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How to evolve from PA/EA to Business Assistant

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​For years we have seen the same job description appear: traditional assistant wanted. But, we’re now (finally) seeing a shift in demand for PAs with commercial awareness. The rise of the business assistant.

This is a really exciting opportunity for support staff to align themselves with their organisation’s goals. You have the chance to evolve your role, by showing you’re ready to apply everything you’ve learnt working in the business, to help your executive work on it.

During a recent webinar, Lucy caught up with a panel of industry experts who have all successfully evolved into a more strategic business role. The panel included:

  • Alice Scutchey – Founder of the Canary Wharf PA Club

  • Queen Gumede – Executive Assistant to CEO at RGA

  • Lucy Brazier – Founder of Executive Secretary

  • Nnenna Onwukah – Executive Assistant/Programme Coordinator/PM at HG Capital

  • Veronique Jeannot – Executive Assistant at Capco

They shared what they’ve learnt in their years of experience and gave practical advice on what you can do to shift into a more strategic business role.

Here are the 6 key things that we learnt:

1. You need curiosity and communication 

“If you’re reactive you’re a PA/EA, if you’re proactive and looking for solutions, that’s more of a business assistant,” says Alice Scutchey. For me, I noticed the change happened when my boss invited me to meetings and rather than taking minutes, I was asked to create decks, or even present some parts. To get to that point you need to ask questions and let them know you’re interested.”

Nnenna supported Alice’s view but reminded us that we have to communicate what we want in our roles. “The number one thing you need is a business mindset. You have to see yourself as a business partner and want to be involved. You have to be proactive. Use your appraisals to let management know that you want to develop and be more involved in things outside of administration. You have to show you can do your admin job blind so you have the capacity. You also need to show them that you want to stay motivated in your role and that doing these additional roles will do that whilst adding value to the organisation.”

2. Take risks and seek opportunities

We know that being proactive is a key skill for those wanting to evolve into the strategic role, Alice shared some examples of how she’s done this in the past.

“Sometimes you need to be the person to come to your exec with ideas. If they don’t know how to use you, make suggestions or do things before they even ask. Do it when they’re in a meeting so it’s dealt with before they come out and you’re not crossing over. Use your initiative and if someone says ‘that’s not your job’ ask how you can make it your job or how you can support the person who is doing it. You need to own your ideas and present your ideas and make sure you put yourself as part of the solution.”

However, it’s not just your exec who you can help as Veronique shares. “Speak to your team, not just your exec. If you work in a big company you’ll be familiar with people working on various projects, be curious and ask questions. Let them know what you’re capable of, if you don’t tell them, they won’t ask. Review your skills and see what you need to do to help.”

3. Don’t undervalue yourself and believe in yourself

“Believe in yourself because if you don’t, nobody else will.” We couldn’t agree with Queen’s sentiment more! She went on to say that, “as an assistant, you need to believe in your craft and know the organisation needs you. Stop undervaluing yourself. Wake up every day with purpose and belonging and say I can do this, I’m part of this business and the business needs me.”

Positive reinforcement and self-belief is vital for an ambitious PA/EA. Nnenna highlighted another attribute that is key for the evolving assistant role.

“You need to have tenacity. You’re in a pond with big fish. People may look at you and think – shouldn’t you be booking the meeting? You need to be confident.” But just saying how great you are isn’t enough. You need to demonstrate your worth. Nnenna suggests that you should “speak to your line manager and your executive/s, and show examples of the great work you’ve done.

Don’t do this to dig for praise, but as proof, you can manage your everyday role and work outside of it as well. See if they are encouraging you to progress in your career. If they aren’t doing that, then maybe you need to consider if that organisation is one you want to be in for the long-haul, or do you want to take your skills elsewhere as it can be demoralising.”

4. Understand the process of reaching a goal 

Now you’re feeling confident in your skills, it’s time to check yourself. Alice warns, “Don’t get ahead of yourself. The reality is you’re employed to do one job, make sure you do that really well before you shoot for the other jobs. Focus on the now and then stretch yourself.”

This is great advice that must be followed. Your exec needs to trust that you can do the job the business has employed you to do first before you start impacting other areas of the business. After you’ve got this down, you can start to make a plan for your future as Lucy B explains.

“You need to look at your long and short term planning. If you want to be in one role by the end of the year, what can you put in place over the next 12 months to get you there? Have a roadmap and agree on it with your exec.”

5. Invest in yourself

“There are so many resources to help. you don’t need the business to say your development is a priority, that’s your job.” Well said, Veronique! We love this sentiment of making yourself a priority.

Find the skills you need to work on to do your job better and assist your executive. Veronique also suggests tapping into your peer group for training. “Better yourself and use your network to find out what training and opportunities you need and share what you’ve learnt with your peers.”

6. Stop asking for permission!

Our last piece of advice came from Lucy B and is a great place to wrap up.

“You need an understanding of the strategy for your department, if not the entire business. Find out what your executives KPIs are. Once you understand that, start volunteering for projects outside of your comfort zone that supports those goals.

Stop asking for permission and go and do stuff you are great at. Now is the time for assistants to show what they’re made of. Prove to your business what a true strategic partner looks like!”

This was a really inspiring session that demonstrated what an exciting time it is in the assistant world. If you’re looking to upskill and better yourself why not join the C&C Coaching Club with the first month for FREE, for access to events like this, training and more.

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