Over the next few months I am going to introduce a few new features on Practically Perfect PA. We currently have the Day in the Life and Technology of the Week posts, which seem to be really popular. Today I am going to start a new one – Core Skills. I’m not just going to write about which skills we need I am also going to look at how these skills are linked to the role specifically.

At the Assist Conference last year we had a session on personal branding and the speaker asked each of us ‘what are you good at?’ so I thought well I am good at remaining calm under pressure… The speaker then asked what exactly does that mean and how do you measure it? I was pretty flummoxed! I had not been asked that question before. I was used to answering the standard interview questions about soft skills but I hadn’t really delved very deeply into the practical aspects of that skill and how it made me stand out as a better candidate and Executive Assistant. That is what this feature is going to do. Today we are starting with Resilience. Why? Well, it seems to be the skill of the moment within the industry. There has just been the big Office Dynamics conference in the States on this very subject and EUMA are about to hold a training session in Manchester called From Stressed to Strategic. With more and more pressures in the role resilience is certainly a core skill.

What does resilience actually mean?

So I think this is a good place to start. I think the best description I have found for resilience at work is from the Forbes website:

Resilience means anticipating risks and feeling comfortable with change. Resilience involves limiting damage during turbulent times, absorbing hard knocks, regrouping and bouncing back when the worst happens. It’s the ability to start feeling better and bolster your confidence after a setback. It’s remaining engaged in the midst of shifting challenge.

I must say this perfectly sums up the skill to me and shows why it really is vital for assistants to have resilience. We are constantly faced with changing and challenging situations. We have to rely on our self confidence to bounce back from worst case scenarios and more often than not we will be asked to help when colleagues want to limit damages (or should I say we are asked to clear up the whole sorry mess!) I think most assistants are resilient types; it seems somewhat ingrained in our nature along with being organised and enjoying writing a list or two! Like any core soft skill resilience can be enhanced, let’s have a look at a few areas that can improve resilience.


I bang on about communication a lot don’t I!?! It is, for me, the key to being a successful assistant and although a key skill in its own right is also the centre of every other aspect of the role. As the description said, resilience is about anticipating risk – this will only come when you are able to freely communicate with your Executives. If the challenges are coming from your Exec it will always be helpful to have an open dialogue so that you can find out what pressures they are under and what you can do to help.

Business Acumen

Another one of my favs! If you are aware of any issues that might crop up within the organisation then you will be much better prepared for any stress that follows. Forewarned is forearmed as they say! When challenges arise your business acumen will come in useful when dealing with the issues. You will appear engaged and have the knowledge to handle a crisis.


Having a strong network before internally in your organisation and with other assistants, clients and suppliers is pretty crucial these days. It comes into its own when you are in crisis mode. Having a network to fall back on when something goes wrong is so helpful.

See challenges as opportunities

I think most resilient people are also optimists. It definitely helps if you can see challenges as opportunities which I know is easier said than done! Once the crisis is over it is always worth sitting down with your Executive and looking at how the challenge was handled, how did you react and what you could do in the future to make sure it doesn’t happened again.