A stellar Administrative Assistant can be a company’s secret weapon.
“Administrative Assistant/Executive 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.
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.
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 skills? And what separates the good admins from the great?
That’s exactly what we asked our community of rockstar admins. Here are the skills that really pay the bills.
1. Creative Problem Solving
Since an Admin’s main responsibility is to keep things on point, problem-solving is an indispensable skill.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
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.”
“Since their work involves so many different aspects within a company, they have a distinct ability to predict potential challenges and outcomes.”
As we’ve noted before, an Admin’s 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.
6. 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.
Whatever your method, organization is definitely a must-have Admin skill.
7. 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
You must be able to think on your feet – whatever the problem, a rockstar admin will find a solution!”
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.
10. 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 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 you to get right to the point.
Learning the most effective way to do that helps separate the good Admins from the great ones.
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.
11. 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 Workplace.
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 girl. 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 30 minutes each day to experiment with different tech, get to know the systems, and browse the tools’ Help and Community pages.
When the next big technically difficulty arises, the big fix might be as easy as knowing where to go to get help fast.
12. 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.
13. 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, he/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.
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, prioritiza