What does it take to make your move up from administrative assistant to PA?

Long gone are the days of “tea and typing.”  Today's PA is a mix of business partner, project manager, operations manager, HR Manager, event producer, expert researcher, the list goes on.  It's a demanding and rewarding role.

If you're already an administrator, all of the skills you're using day to day, such as organising and prioritising work, communicating with clients, suppliers and colleagues, and keeping lots of plates spinning at once are an excellent foundation for a future career as a PA.

Here are some of the skills and attributes administrators need to make the move from team admin to PA.

  1. Utterly impeccable organisational skills – read any job ad for an executive assistant or PA, and you will see that employers are looking for someone meticulous, detail-oriented and highly organised.  It's very likely that making travel arrangements, managing diaries and organising meetings are going to be a prominent part of your role.  All of these tasks require superb organisational skills and the ability to work accurately under pressure.  While working in an admin role, look for opportunities to practice and show case your organisational skills.  Think about learning to take minutes at meetings, lots of people dislike this important task, and it could showcase your skills to a wider audience.
  2. Discretion –As a PA you'll be entrusted with confidential information.  It's essential to show that you can be discrete and keep sensitive information to yourself.  So resist the temptation to gossip or speculate about things that might happen at work. 
  3. Flexibility – one of the things PAs have to cope with frequently is change.  For example, an Executive Assistant may spend all day preparing a complex slide deck for an urgent meeting only to find out that the agenda changed at the last minute and your work won't be needed.  While this may be frustrating, a professional PA will take this in his stride and move on to the next job that needs doing.    Try to show that you've got what it takes to cope with changes and adapt to new priorities.
  4. Reliability –can you be counted on to deliver?  Make sure you don't make promises and then fail to deliver.  If you say the report will be done on Monday, get it done on Monday!  Be realistic about the timescales you agree to, and don't be afraid to be assertive to explain that you need to say no to a piece of work because you're already overloaded.
  5. Excellent communication skills – a good PA is able to listen, ask great questions and give clear instructions.  They can also show empathy, gain people's confidence and defuse conflict.  He or she can speak and write well, switching up the tone to match the audience and situation.  It takes time and experience to develop really excellent communication skills, but you can accellerate this buy asking for training.    We've got some tips here for how to present a business case for training.
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