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Consider two administrative assistants within the same company:

Tara forges relationships across departmental lines. She volunteers for committees, proactively meeting new people at company events and doing favors for others.

Max is mainly interested in meeting his team’s needs.

When it’s time for company leadership to tap employees to work on a new, interdepartmental project, whom do you think they’ll pick? And if the company is forced to restructure and lay off, who would least likely be sacrificed? The cross-functional whiz, or the employee who works in a silo?

Here’s how you can become a cross-functional whiz, like Tara:

Study the other departments to understand what other teams do. Tip: Pretend you’re interviewing for a job in another department, and study its online and offline material.

Walk around the building once a week or so. Schedule 30 minutes to say hello to people you don’t normally see. That way, they can put a name with a face the next time you contact them.

Engender cooperation. Always keep in mind that colleagues (especially those not in your group) will want to know what’s in it for them. Whenever you ask for something, think about how both parties can win.

Example: “Pat, I’m putting together a presentation and I could use some data from your department. I think your manager might be interested to see some of the analysis we’re putting together, as well. I’d be happy to share it with you.”

— Adapted from “Be a Cross Functional Whiz,” Alexandra Levit, “Water Cooler Wisdom” blog.

Rising During the Recession

Administrative professionals could be a secret weapon in helping companies bounce back from the recession.

New research by OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals shows administrative professionals are moving beyond their traditional roles to take on responsibilities in areas such as cost control, technology and the use of social media, hiring and corporate social responsibility:

  • 50% of managers say support staff play a role in helping their firms reduce spending.
  • 32% have turned to administrative personnel for help with technology.
  • 63% of administrative professionals have assisted in hiring other support staff at their firms.
  • 83% say they’ve taken courses in accounting, budgeting, purchasing and negotiation when offered.
  • 94% reported that these classes have helped them be more cost-effective at work.

“Managers may be overlooking a valuable resource if they aren’t tapping support staff to take on new projects,” says OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking. And, he adds, “Administrative professionals must also proactively increase their workplace involvement. Doing so can boost their visibility and help them advance their careers.”

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