You and Your Executive / Guide to Building a Strategic Business Partnership with your Executive / How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

Chapter One

How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

We look at the skills, competencies and characteristics Assistants need to work as a strategic business partner.
How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

Creating a business partnership with an Executive is a critical move that Assistants must make to future proof their career. It is imperative that Assistants transition from being task-driven and reactive into a valued member of staff who is aligned with the strategy of the business and adds value with the partnership and across the orgainsation.

In this chapter, How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive, we are going to cover all of the skills, character traits and competencies Assistants need to work as a strategic business partner.

We will take an in-depth look at the basics you need in the Assistant role before thinking about how to move into a strategic position. We will look at how Assistants can elevate themselves in the role by creating a new way of thinking and a new way of working that is strategic, business-focused and proactive.

Let’s have a look at what we are going to cover in this chapter:

How to be an assertive Assistant

How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

Moving from a ‘traditional’ Assistant role into something more business-focused and strategic can be a long process for a lot of Assisants.

For others, it might come more quickly, particularly if your Executive is supportive of your career and professional development.

But, for the majority of Assistants, taking this step is often something we do by ourselves, it is something we have to be vocal about and it a development that often comes because we demand to be seen as strategic and an asset to the business.

Therefore, we thought the best place to start, in this guide, is looking at how Assistants can be more assertive. It is something we have discussed a lot on Practically Perfect PA, and indeed a character trait that is required of all Assistants who want to be a strategic business partner.

Having an awareness of your rights

This will differ from individual to individual, but for me, I think it is an awareness of your rights but also the rights you have as an Assistant.

Sometimes it can be difficult if you feel your role is not taken seriously or you are seen as non-assertive because you are an Assistant.

As I’ve said before Assistants have to own their role and they have to see themselves as more than ‘just’ an Assistant. Being seen as assertive will grow once you first acknowledge your rights are the same as any other employee in your organisation and then really value yourself.

Self-esteem is crucial.

Not being overly aggressive

Or too passive.

Assertiveness is that sweet spot in the middle where the two communication styles live happily together.

Assistants love to be behind the scenes making everything happen and ensuring everything runs smoothly so it can be easy to fall into the trap of acting passively and giving in easily to other’s demands without pushing back, especially if we genuinely want to help and be supportive.

When we are managing our Executive’s schedule, it can be difficult for us not to act aggressively when someone wants to get in front of our Executive while bypassing us.

So how do we maintain a healthy balance?

Well, it is firstly respecting everyone’s feelings, including our own and trying to be open and honest.

Plan what you are going to say when you need to be assertive and while delivering the message, monitor your tone of voice and your body language, both of which should be relaxed and consistent.

Being able to defend your boundaries

I was told that I have the ‘disease to please’ (who knew!) I think it might be an epidemic amongst Assistants, as a large number of us joined the profession because we like to support others and we are often people pleasers.

It can be hard for Assistants to put ourselves first and respect our boundaries. It can be hard to say no to work when we are there to help others, but, we must learn to defend ourselves, and we must be assertive in this, it is so essential for Assistants.

If you have been asked to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with or you do not have the time or the capacity tell the individual no.

Of course, come prepared with reasons why you can’t do it and also offer a different solution if you can.

As hard as it is don’t feel guilty because you have made yourself the priority for a change.

Efficiently communicating your personal opinions and feelings

Expressing how you feel at work is hard and can be quite daunting if you are an Assistant working for a Senior Executive.

Being assertive with your opinions will help your manager in the long run, so it is well worth considering.

They need someone they can trust and rely on, and that will only come if you are open and honest with all of your opinions (well to a point anyway!)

Prepare to be assertive

We don’t have to be assertive every second of the day, so that is why we are not always so good at it.

When the need arises, make sure you prepare what you are going to say, how you want to appear and what tone you want to take and then practice practice practice!

Think about what is going to happen after you’ve been assertive too, are they going to push-back? If so what will you do then? If you are successfully assertive on one occasion learn from that experience and put it into practice again. The same result should be achieved.

How can you be more accountable at work?

How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

This is a big question!

What do I mean by being more accountable, and why is it essential for Assistants moving into a strategic partnership?

For me, being accountable means taking control of your success, managing your workload, your career and your relationship with your Executive and your colleagues. It means making decisions and taking ownership of the results.

It is incredibly crucial for us to be accountable for our work, but, for some reason, this is something that we struggle with.

I think it harks back to the age-old problem that we see ourselves as ‘just the assistant’, that we don’t have the authority to question things and make decisions.

We are given work to complete rather than put forward our suggestions. The term’ support staff’ doesn’t help either because it suggests that we are there to only offer support, do the things that are asked of us and not much more.

This, my friends, is a load of rubbish!

The role is changing, there are more opportunities for Assistants than ever before, and we must, must, must be accountable for our success. This is the first of many steps to move into a strategic business partnership role.

The benefits of accountability?

When you take control of your workload, accept accountability for your actions and take real responsibility for what you are tasked with, well, the benefits are enormous.

Here are just a few differences you will find in your behaviour once you start to think about accountability within your role:

  • You will set yourself goals
  • You will recognise that you are the expert at what you do
  • You will understand the power that you hold within your organisation

So, accountability – it’s a good thing, right?!

But, the question is.

Where do you start?

Let’s have a look at how Assistants, can specifically, be more accountable within the role.

What tasks do you have control over?

This is the first step to being more accountable.

Have a look at all of the day to day tasks that are assigned to you. I bet there are loads. These are the tasks that you should have complete control over.

They may be minor things like picking up the post every morning, through to more significant tasks like managing your Exec’s schedule.

For every task that you have complete control over, think to yourself – how can I make every task a complete success? What can I do to ensure the process attached to each task runs smoothly and is working well?

Make a list of these tasks and spend some time making them more efficient. You are accountable for these tasks, and you should take responsibility for their success.

Be results-focused

When you are more accountable for your actions, it will lead to you being much more results-focused, which in turn makes you more valuable to your organisation.

With everything you do, think to yourself – what are the goals here, what are my objectives, what do I want to achieve, and what are the useful outcomes?

This level of critical thinking is beneficial to your business because you will continuously be looking for the return on investment in everything you do.

If you find you spend ages on a task that is not business critical or adds value, because you are accountable for that task, you can adjust the process and make it more effective.

What areas can you influence?

Next up.

What areas can you influence?

There are a whole load of tasks that you may not have direct responsibility for, but you do have influence over.

Again, if it helps, make a list. A task that springs to mind is working with suppliers. You are not the person that necessarily signs the contracts for new suppliers, but you do use them probably more than most so again take some responsibility for this relationship.

Let your Executive know if a supplier isn’t quite working. If they are great, let other people in your organisation know so they can benefit too.

Be honest about what you are doing and where you are with tasks

Being accountable for your work doesn’t just mean that you control the good stuff; it also means you are honest when things aren’t quite working.

If you decide to take more ownership of your work, then you’ll have to put your hand up when you might fall behind with deadlines, or you are struggling with something.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If you are working on projects that push and challenge you, there will be times you need to seek advice from your Executive (just like any other member of staff).

Remember, you have to be accountable for all of your work

I remember one time I was working on a brilliant, company-wide project. I was super excited about it and spending a lot of time working on the details.

One afternoon, my Executive called me into her office for a quick catch up. She told me that she was proud that I was working on this big project, but had noticed that I wasn’t quite up to speed with my day to day tasks and I’d missed a few things that I had always done for her.

She was right.

I was having a great time working on this new task, but I had to take account of all of the other stuff I had to do. I let the ball drop, but being accountable meant I had to put my hands up, apologise and say it wouldn’t happen again.

Being accountable for your mistake sucks, but it is as essential as being responsible for your successes!

What training do you need to be in total control of your work?

Another aspect of being accountable and in control of your work is the realisation that you might need some help to make each task a success.

This is why it is crucial that you ask for training and your organisation takes your request seriously. When you are accountable, you know that other people within your organisation depend on the results of your work, so without training, how can you perform to the best of your abilities?

Last but not least.

Accountability has to begin with you. It is such an essential competency for assistants, and it will only become more valued as our industry moves away from a support role into a business-critical role.

With every adjustment to your work style, you should speak to your Executive about how to implement these changes.

Accountability is a brilliant competency to have as part of your career development plan and you could really flesh this out into specific SMART objectives.

Five ways to improve your leadership skills

How to start building a strategic partnership between an Assistant and an Executive

You may not manage a team, but you do work in a management role.

You manage your Executive, you work with and support the leadership team, and you should see yourself as a role model within your organisation for other members of staff.

With all that being said, there are plenty of ways that you can boost your managerial presence, and we have five ways to improve your leadership skills.

Always keep learning

This is something that we see all the time in great leaders – they are still curious.

You should always keep learning as much as you can about the business, about the people around you and your strengths and weaknesses.

Take the initiative when it comes to your learning, put yourself forward for work that will challenge you and look at the areas you can improve and then take some training or read some self-improvement books.

Take action

This is something that leaders have to do.

They have to take the initiative, make things happen and take responsibility for driving the business forward.

Even if you are not in a management role, you can act like a leader and take action.

Make decisions that are in the best interest of your business and put yourself forward for work that will get you noticed (sometimes that means taking on tasks that nobody else wants to do.)

Ask for feedback

During your one to one meetings with your Executive (that are about your personal development), you should ask for input on the skills that make you a leader. Such as, taking initiative, understanding the way the business works, motivating others, taking responsibility for your work and the success of the company.

There are many leadership skills that you can acquire, and it would be good to get feedback on what areas you can improve. If you work with teams or in project groups, you should also ask for feedback after the project is finished.

Have those difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are always hard to have, but when you think about it often when you have these problematic conversations, something positive comes out of it.

Real leaders can firstly initiate these types of discussions and structure them in a way that makes them worthwhile having.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

Having self-awareness is an excellent strength for Assistants to have in general, but for leaders being aware of their strengths and weakness is essential.

If you can, complete a survey like Insights Discovery or Myers Briggs to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie as a leader and then you will have a good understanding of the areas that you can work on.

What does it mean to be a collaborative Assistant?