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16 Undeniable Skills From The Best Administrative Assistants In 2021

By October 30, 2020 November 24th, 2020 44 Comments

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A stellar Administrative Assistant can be a company’s secret weapon.

“Administrative Assistant” used to be synonymous with things like scheduling, bookkeeping, and arranging travel. Not so today.

While these functions are still an important part of the job, these days admins are tasked with a lot more. Often, Admins take on front-line strategic functions traditionally relegated to HR or operations – things like onboarding new hires and event planning.

Modern day Admins are also often tasked with managing both in-house and remote company culture through an employee recognition software like Assembly – which is free. 

More and more, maintaining a positive office culture is critical for recruiting and retaining top talent, engaging employees, and inspiring them to perform their best. A company’s Admin is very often tasked with culture-related responsibilities like planning off-sites, managing perks like office snacks, and generally maintaining the office vibe.

When it comes down to it, Admins are expected to keep things running smoothly, no matter what it takes. Think of them sort of like the “utility player” in baseball. They’re Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades, expected to perform at a high level in a ton of different situations.

(PS – Get more sh*t done with The Assist — the #1 free weekly newsletter made for assistants by assistants.)

So it makes sense that today’s Admins need a wide array of skills in order to succeed in this challenging role.

But what are those list of administrative skills? And what separates the good admins from the great? Which professional development ideas for administrative assistants should you follow?

That’s exactly what we asked our community of rockstar admins. Here are the skills for administrative assistant that really pay the bills.

We recently surveyed over 1,273 Executive Assistants in our State of The Executive Assistant Facebook group and found that monday.com was their favorite productivity tool to use.

1. Knowing All The Resources 

When you’re an administrative assistant, everyone’s always counting on you to have a solution for every problem or a tool to use for every need. 

Stand-out admins stay ahead of the asks by keeping a database or Excel file of useful tools and go-to resources. 

Launch your own go-to list with some of our favorite admin “secret weapons.” 

The Assist: Consider this freemium weekly newsletter your shortcut to knowing about all the resources, including helpful software and time-saving technology. Stay up to date by having a roundup of resources, delivered to you on a silver platter (a.k.a. beautifully formatted email) each week. Sign up for free here!

Other helpful resources:

 

2. Creative Problem Solving

If you want to learn how to be a good administrative assistant in 2021, then problem solving should be in your toolbox. Since an Admin’s main responsibility is to keep things on point, problem-solving is an indispensable skill. With remote work and flexible schedules on the rise, today’s modern workplace demands a new type of creative thinking to keep everything running smoothly.

Chelsea Hnat, Executive Assistant to the CEO for Advancing Women Executives, tells us why:

chelsea-hnat“Administrative Assistants are in a unique position to be polymaths – they know about so many different aspects of their work environment and are seen as a go-to for problem-solving.

The more they are able to effectively troubleshoot, the more valuable they become in their position because they keep everything moving smoothly.”

Creativity and the ability to improvise, according to Hnat, is a necessary part of the equation at companies of any size.

chelsea-hnat“I see this at both small and large-scale companies, but at a small company like mine, the impact of these admin skills is monumental and really gets you noticed.”

 

 

3. Proper Etiquette

Admins interface with people every single day. All sorts of people.

Like Office Managers, Admins are one of the few people in a company (other than perhaps the CEO or senior HR staff) that deal with employees at every level.

Of course, this isn’t limited to internal interactions. The Admin role is almost always forward-facing. If you’re an Admin, you’re often the gatekeeper for a department or executive, handling incoming calls, reaching out to vendors, or speaking directly with high-level execs at other companies.

That’s why good manners and etiquette are so important. Admin Elizabeth White-Peters explains, telling us that manners are “a lost art that guides one through many challenging circumstances.”

According to White-Peters, one of the secrets to mastering the art of manners is in listening. She says,

elizabeth-white-peters“[A] rockstar [admin] listens not just to the words, but to tone and body language in order to read between the lines.”

 

 

Here’s an example of what she means:

elizabeth-white-peters“The phone rings. It’s an aggravated voice demanding to speak with the Manager. While smiling and being polite, an admin quickly assesses the situation. Based on company culture, several actions could take place: one could take a note and assure the caller it would be passed on, one could put the caller on hold and determine how to interrupt the manager/transfer the call, or one could try to resolve the issue directly.

By listening to language and tone, one can determine which actions to take. Each step of the way with polite communication, the potential of handling the situation to best results for the caller and manager increases.

‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ will be noticed by both. With experience, the admin will learn from the Manager what worked well and thus, know how to handle for the next occurrence.”

Admins, it turns out, need a high emotional IQ, and the ability to read people and react accordingly.

 

4. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to a knack for understanding—and even influencing—emotions in ourselves and others. The most successful Admins have emotional intelligence in spades. Here’s why:

  • Emotional intelligence makes people easy to work with. Admins attuned to the emotions of others achieve better results from negotiations and other interactions. Emotional intelligence translates to better outcomes in dealing with all people and all situations, making it a must-have skill for Admins, who have to request work, perform work, and negotiate about work with tons of people.
  • Emotional intelligence helps people manage the emotions of others. This ability to read people helps Admins anticipate the needs of bosses and other key associates. For example, guessing that a boss is unhappy with a report gives an ambitious Admin the chance to win favor by redirecting or reframing the conversation.
  • Emotional intelligence makes conflict resolution a breeze. Understanding emotions makes dealing with emotions, even negatives ones, easier. And knowing how to deal with emotions gives Admins the tools to resolve any conflict.
  • Emotional intelligence makes stress easier to manage. Emotionally intelligent Admins can recognize the signs of their own stress and realize it’s time for a meditation break.

 

5. Foresight and Anticipation

The best Admins don’t need to be told what to do. They anticipate the solution before the problem even becomes a problem. These Admins rise from being super helpful to being indispensable, the secret weapons bosses just can’t live without.

Kelly Todd started her career as an EA, supporting two execs at a HGTV-based production company. In her mind, it was her ability to anticipate that really made her shine.

kelly-todd-quote“Paying attention to the details is really going to take you far because these execs demand perfection, and as nice as they can be, they want things to do be done right, and your job … is to make their lives easier.

If you can stay one step ahead of the boss, like, ‘I took care of taking this reservation for you because I see on the calendar that you’re blocked.’

That anticipation and that kind of preparedness over and above them is going to really make you stand out to them….

The [Admin] can be the Exec’s best friend, and if they’re thinking one step ahead of them, you’re going to stand out.”

Chelsea Hnat agrees:

chelsea-hnat“Since their work involves so many different aspects within a company, they have a distinct ability to predict potential challenges and outcomes.”

 

 

 

6. Multitasking

In the past, we’ve argued that multitasking is a myth that destroys productivity. Our brains aren’t wired to perform more than one-high level task at a time, so the best strategy is to prioritize and knock them out one by one.

We recommend using a software like monday.com to create, track, and monitor your daily tasks. There is a free trial that you can sign-up for here.

And while this is largely true – you shouldn’t try to write a financial model while you’re on a sales call, for instance – some of an Admin’s core responsibilities require them to knock out tasks simultaneously.

That’s because in addition to the bigger, more strategic responsibilities, rote tasks like filing or scheduling still often fall to Admins. Being able to get these done quickly – or simultaneously – is a major advantage. The best Admins do this effortlessly.

Stephanie Merritt, Administrative Assistant at Bonitz, explains:

stephanie-merritt“The top skill that an Administrative Assistant is the ability to multi-task. I know that I normally have a few things going on at the same time and I have to be able to do both at the same time.

For example: I have to make hotel rooms for our sub-contractors, while I am on the phone, I can answer emails, or finish up some paperwork.”

7. Adaptability

As we’ve noted before, an Admin’s list responsibilities are wide and varied. Often, this means being able to stop on a dime and pivot towards a completely unrelated project. Things change quickly, and the best Admins can react and adapt with ease.

For example, if the boss suddenly reveals a spontaneous trip that will send her out of the office for the next two weeks, her Admin needs to spring to action, clearing her schedule while effectively communicating with all affected parties to avoid hurt feelings and bruised egos. In this situation, there’s no time to stress out and spend hours deciding what to do.

Here’s Merritt again to explain:

stephanie-merritt“The other top skill would be being able to change what you are working on in a moment’s notice. I can be in the middle of something and my boss walks in and says he needs something now, I have to stop what I am doing and do what he has asked of me, then get back on track for what I was doing before he came to see me.”

That’s a key point – it’s not just about quickly switching tasks, it’s about being able to get back on track once you switch back. After all, there’s very little that an Admin does that isn’t important.

 

8. Meticulous Organization

It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s super important. When you’re working on a ton of different projects, you don’t have time to waste duplicating work due to a lack of organization. Plus, organization helps reduce stress, and it also stops important work from “falling through the cracks” both literally and figuratively.

When it comes to how you get organized, Stephanie Merritt contends that there’s only one rule – whatever works for you:

stephanie-merritt“No two people work the same. I like to finish a project before I start on another one. But that is not always possible, so I have to have reminders to tell me to finish the first project I was working on.

Everyone has their own organizational skills and know what works best for them. I’m a sight person. I use the calendar a lot. I also have stuff in my floor so I can keep up with everything.

One girl that I work with uses stacks on her desk, so she can be sure what she is working on is finished.”

Whatever your method, organization is definitely a must-have Admin skill.

(PS – Get more sh*t done with The Assist — the #1 free weekly newsletter made for assistants by assistants.)

9. Having a “Servant’s Heart”

First coined by Robert Greenleaf, the term “servant-leader” has made its way into the management lexicon as of late. It refers to a style of leadership that puts the well-being of others first. In practice, this means focusing on personal and professional development, and viewing one’s main responsibility to be to support the success of one’s team.

This idea of “service” is just as important in the Admin role as it is in a leadership role.

valerie-gomez“This is very important. A rockstar executive or administrative assistant WANTS to serve their leader – whether the task is big or small. A strong admin knows that by helping achieve their boss’s goals they will achieve their own.”

-Valerie Gomez, Administrative Assistant at ADP

Great Admins are selfless, and know that their willingness to pitch in for the team helps ensure both the team’s success and their own.

 

10. Resourcefulness

The ability to improvise, think on your feet, and come up with solutions of the fly is one of the most important traits an Admin can pick up. Valerie Gomez explains why:

valerie-gomez“I have yet to coordinate an event that goes off without a hitch regardless of how meticulous I plan. Whether there’s a last minute change in headcount that you already budgeted for or a system glitch in the monitor display 5 minutes before your boss’s presentation is scheduled to go live.

You must be able to think on your feet – whatever the problem, a rockstar admin will find a solution!”

Elizabeth White-Peters agrees that resourcefulness is a key trait, saying,

elizabeth-white-peters“I see AA’s as corporate MacGyver’s (remember that show from the 90’s?) who have their hands in a little of everything, are able to creatively solve problems, and are able to ask the right questions early on in order to prevent any gaps in projects or unexpected challenges.”

 

 

11. Grit

We’re all familiar with Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Well, the business world is not immune – far from it. Anyone who’s ever managed a project knows that challenges are inevitable.

Same goes for the Admin role. At some point, things will go sideways. Servers crash, phone systems go down, vendors flake, flights get canceled, people quit.

This isn’t just about being resourceful. It’s about being strong enough to stand up to any situation. A rockstar Admin doesn’t crumble under pressure. The best ones persevere, rise to the occasion, and get the job done. That’s true grit.

Here’s how Admins can cultivate true grit, sometimes called resiliency:

  • Socializing with coworkers. Socializing releases oxytocin, which reduces susceptibility to stress.
  • Asking for advice. Sometimes, a different perspective is all we need to get through rough times.
  • Focusing on mindset. People can control only the lens through which they see the world, but they can alter their viewpoints from negative to positive with a simple change of perspective.

 

12. Effective Communication

There’s no type of communication that Admins don’t touch. They have to be savvy on the phone, write good emails, and project confidence when they speak to employees at all levels face-to-face. Often, they have to write company-wide communications or even put together visual presentations on behalf of their boss.

No matter what the medium, their communication has to be clear, direct, and succinct. This is especially true for Admins who work closely with executives. CEOs and other senior leaders don’t want dissembling, rambling, or any other sort of run-around – they want effective communication that is right to the point.

Learning the most effective way to do that helps separate the good Admins from the great ones.

Virtual Assistant Services and Admins looking to sharpen communication skills can enlist the help of a go-to review buddy. This person is ready to provide casual feedback on face-to-face scripts, emails, and anything else. They’re not performing an in-depth review; they’re simply pinpointing areas that just don’t make sense.

Even after just a few review rounds, Admins will see different pathways for increasing clarity in their communications.

13. Tech Savviness

Admins and technology sort of go hand in hand these days. It’s not just email anymore – Admins are expected to be proficient in a wide range of integrated apps and platforms.

We’re talking communications apps like Slack, calendaring systems like Calendly, billing systems, travel reservation platforms, HR systems like TriNet, or employee engagement software like Quantum Workplace15Five or TINYpulse. (Read Quantum Workplace’s awesome guide for buying employee engagement software.)

That’s a lot of tech.

When things go wrong, you can’t always rely on IT personnel. In fact, at smaller companies, the Admin might actually be the defacto tech guy or gal. If you can reboot a crashed computer, publish a blog post in WordPress, or even just restart the internet, you’ve got a leg up in the Admin Game.

So how can Admins polish their tech savviness? They can start by making a list of frequently used tech and identifying which tools they’re least comfortable with. After that, practice makes perfect. We recommend blocking off an hour each day to experiment with different tech, get to know the systems, and browse the tools’ Help and Community pages. Many of these pages have treasure troves of resources most people never even look for; some pages even have 24/7 chat interfaces or phone lines run by tech experts that can answer any question. When the next big technically difficulty arises, the big fix might be as easy as knowing where to go to get help fast.

 

14. Big Picture Thinking

Trusted Admins are often de facto advisors to senior leadership. They can serve as a sounding board for new ideas, suggest new processes, or even weigh-in on hiring decisions.

The best Admins provide valuable insight by making recommendations based on an understanding of a company’s business and its culture. Knowing how to think about things in the context of a bigger whole is critical.

Big picture thinking might sound like something best left to the visionaries of the world, but in truth, everyone can cultivate the ability to think ahead. Consider driving. Good defensive driving involves scanning ahead to see where the road is taking you. This same technique applies to abstract concepts, like company goals. What road are you paving for your company with the actions you take today? What obstacles do you expect to confront? Once you can visualize these things, you can prepare for them.

 

15. Attention to Detail

If big picture thinking matters, the flipside is also true. Details are important in Admin work, and having a keen eye for them is indispensable.

Think about it – a lot of what an Admin does is relatively high-stakes. If you don’t get that exec on a flight, she might not be able to close that next round of funding that your company needs to keep the lights on.

If you don’t get a finicky vendor paid on time and for the right amount, they might turn around and sue your company. Or worst of all … an errant mistake on your part might make your boss look bad.

Quality control when it comes to details is a big asset for any Admin.

16. Prioritization

Through the art of prioritization, Admins can transform a to-do list into a list of invaluable accomplishments. An ability to differentiate between “mission-critical tasks” and “tasks that can wait” showcases impeccable judgement, leadership skills, and an alignment with company values. Best of all, prioritization showcases competence, inspiring trust from leaders who are thrilled they don’t have to hold any hands.

Prioritization might also be the key to keeping calm while facing a task list that multiplies by the second. A lack of focus in these situations leads to panic, and panic kills productivity. Diving right into a few critical tasks and tabling trivial ones keeps priority workflow moving while reducing the stress of trying to get everything done.

Admins can boost prioritization skills by listening carefully during meetings and casual chats to absorb the context behind different assignments and better judge their importance. We also recommend going through the to-do list and asking, “What does this affect?” The true priorities will emerge soon.

(PS – Get more sh*t done with The Assist — the #1 free weekly newsletter made for assistants by assistants.)

We hope you learn how to develop administrative assistant skills that will take you to the next level! So what say you? Do you consider yourself a legendary Admin? Which is your favorite administrative assistant tips and tricks? Don’t be shy, let us know in the comments below.

44 Comments

  • Rita Knab says:

    These are all really great attributes of a Rockstar Admin. The skills that have served me well are: high integrity; knowing how to help someone even if you don’t give them what they want/ask for, always doing that little bit extra – it is appreciated and comes back to you; and getting to know as many people in your organization as you can, and what they do – you can accomplish this simply by putting a filled candy dish on your desk. Establish a rule that when they take a candy, they must give you a piece of information you don’t already know about themselves or the organization. Once you get to know the people under your boss, it’s a lot easier to service and manage the office. Just a few things that help make life and work easier for you and your boss. And always, always have a positive mental attitude first thing in the morning when greeting people – it’s contagious and becomes part of how they remember you – helps with the Corporate Climate too!

    • Jeff Murphy says:

      Thank you Rita, these are great tips! Especially love the one about getting to know people in your organization – very true. (Although, this trick still works with healthy snacks instead of candy!)

  • Diane says:

    You guys are awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I am implementing some of your pointers, and plan to do more one step at a time.

    Thanks again!!!

    Diane

  • Greg says:

    Anyone who doubts that this is a challenging career that requires diversely talented people, is simply fooling themselves. These professionals are typically not compensated anywhere near their value to a company.

  • Helen says:

    While it’s really helpful to remind the wider world of the wide ranging, diverse and vital roles and tasks that Executive Assistants, PAs and Admins fulfil every day in their work, it doesn’t serve the professional credibility of our profession very well at all to use labels such as ‘rockstar’ or ‘superhero’ or ‘wonder woman’ or any other similar terminology. If we want our profession to be taken seriously, respected on an equal footing to other professions, the terminology and language we use, and behaviours we adopt every day are an important part of that mission. While I absolutely agree with all the numbered elements of what goes in to make an effective and professional Assistant, please can we stop using terminology like ‘rockstar’ or ‘superhero’. I hope you understand where I’m coming from with this.

  • Yvonne Darling says:

    Seriously what is it with calling us rockstars or superheroes? I don’t wear my underwear over my tights, I don’t wear a billowing cape and I don’t play guitar in front of 20,000 people in a stadium.

    What I am is a professional assistant.

    Its such a shame you had to go there with an otherwise good article with some useful tips and tricks of the trade.

  • Amy T says:

    Great article!!!

  • Sylvia Hancock says:

    Never underestimate an Administrative Assistant, they are the KEY to getting things done in the workplace! They are sharp and will do whatever it takes to get the task accomplished!

  • Stephanny Morales says:

    I love my job as an office admin!

  • Courtney says:

    These are very true. I get teased in our office a lot for being too polite on the phone. Glad to read today that it really is as important as I have always thought! Ha ha

  • Ssettuba Benard says:

    Am pleased with all the skills narrated above because i have been using most of them if not all to run my office as an admin. so thank you for sharing with us.

  • Nicole says:

    Good article but What is the best advice for a young college grad starting out as an Admin Assistant at a small but very fast paced business? The biggest challenge is a very demanding boss who changes his instructions and mind every minute, plus several other executives throwing tasks at you on top of that, which are all urgent and have deadlines. How can you be an effective AA when you are still learning a new job but are the only one answering to 4 people? Its hard to prioritize among several things daily when everyone claims theirs to be the most urgent task which truly needs immediate attention. Thank you for any advice.

    • Wangari says:

      Nicole. Take one task at a time on first come first serve basis. You can politely let anyone coming with a request what you already have and the number they are in the queue. Again, donèt make promises trying to please, it will put you under unnecessary pressure. Be objective and above all know among all these people, who is your immediate boss, who is the person that you report to directly. I hope you will get round it.

  • Kathy says:

    Nicole: I support 12 doctors as their academic admin. I have a second monitor where I keep displayed an Excel spreadsheet that lists almost all tasks I need to accomplish. You will find your own ways, but that is how I keep myself organized.

    • Jeff Murphy says:

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing, Kathy!

      • Susan Belanger says:

        Love that idea Kathy. I utilize my flags in Outlook as well. Those have in invaluable. I like the spreadsheet idea too.

        Nicole, I was overwhelmed as well when I started my job like that. I was fortunate enough to have one of their wives training me. IT was very hectic. One day she put her finger up to them and said “wait’. She finished writing what we were to do and then told him to go ahead. I was so impressed. We work in the field in the gas and oil industry but deal with large amounts of money and parts. These guys wants their parts TOMORROW. lol. But they’re all very courteous and will wait when I ask.

  • Andrea T says:

    This was an encouraging article to me. But I have a question what to do when you are depended on your boss to give you the information you need to do your job, i.e. new hire list with ID numbers so you can do the next part of the on-boarding process or what to do when you don’t have enough to do because the new boss wants to do everything himself, me and another worker are trying to improve this situation, but the whole department is suffering, because the boss has to many meetings and other fires to put out to give us vital information and access we need and had under the previous boss and operating system.

  • Beverly says:

    Inspiring . I like

  • Fiona Silo says:

    Excellent tips indeed.

  • Johanna Spangenberg says:

    Andrea T – to work with New bosses is allways difficult especially if they have been hired from outside your company. For 1 they do not know the culture or processes of your company and have no idea what you have done for previous bosses or the level of authority you are use to having in dealing with staff, planning, etc. I am currently in a similar situation and will just keep doing what I have been doing to prove my trustworthiness to him and hopefully he will soon realise my value and capabilities
    All the best

  • Kofi Quansah says:

    Un-real, this is ahh-mazing, thank you so much for this info.

  • Jess Kay says:

    Absolutely great article! Attention to detail, ability to multi-task and, very important, the ability to organize yourself in such a manner as to optimize your time most appropriately. These are some key skills of a rock star admin assistant! It’s great that Administrative Professionals now have a day to celebrate their dedication and they deserve a token of appreciation as well as the daily acknowledgment of their hard work!

  • adnan says:

    Knowledgeable and comprehensive content regarding how to boost administrative assistant skills. thanks for sharing and look forward to seeing more.

  • Ana says:

    Great article! I already do most of what is suggested. Thank God I only work for one person!

  • Trish says:

    how do you deal effectively with someone on a team who wants to run the show and is constantly trying to make someone else on their team look bad. there have been some major issues I have had to deal with in this situation but I haven’t yet been able to resolve the issue for this one person who needs the support…anyone ever experience this and have any ideas they would like to share

    • Richard Fendler says:

      Hmm this is a great question Trish. My suggestion would be to bring this behavior up to that individual directly in your next 1:1. Many times, people do not know that they are acting a certain way that is detrimental to the team’s success. The feedback you provide here should also not be subjective. A simple… “hey, we don’t like when you are negative” usually will not come across the right way. My recommendation is to document an exact scenario in which this individual crossed a line and bring that up to them directly. I would also give the alternative way in which you would prefer their response to be in that moment. Hope that helps!

  • Paige A Davis says:

    Great article. Very helpful.

  • Tânia Fungambuto says:

    I really loved this article. I want be a administrative assistant. I know I am far but i’ll Can do this. Many thanks.

  • Sam Max says:

    In my opinion, even remote administrative assistant or Virtual Assistant are equally helpful! They even work at a lower wage! But if you choose right VA services, you would never be disappointed!

  • This is really an informative post regarding the 16 skills of Administrative Assistant. Thanks, for sharing with us.
    Jeff, you can also check the qualities if good employees, which will be beneficial for organizations.

  • Mohsin Khan says:

    Thanks for your informative article. This is really useful for the parents especially who want to Fly With Babies. Can you suggest me a good baby carrier for my baby. Her age is 4 months.

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