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As part of our recent Today’s PA survey, we asked “Which skills do you feel you need to improve most?”. And, as always, our respondents surprised us. Their answers highlight how the PA role is constantly evolving to take advantage of new technologies and new opportunities. But their answers also reveal the ever-increasing range of skills needed to cope with the demands of the 21st century business environment.
In order, here are the top ten skills as voted for by over 370 PAs from a cross-section of organisations in all three sectors:
In today’s workplace, PAs are being seen as ‘business assistants’, taking on work that would traditionally have been done by their managers. Because of this, PAs and EAs are now increasingly aware of their bosses’ priorities and objectives, and as a result, directly engaged in the work of the organisation. Developing your strategic planning skills allow you to share your manager’s ‘bigger picture’ view and ultimately become more involved in shaping your employer’s future direction.
This comes as no surprise! With technology moving at a blistering pace (and showing no signs of slowing down) learning how to make it work for you is vital.
Humans are creatures of habit and we all tend to stick to what we know. When it comes to IT, that means using those same few familiar features of, say, Outlook, Excel or Word. Because of this, we miss out on the true benefits of the technology we work with every day. Improving our IT skills and discovering what else these programs can do will help you increase productivity, streamline your routine tasks – and save you time.
Managing a project can, at first, appear so daunting that it’s little wonder our respondents marked it as one of their top three skills to be improved! To run any project efficiently requires detailed planning, preparation, costings, progress monitoring, and QA procedures. Equipping yourself with the skills and knowledge to manage a project through its entire lifecycle will stand you in good stead, whatever size of task you need to take on.
PAs often find this difficult. It’s in our nature to help others in the office, to solve problems, and to seek compromises. In situations where we do need to be assertive, we can start to struggle.
Handling constant interruptions, dealing with difficult people, or taking control when needed all require an effective yet tactful approach. Assertiveness is a real-life skill, and for PAs it can mean moving out of your boss’s shadow to deal confidently and decisively with any situation.
Learning to handle pressure and how to be kind to yourself a skill worth cultivating. When you’re juggling conflicting priorities, the constant demands of several managers, and an onerous workload, you need to understand the strain you are under – even if you don’t feel it! Knowing how you react to stress, and how step back and identify any blocks in your thinking is essential to remaining effective in your role – and to good mental health.
Let’s be honest, writing minutes is not something anyone really enjoys. But it is an important task and one that needs to be done well. However, there is so much more to producing a set of minutes than meets the eye! Clerking meetings (preparing the agenda, circulating papers, chasing up actions, not to mention actually taking the the minutes!) requires excellent writing and listening skills, and the ability to stay focussed and motivated throughout long, difficult (and often jargon-filled) sessions.
PAs know that time management means not just juggling their own time, but also that of their managers! When everything is urgent (according to your boss) it’s can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. Managing your time efficiently means seeing the wider picture, identifying the (true) priorities, and understanding where you need to focus first. It’s about utilising technology to save you time and organise your workload. It’s about regaining control over your working day.
Excellent communication skills encompass a range of other talents: listening skills, building a rapport, and learning how to interpret non-verbal clues. However, with the increased use of email, Skype, WhatsApp, and similar, written communication is becoming more important than ever before. Writing in a clear, concise and unambiguous style is vital in getting your message across without confusion or misunderstanding.
First-class organisational skills are a must for PAs as so much of our role involves organising others! Managing your own workspace and filing system (so you can work efficiently and don’t spend time looking for ‘lost’ paperwork) is only one small part of it. Teamwork and collaboration, knowing when and where to delegate work, and taking a proactive approach are all part and parcel of this fundamental skillset.
Our respondents also listed a number of other areas to be improved, including business development, report writing and analytical skills. Social media skills were also highlighted as this is a growing area, covering everything from customer service to marketing and recruitment. And as this continues to develop, PAs will need a greater understanding of how and where it fits into the overall strategy of the business.
The PA role has changed so much in recent years. The traditional skills are now taken as read – and, not too long ago, it’s doubtful we would have seen Strategic Planning or Project Management featured in a PA’s desired skillset.
As our working environment grows and evolves, the range of skills required will continue to expand. With technology developing and set to gain greater prominence in the workplace, we can look forward to another advancement in the role of the PA.