to retire. Single income households became dual income households, often due to pay cuts and shorter hours. Training budgets dissipated, opportunities dried up, and assistants had larger workloads without staffing backups. Single support executive assistants now juggled multiple managers.

We’ve come through and now, the economy is healing. Much has changed for the executive assistant and administrative professional, and in order to thrive in this new working environment, it’s up to both to operate wisely, using savvy to make the right decision regarding the right question at the right time.

It would be easy to simply throw up one’s hands and say, “It’s okay to just survive!” but we know that excellence goes far beyond the basics. Success is met when we exceed expectations; when we go the second mile, and when we work diligently to remain relevant and competitive. Thriving is where we find contentment, advancement and opportunity.

We must know and grasp the many changes in today’s workplace so we can leverage them to succeed and thrive in the profession:

  1. There are now four distinct generations employed in the workplace [Veteran, Boomer, Gen X and Gen Y]. By 2018, a fifth generation, the Millennial, will enter the work force. We can benefit from all the generations because each has different strengths. Bridge the gap with each other. It’s not “them against us.” It should be us trying to elevate the profession!
  2. Be Bold! If you hear people speaking negatively about another assistant, walk away from the negativity or else speak up for that person to advance the profession. Demonstrate your leadership skills. It’s the small victories throughout the day that will build your reputation in the department.
  3. What’s in a name? There are more than 40 titles in the profession. No earth shattering new titles have come about. I would like “secretary” to be a retired title that just goes away. It takes the profession back to where we aren’t anymore; now, we are strategic business partners.
  4. Technology – Since executives are now so tech-savvy, they need to know how they may best utilize their assistant. How do they use them to an advantage in this modern day world? It’s changed a lot since taking a letter and pouring coffee of forty years ago. And it is changing again as executives recognize that administrators aren’t just for typing emails or making travel plans. They can be project managers, ambassadors of their manager’s vision, and more. And assistants need to work with the same devices their executives use!
  5. Training and Development – organizations are investing more than ever before in specialized training. Companies are realizing that this is a career. Assistants invest in themselves; but they need to see that they are valuable. Brian Tracy says you need to invest in yourself, because when you do, you take that with you for the rest of your life. Assistants need to see themselves as valuable assets.
  6. Succession Planning for Senior-level Executive Assistants – We are at a critical juncture of a work exodus and entrance of new faces assuming leadership roles. Companies are seeing the value of planning as they anticipate the departure of their most experienced assistants within the next few years.
  7. Competencies – Calendaring, travel, task organization, projects. These are fundamentals, critical foundational skills needed to fully mature your career. These core competencies are your stronger core foundation. Now you must build on top of these because today so much more is expected and necessary for executive assistants and administrative assistants!
  8. Cross-training, Mentoring – Open your heart and be a mentor to others.
  9. Coaching – There is a greater need for coaching executive assistants on increasing performance, professional presence, and raising their standards in the role.
  10. Administrative stress levels are higher due to changing priorities and fast deadlines. Being confident, prepared and honing your skills is a great way to handle this.
  11. Virtual Support – executives travel internationally and support is virtual. How skilled are you in handling “offsite” support across time zones?
  12. Mindset – do you see yourself as in a career of choice? Or are you getting a paycheck? Trust me, it shows!
  13. Frumpy or Fabulous? Create a modern view of the administrative assistant. Brand yourself as modern, fresh, relevant. If it’s time for updated eyeglass frames or a new hairdo, then do it. Consider it an investment in yourself.
  14. Leadership is not a job title – Nurture an active, vital vision of leadership. Propose ideas. Be creative. Bring solutions, not problems.

To become a thriving, not just surviving, successful assistant, you must ask yourself: “How will I manage myself?” Remember, your career belongs to you. Is it healthy? Is it strong and thriving? Is it anemic or in need of urgent care to revive it?

To help you get started, here are some tips to change “survive” to “thrive”:

  • Strategic thinking – learn about this and implement it at work and home
  • Presentation skills – volunteer to make and give presentations whenever the opportunity arises. Yes, you may be fearful but you need to rise above your fear to see what you are capable of doing.
  • Branding – establish your own professional brand and demonstrate it consistently every day. My Chief Executive Assistant and now Vice President, Jasmine Freeman, has the calmest professional demeanor and she is that way no matter what happens! It’s a precious, valued part of her brand.
  • Self-management (manage your thoughts and emotions). Use your passion and energy for work. Be kind. Think the best of others. Manage yourself before you start managing others. That means you exhibit good boundaries.

Wherever I travel, I advise the executive assistants and administrative professionals I speak to or meet through coaching sessions to “Live it, be it, and own it!” Fortunately, it only takes one person to make a BOLD difference in your career, and that person can be you!


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6 thoughts on “The Future of the Administrative Profession”

  1. Jean Weaver, CAP-OM

    Joan, Item 6.Succession Planning for Senior-level Executive Assistants hits home for me. While I don’t plan to retire for another 5-7 years, I suggested to my boss to include development of comprehensive office procedures in my goals for 2016. He was thrilled that I had the foresight to see the need for this knowledge transfer. While I already have several of my tasks/functions documented in procedures, I will be updating these and adding many more procedures to cover all aspects of my position. Having written procedures also provides an excellent tool for those that fill in for me when I am on vacation.

  2. This article is right on point. I agree with all the points made in this article, especially the 4th point. I feel that if you want to be successful and move up in the administrative assistant field you have to stay up to date with technology and trends and be able to prove that to prospective employers. I was in this field for over 20 years and having trouble feeling like I was not going to be able to move up. I kept seeing professional certifications required in job postings and looked into them and decided to get tnaoap certifications in computer skills and communication. What a difference these made in my career. Prove to employers your skills, don’t just tell them. I would highly recommend them.

  3. I remember having a long conversation with a retired woman who used to be a secretary in Washington and she compared it to what I have and do today. She had no problem being called a secretary and she loved her work 🙂 she talked about how details were very important and mistakes very rare for her. The paper and typing they did was on paper and machines where mistakes were very costly. The paper so thin and if you had a typo you would have to start all over, which of course could mean your job. She talked about dress, image, and relationships with others back then. I believe there will always be change and I hope it will keep growing in a positive way.

  4. Excellent advice. It helps to be reminded every once in a while administrative professionals are just as valuable as the executives they support. And I am a firm believer we need continually training, coaching, mentoring, etc. in order to keep ahead and to constantly better ourselves and our performance.

  5. I agree that ‘we’ have come a long way in our profession. I am lucky that I am now at a non-profit organization that acknowledges my worth. I report to the CEO and was asked last year to change my title according to my job description. My previous title was Executive Assistant. As I am my bosses’ right hand and also report to our Board of Directors, I chose Director of Executive and Board Affairs. My boss heartily agreed. I strive to be the best that I can be and am proud of my profession and my new title!

  6. I’m so fortunate to be able to build a good business partner relationship with my new boss. She’s new in her position as CEO and I’m new to being an Executive Assistant; so we’re figuring out this journey together. The one thing that is the biggest hurdle is training and development. I live paycheck-to-paycheck like thousands of others and have no extra money to pay to attend conferences and working for a social services non-profit agency there are no funds for training for administrative support staff at any level. So, I glean what I can though articles and blogs and dig for free training opportunities on the internet. Thanks Office Dynamics for providing these great blogs this month; the ideas and suggestions have been extremely timely and helpful!

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