As a former administrative professional turned entrepreneur, I’ve spent plenty of time on both sides of the desk. When I worked corporately, I supported a variety of executives in companies both big and small. Now I’m the executive with a team supporting me. Because I have experience in both roles — admin and executive — I have a unique perspective on what makes you an indispensable part of your executive’s team. In my previous career, I strived to be one; now, I strive to find them.
Whether you have an executive who already adores you, or you are working hard to prove yourself and develop a positive, productive working relationship with your manager, here are some approaches to incorporate into your repertoire of value-added administrative support strategies. Your goal is to become an indispensable part of your executive’s corporate team!
It seems so simple, but it’s something that many administrative professionals overlook. A welcoming smile really does make a world of difference. When I worked in one of the most toxic corporate environments of my career, sometimes the only communication my executive and I had was a smile (or a really cheesy grin) as he passed my desk. It was my way of saying, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day or another difficult meeting. Hang in there.” It was his way of saying, “Thank you for your support and not asking me how my day is going right now.”
Both of us felt the pressure and the tension, but it wasn’t going to do either of us any good to vent at the office. A smile every now and then did the trick, and it was an effective tension reliever for both of us. Give it a try!
Be Polite and Courteous
Sometimes your executive will need reminders. Sometimes you may feel more like the office parent than the office assistant. When there are numerous meetings and hundreds of emails, voice messages, instant messages, and text messages flying at your executive all day long, it’s easy for details to be overlooked or missed altogether – even for some of the most detail oriented among us!
But your executive is not going to appreciate your sarcasm or snippy voice telling them to do something they inadvertently overlooked. Be polite and kind no matter what – even when you have a boss that is rude, impatient, and self-absorbed. They probably need your kindness even more.
Make Time for Routine Communication
Establish regular touch points throughout the day and/or week with your executive. This may come in the form of formal, one-on-one meetings, weekly email status reports, monthly team meetings, or five-minute chats at the beginning and end of the day to touch base on priorities and project status updates.
In order to effectively support your executive, routine communication is a must. Don’t wait for them to ask; initiate it yourself. And once you establish these touch points, make sure you’re prepared and organized so you make the most of the time.
Know When to Push and When to Back Off
Be aware of what’s going on in your office environment and with your executive from a timing, mood, and obligations perspective. There are times to push and there are times to let go.
You need to be aware of your executive’s weekly priorities, daily routines, and ongoing schedules. Learn their styles and preferences for quick touch point conversations versus more in-depth talks you may need to have with them. It’s a delicate balance, but knowing when to insert yourself and when to step back is vital to your success!
Pay Attention to the Small Stuff
You should review the calendar of each executive you support at the beginning and end of each day so you know exactly what’s going on. When you hear them discussing projects or meetings, you’re more likely to know exactly what they are talking about when they ask you for help. Many executives assume you already know, so this is an absolute must.
On a similar note, pay attention to the recurring events within your company, such as board meetings. What always happens before, during and after these events that impacts you and the executives you support? Be aware so you can be proactive in planning for them with your executive.
Become a Problem Solver
Get comfortable with digging in and figuring things out on your own. Take the initiative to fix things that need fixing and follow up on things that need to be handled. Before you take a problem to your executive, identify a solution or two to present. You may need to ask for guidance on your boundaries the first time so you can get more comfortable exploring solutions your own. But keep pushing and expanding those boundaries as you gain competence and confidence in your support role.
When you do ask questions, take good notes. Write down their responses. Once you have the answers, you don’t have to ask again. When you don’t have an established project plan, procedure, or precedent to follow, do some research and create a suggestion for one.
Be Your Executive’s Eyes and Ears
I have yet to see an admin’s desk that wasn’t an “unloading dock” for everyone in the office. Your desk is an easy target for stopping to share small victories or workplace woes because it’s usually more exposed, in a higher traffic area, and everyone knows you. While this doesn’t always put you in the easiest place, your first allegiance is to your executive and keeping him or her connected to the team.
This doesn’t mean you need to run in and tell them every last thing your co-workers share with you. But when you pick up on a trend (positive or negative), or hear things that you know your executive needs to be aware of, it’s your duty to share that information. “I’m picking up on some hints of frustration related to X project from several team members over the past few days. I just wanted to make you aware of it.”
Train Your Executive to Delegate
Make your executive aware of the things you see them doing that you could do for them. “Can I save you some time by running those reports for you?” “As we plan for the next board meeting, would it make you more efficient if I handled XYZ?” “Would you like me to take the first crack at this presentation?”
I always appreciate it when my team takes things off of my plate. Delegation makes things run smoother because everyone’s talents are utilized in an appropriate manner. It’s an opportunity for you to help your executive work more efficiently, too.
Be Actively Engaged in Key Company Initiatives
Pay attention to plans, projects, and programs that your executive is involved in or researching. Make it a point to scan the magazines, trade journals, and daily newspapers that come into your office. When you see information and resources related to the projects they are working on or key industry competitors, flag them before you put them in their inbox. This saves your executive time and energy in skimming the publications themselves and shows you are engaged in what’s going on around the office.
I used to spend about five to ten minutes a day doing this when I sorted the daily mail, or while I ate a quick lunch. It doesn’t have to consume hours of your day, and it’s very educational for you as well!
Fast Track Your Executive’s Learning Curve
Share new technology or software with your executive that you think could make your projects and company more efficient. Share it with your IT people, too. If you have an issue you’d like to solve, get online, and do some research to see what solutions are available. Network with other professionals online and see what they are using to solve the same problem.
You can improve your executive’s learning curve by sharing what you learn about various software, social media, or technology-based tools with them and the rest of the team.
Be Willing to Learn New Things
Software and technology are always changing. Instead of being frustrated by it, prepare for it. Don’t just learn the basics of a new piece of software – become a power user of it. Be one of the first to transition to new technology, preferably before your executive gets ahold of it. This will allow you to answer their questions more quickly and make the implementation process go more smoothly.
Find out if you can join the pilot programs at your company so you can get ahead of the curve. Your executive will appreciate your availability for a few hand-holding sessions when new technology and software is rolled out.
This may seem like common sense, but it’s not as obvious as it should be. It’s important to listen to what your executive is asking and the instructions they are giving the first time, before interrupting or assuming. It’s also important to watch the non-verbal cues that accompany their words.
Listen to what is happening around you. I have had several executives who thought I knew how to read their minds. I didn’t. I simply listened to what was happening in my office space. As admins, we are often in close proximity to those we support. I was typically able to hear my executives when they were on the phone promising to send follow-up information or documents that I was responsible for handling. I always made little notes as I overheard these tidbits so I could prompt them later if they didn’t pass the information along to me.
Remember — it’s not eavesdropping or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong if you’re using the information to support the progress and efforts of the team! It’s part of how you become an indispensable part of your executive’s team.
Develop Good Written and Verbal Communication Skills
If you truly want to support your executive in a meaningful and involved way, you absolutely must be able to communicate well in writing and when you speak. You are a direct representative of your executive and your company every time you send an email and each time you answer the phone. Your manager will be more likely to delegate important responsibilities to you, involve you in higher-level projects, and respect your skills and abilities if you can communicate properly.
Discover Your Strengths and Personality Type
It’s crucial to be fully aware of what makes you tick – and you shouldn’t keep that information to yourself! When you share your strengths and communication preferences with your executive and team in a meaningful way, it makes it easier for everyone to work together.
This means you need to learn how to share this information with your executive once you learn it. That’s why I love assessment tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) and the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment. These tools provide a printed report you can share with your executive to give them insights into working more effectively with you. It frames things in positive language that even makes the things you aren’t the best at still sound reasonable.
As you explain your personality type and strengths to your executive, be willing to ask or learn about theirs. Being an indispensable part of your executive’s team is a two-way street, and you need to be engaged in learning your executive’s preferences if you expect them to be engaged in learning yours. It will help you support them in more meaningful and effective ways.
Develop Your Business Acumen
Once you and your executive have a deeper understanding of one other, it’s important for you to have a solid grasp on how business operations run throughout your organization and industry. When you understand how the business runs, you will be more likely to fully understand and participate in what your executive is doing every day. You will be able to connect dots more proactively and add significant value to your executive and the entire team.
You should be able to explain in general terms how your company’s products or services go to market. And you need to understand the role and function of each department in that process. At a high level, you should be able to explain your company’s target market and your ideal customer.
Attend as much company training as you can to further your education in these areas. Read internal and external industry publications to continue populating your mental database. Consider taking a “how to start your own business” class, a management class, a sales class, or a marketing class at your local community college. Ask if you can attend industry trade shows or conferences when appropriate. Participate in free and low fee webinars on relevant business topics. Scan the publications that come across your desk for possible leads.
Ask your executive what you can do to further your education and understanding of the business. Do whatever it takes to become an administrative expert in the business in which you are employed.
Protect Your Personal Brand
Finally – this should go without saying, but it’s critical – make it a habit to professionally represent your executive and your company in all that you do. You are a direct reflection on your executive because you are an ambassador acting on their behalf. So, make sure your actions, behaviors, verbal communication, written correspondence, and personal appearance reflect this.
Do a self-assessment and see how your personal brand may be impacting your career: how you look, how you dress, your behavior on the job, the language you use, and your digital footprint. Your personal brand matters far more than you think!
Deepen Your Professional Relationship with Your Executive
Building trust and a great working relationship, making you an indispensable part of your executive’s team takes time. There are no shortcuts. When things don’t go well or an interaction goes awry, learn from it. Figure out how you can do it differently the next time and try a new approach.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. You have what it takes. Commit to implementing the strategies I’ve shared here, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an indispensable part of your executive’s corporate team!
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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.