As assistants most of us will interact with our organisation’s Executive team on a daily if not hourly basis. Your manager may well be part of the Executive team. If that is the case you will have even more phone calls, meetings and general engagement with other Directors and top-level members of staff. It can be a little scary dealing with the people that run your organisation, especially if they are prickly characters or highly demanding.

Unlike other members of staff working with the Executive team brings a whole host of rules and a particular style of working. I once worked with an assistant on a temporary contract, she talked to everyone in the same manner and tone. She was a board level assistant and unfortunately the Executive team didn’t take to kindly to being called ‘mate’ and or ‘darling’. She was good at her job but her communication style with the Executive team didn’t match up to their expectations of a board level assistant and she was let go. This isn’t the first time I’ve worked with assistants who have clashed with the Executive team either because they are strong personalities themselves or they are a bit overwhelmed by the demands of the Executives. Having a good working relationship with the Executive team is mostly down to common sense but for assistants it is a relationship that needs to be nurtured and taken seriously. Here are my etiquette tips when it comes to working with the Executive team.

  • Always appear calm even if you are feeling under pressure. You don’t want to let the Executive team ever think that you are not in control of your job.
  • It is okay to share a joke with members of the Executive team but I would add a word of caution here. If you don’t know them very well I would just be polite and approachable with a ready smile. Let them be the first person to make a joke.
  • I’ve found over the years that some Board level Directors tend to ask who ever is nearest to them to get things or do something for them (particularly if the nearest person is in an administrative role). This can be frustration, especially if you are busy doing something else. In my experience it is best just to do what they ask if it is something small. I used to sit right next to the board room and was constantly asked to top up cups of tea and replenish plates of biscuit. It was annoying to say the least but I would always get up and do it because they were members of the Executive team. I wouldn’t do it for any other member of staff.
  • If you are in the middle of an urgent task or you are doing something for your actual boss when another Director asks you to do something let them know you will come back to them asap. If you can fit the work in then I suggest that you do. If it is an unreasonable request make sure you stand your ground and calmly explain the situation. Offering an alternative solution is always a good approach. You can also ask their PA to pick up the task because you are too busy to help.
  • I have often supported additional Executives while their assistant is away on holiday. It is a good way to get to know other Directors and understand other parts of the business. I have also supported Executives who are new to the organisation and have found they are always more pleasant because they see first hand how you work and support the organisation. It might be extra work at the time but well worth it.
  • Confidentiality is key to an effective working relationship with your Executive Team. This is a crucial part of the assistant role but it is worth reiterating here. Don’t gossip, even if the gossip is really good! If the Executive team find out you have talked about what happened in last week’s board meeting when one of the Directors went mental – well you’re not going to be in their good books are you!?
  • Do remember that they are people too. Exchange normal pleasantries as you would do with anyone else. I’ve often found that Executives tend to be less guarded around assistants because they know what the relationship is like between an assistant and a Director. They know that assistants can be trusted and are used to dealing with high level Execs.

It can be difficult and daunting working with the leaders of your organisation but once you understand how to communicate and how to present yourself the rewards are high. Supporting people that make the decisions in your business can be exhilarating so it is well worth investing the time in making the relationship work.

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3 comments

  • Evelyn Adams September 11, 2014   Reply →

    A very good article with very sound advice. I have worked at Executive/Board level for many years now and it most definitely different from working for someone at MD level. A different set of skills are required when working for the guys at the top.

  • Kamna Wahi September 15, 2014   Reply →

    Nice article encompassing few facts..
    its actually not that easy to work with top management.. one needs to be really calm & at the same time show their wisdom..

  • Gloria O'Connor September 15, 2014   Reply →

    I really enjoyed this article because you made points that I have not read before – and I thoroughly agreed with them. Quite often articles speak of being ‘professional’ but neglect to specify what that actually means. Thank you for doing that!

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