As I have moved up the career ladder and become much more of a business partner as well as an EA I have found myself frequently attending meetings on behalf of my manager and representing them at lots of different events and functions. I can remember the first meeting I went to instead of my manager was terrifying. It was a last minute decision because she was running late and I didn’t have time to prepare myself properly. I really didn’t do anything in the meeting except take a few notes and agree to report back to my manager later that day. I was so annoyed at myself because I knew exactly what was being discussed once I was in the meeting and I knew I could contribute but because I was so unprepared I didn’t feel very confident in voicing my opinion.
After a bad start I decided that I did want to be involved in meetings and did enjoy making decisions on behalf of my manager so I came up with a plan that would help me be prepared to represent my manager at the drop of a hat and with confidence. Here is that plan…
Have regular meetings with your manager
I know I say this in most of my blogs but having regular meetings with your manager really does help assistants stay on top of everything that is going on. In your catch up meetings review your manager’s diary that day and also for the week ahead. You should discuss what each meeting is for, what the objectives are, who is attending and what your manager hopes to achieve during the meeting. Hopefully you will know most of these answers because you have arrange the meeting but do make sure all areas are covered so if you have to step in for your manager you already know what to expect. Also as I’ve said before having consistent catch up meetings with your manager will help you develop a good understanding of the overall business and increase your awareness of your manager’s role within the organisation.
If you have been asked to attend a meeting on behalf of your boss and have been given some prior notice then do schedule a specific catch up meeting to get a brief from your manager. Also find out how they want you to feedback the outcomes of the meeting.
Attend meetings with your boss
As part of your development programme ask your boss if you can attend meetings with them so that you can see how they operate during the meeting, who they are meeting with and how they go about making decisions. You will find with time that your boss will ask your opinion more and more and they will confide in you too, simply because most people want to share what they are thinking. After a while you will become a regular fixture at meetings so when you do represent the boss on your own most of your colleagues will be used to seeing you there.
Attend meetings without your boss
As you take on more work and become involved in more projects you will inevitably attend more meetings. In those meetings always always say something. Have an opinion and voice it. This will improve your confidence and your colleagues will see that you worth listening too. The natural task for assistants in meetings is to take the notes so when you don’t have to ensure that you do not. You want to be part of the meeting and offer the other skills that you have. Again stepping out of your comfort zone will really help your confidence.
Get to know your colleagues
I don’t just mean get to know what your colleague’s favourite drink at the bar is, or how many kids they have (although that is important), I mean get to know all of your colleagues and how they interact with each other. In a big organisation it is impossible to know everyone but you should know all of the departments, who is heading up each department, how big the teams are and what each part of the business actually does. All of this should be easily accessible on your intranet or via HR so do study up. If you are representing the boss at a meeting you may not know who the people in the room are on a personal level but you should have an understanding of what they do and what they want from your manager.
Making the big decisions
As tempting as it is to agree that the company should close early every Friday your manager is not going to be pleased if you have agreed something on their behalf that isn’t in the best interest of the organisation. Do remember that you can have opinions in meetings and you can certainly answer questions knowing that your manager would answer in the same way but don’t say agree to anything if you are not really sure. It is okay to say that you don’t know and you will have to find out the information after the meeting. Don’t get suckered into anything that might come back to haunt you!
So that was the plan I followed and it certainly has helped over the last few years. I do feel much more prepared for meetings I take on behalf of my manager and for meetings I have in general. Another little tip I have is to actively listen during meetings in which I am taking notes. It is surprising how much you pick up on how to conduct yourself at a meeting from other people when you are not there to make decisions.