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Is there an administrative ‘super-skill’ that outweighs all others?

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Question: "I work in a very big office and our many managers need every kind of support imaginable. I want to spend the next 12 months really mastering the one administrative skill that will set me apart from the other people on our admin team and turn me into, well, a star. I not only want to guarantee I'll always have a job here, but show I'm someone who can deliver something no one else can. Can any experienced admins tell me the one thing they learned how to do that really changed the way their supervisors looked at them?" — Nina, HR Assistant

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan June 14, 2013 at 2:03 am

Thank you to everyone for their valid comments. I agree with each and every one of you. To be able to support an executive or any line manager you have to be on top of your game! Organisational skills, confidentiality, good communication skills, flexibility, knowledge of software packages and the company you work for, time management, being one step ahead of your manager and team are all super powers that no PA can do without. I love being an EA and will always promote our profession!


KR June 13, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I feel that the role of Administrator is to take on tasks that get in the way of your boss or the team you support doing their job. For example, if you are supporting a customer service team, do the background tasks that would keep them from devoting their time and efforts to customer service.


Jacki June 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I took a class “The Indispensable Assistant” back in 2008 that changed the way I looked at my job. The #1 priority I have as an Assistant is to help my boss look good and help her do better. Everything falls under this philosophy – being organized, flexible, upbeat, one step ahead, etc. – they all help to achieve this goal.

The other thing I learned way back when was at another class on customer service in the hospitality industry, but it works everywhere. Exceed expectations. I try to do this for every task I am given. I complete what was requested but try to take it to the next level by asking myself what else I can do to improve on the results.


Patti June 11, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Nina, there you have it! An entire list of all the qualities that a Super Star admin needs to possess to stand out and make a valuable employee. It isn’t just one thing you need to do well, it is a combination of all of the above to make you a well-rounded admin. However, as an HR assistant, the #1 item on the list is obviously confidentiality. Put them all together to be the exceptional assistant!!


Dorothy June 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Loyalty. I also agree with Lori – make your boss look good.


Lori June 10, 2013 at 10:02 am

I agree with all the posts here. I’ve coached many Admins throughout the years and the one thing I tell them all is this: your main priority is to help make your boss look good. That means being all of the things listed in these posts and then some – being organized and having good time management skills, great communication skills, having a positive attitude, being flexible, taking initiative, keeping up-to-date on the latest technology and researching information as needed. Keep a step ahead of your boss, anticipate their needs and make sure they are prepared for whatever comes their way, and you BOTH look good in the end. That means keeping on the same page as your boss and knowing what they are working on so you can assist in any way possible. That might mean clearing his schedule for a length of time to work on something or tackling part of the project for him/her.


Mark June 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

Organizational skills. I, for example, live and die by Outlook. Everything, business and personal, goes in there. If I make plans for a movie with friends, it’s in Outlook. If I have a meeting with four people, it is in Outlook with an invite sent to all four so they remember. If I leave a message for someone, I put in Outlook to follow up within two days. If you can have exceptional organizational abilities, and others are just average, you will stand out, and you will be noticed.


Kristin June 7, 2013 at 7:31 am

You need to be one step ahead so when they come ask you to take care of something you can say you already are. Gain the trust of employees so they will come to you instead of bothering the boss and not take up their time.


Brenda June 6, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I agree with all the posts so far. I think the two items that seperate you apart from the pack are knowing each person perferences both in work and in their personal lives such as they like you to knock on their office door to remind them that they have to leave for meeting and they prefer Diet Pepsi. I once booked an off-site meeting and the venue only served Coke products. By knowing this I was able to grab a Diet Pepsi for my boss from the office to take with. The second item is being proactived, if you are in charge of a meeting agenda (more than likely you have received agenda items thourghout the month from your boss or committee members) type up a draft agenda and present it to your boss instead of just asking what should be on the agenda.


Kathy Sandy June 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Be generous with your time, and go beyond what is asked for with your assistance – even when you have neither the time nor patience for one more task. If it ever comes down to the wire, attitude will be the trump card among similarly-skilled peers. And although no one is indispensable, you will be the one the managers want to keep because you made their jobs easier.


Jenni June 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I agree with everyone’s comments, but in my opinion (certainly in my job) the keys to being a rock star admin are:

1) Have a positive, friendly, helpful attitude – if the boss gets positive feedback on what a great person you are to speak or work with he can overlook some other weaknesses (because frankly it makes him look good!)

2) Save your electronic documents in a consistent format (i.e., “Letter of Rec-L.Smith” or “Form-Copy Request”) and familiarize yourself with your software’s search functions to find anything almost instantly.

3) Keep a notebook of daily tasks and write everything down so you don’t forget a single thing. Mark off tasks as you complete them and rewrite them on tomorrow’s list if you don’t get to them today (which becomes really annoying if you keep procrastinating).


Joyce June 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Be organized, and keep informed whether it be with what’s going on in the office or learning new computer skills. Flexibility and communications skills (which includes listening) is a plus.


Kathy June 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Along with all the other great advise, I say, Admn’s have one of the hardest jobs. We have to deal with many different personalities and get along with all. Some days it is a bit of a challange. My advise try to always keep a positive outlook and a “can-do” attitude, get along with everyone and don’t fall into “clicks” stay neutral and you will be appreciated and respected for that.


Victoria June 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I also agree with Andrea on being organize. In addition, keep the communications going. If you’re asked to work on something, no matter how small or big, keep the requester up-to-date on the status. So many times today people feel they need to follow up to make sure something’s getting done. If you’re keeping them notified of the progress without being asked, you’ll definitely stand out.

Also, it seems many admins today don’t have advanced software skills. They can do many of the basics great, but you can really impress if you can demonstrate you know the many tricks a program has such as creating macros in Word or writing formulas in Excel.


Cathy June 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

You MUST be organized with your work, be able to think on your feet without constant supervision, and stay focused no matter what’s going on around you. But what I found most valuable was learning HOW someone works and WHAT they expect. Learning those two things will help you become proactive and allow you to anticipate all those managers’ needs/wants/expectations. I work with many project managers on a daily basis plus I’m the assistant to one of the owners, and they all rely on me and trust me because they know that I’ll get the job done right and on time – whether they’re in the office or not.


Kim June 6, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I think there are actually 3 essential elements to being a Super Star Assistant – being able to organize – both your work and a team. Second, communication – know how much is enough without being too much and/or how your boss likes to see things. Finally, flexibility. Things get thrown at you from all directions and you need to be able to deal with it without getting overly stressed and flipping out. You can learn how to work in a spreadsheet or book meetings, but the soft skills make all the difference in whether or not people want to work with you and perceive you as a reliable, go-to member of the team.


Renee June 6, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Well I can’t disagree with the organization and anticipation suggested above but something I’ve found that makes me valuable to the entire office is my knowledge of MS Office. It seems that someone is always needing a formula for Excel or format knowledge for Word.


K Johnson June 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm

IT knowledge has gotten me very far and I have had no formal training. For years I have been complimented on what I know how to do with a computer to make tasks easier, automated, more efficient or all of the above. I started out asking questions and paying attention when I got help from IT. Then I started “trying things” once in awhile making sure I could undo them if I needed to. The more comfortable I got the easier it was for me to “figure out” solutions. I’ll never be an IT tech but I’ve saved companies I’ve worked for time and money because we didn’t have to call one.


Pam June 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Organization is a great skill to have and keeps you working smoothly. But I believe that the one thing that set me apart in my current position was paying attention to my supervisor and learning what types of information in reports will be needed. Tracking that information regularly placed me far above my co-workers. Now when someone wants current information, I can hand it to them immediately, or within minutes. I don’t wait for someone to tell me that this information will be wanted again in 6 months. I take the initiative to set up reminders if needed, and track important information regularly.


KR June 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I’ve always said the best Admin people are part Sherlock Holmes. To be able to look at a situation and figure out what happened and know how to fix it, when others are still scratching their heads.


Heather B June 6, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Flexibility. An ability to do whatever task lands on your desk in a timely, efficient and accurate manner is what sets you apart. If you’re not organized to begin with, it wouldn’t be do-able, but I consider that the pure essential nature of being an Admin. If you’re not organized, what good are you? The trick is to be versatile. Say yes to projects big and small. And do it with a smile.


Mary June 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I agree with Andrea. Being organized can make the office and your boss run smoothly. I also think being proactive so your boss does not have to remind you what to do and how to do the different aspects of your job. Guaranteeing your work is complete and meets expectations will cause your boss to know he/she can rely on you for work that does not need to be inspected.


Andrea June 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I would say being organized. It is very hard to run someone else’s life if you cannot stay on top of being organized yourself. Make sure that you are prepared for the day, if visitors are coming in, make sure you know who they are and what room or office you are showing them to. If they are coming in over lunch, do you need to order, if so what? Would they at least like something to drink. Where is the boss? is he in a meeting, when is he going to be back, does he have time to travel between appointments? does he know where he is going? Should I print off a map with directions for him. Being organized makes the day run so much smoother and can avoid problems or make them non issues.


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