Building a Strategic Business Partnership
with your Executive

This guide will teach you how to elevate the Assistant role into a strategic business partner working alongside your Executive.

The relationship that Assistants have with their Executives is fundamental to their success in the role. It is the critical relationship between Assistants and the one part of their role to get right. Without a successful partnership, the work becomes that much more challenging.

This guide is designed to explicitly teach Assistants, step by step, how to create a strong partnership with their Executive. We will look at the techniques and strategies Assistants can employ to build collaboration so that they are used effectively and are seen as real strategic business partners.

Over the last fifteen years, we have followed how the Assistant industry has changed and how Assistants must elevate themselves.

In this guide, we will cover one concept that has been part of the changing nature of the Assistant role: the Assistant as a ‘strategic business partner’. In other words, aligning your Assistant’s skills with the strategic growth of the business and the strategic objectives of the Executive.

You will all be at different points in being a strategic business partner.

Unfortunately, there is no road map for this because the Assistant career path is so varied. We all have different experiences in the role, changing from job to job and company to company. As a result, you will have to do a lot of this work on your own, with the support of your Executive. But.

You’ve got to do it!

This level of interaction within your business is imperative to ensure that you future-proof your Assistant career and that you are not left behind.

It is as vital as 30 years ago to know how to use computers and new technology. If you only work on administrative tasks and do not work strategically, your role will be replaced by AI and automation.

Also, it’s worth noting that strategic work is where reward and recognition are found. This is how you get yourself noticed and develop your Assistant career. Here is what you will find in this guide:


The Strategic Business Partner Online Course

The Strategic Business Partner Online Course is designed to explicitly teach Assistants, step by step, how to create a strong partnership with their Executive.

The course will give you the skills and insights needed to build an effective relationship with your Executive, develop business acumen that prepares you for future challenges in the Assistant role, and change your perspective to become confident in your decision-making.

Strategic Business Partner online course description
  • Twelve in-depth modules

  • Workbooks, Copy-and-paste swipe files, checklists, resources & templates

  • Video-based lectures with world-leading tutors
  • Certificate delivered on completion of the course

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 careers. It is imperative that Assistants transition from being task-driven and reactive into valued members of staff who are aligned with the business strategy and add value to the partnership and across the organisation.

Before considering moving into a strategic position, we will examine the basics you need in the Assistant role. Then, we will look at how Assistants can elevate themselves in the role by creating a new way of thinking and a new strategic, business-focused and proactive way of working.

How to be an assertive Assistant

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

It might come more quickly for others, particularly if your Executive supports your career and professional development.

But, for the majority of Assistants, taking this step is often something we do by ourselves. We have to be vocal about it, and it is 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. We have discussed a lot on Practically Perfect PA, which is a character trait required of all Assistants who want to be strategic business partners.

Having an awareness of your rights

This will differ from individual to individual, but I think it is an awareness of your rights and your rights as an Assistant.

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

As I’ve said before, Assistants have to own their role and 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 others’ demands without pushing back, especially if we genuinely want to help and be supportive.

When we manage 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?

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

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

Being able to defend your boundaries

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

It can be challenging for Assistants to put themselves 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 be assertive in this. It is so essential for Assistants.

If you have been asked to do something you don’t feel comfortable with or 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 offer a different solution.

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 complex and can be daunting if you are an Assistant working for a Senior Executive.

Being assertive with your opinions will help your manager in the long run, which is 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, prepare what you will say, how you want to appear and what tone you want to take and then practice, practice, practice!

Think about what will 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?

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 and managing your workload, career and relationship with your Executive and 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’ and 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 only to offer support, do the things 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 be accountable for our success. This is the first of many steps to move into a strategic business partnership role.

What are 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, 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 look at how Assistants can 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. However, these are the tasks that you should have complete control over.

They may be minor things like picking up the post every morning and more significant tasks like managing your Executive’s schedule.

For every task you have complete control over, think to yourself: How can I make every task successful? 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 time making them more efficient. Then, you are accountable for these tasks and should take responsibility for their success.

Be results-focused

Being more accountable for your actions will lead to you being much more results-focused, making 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 valuable outcomes?
This level of critical thinking benefits your business because you will continuously be looking for a return on investment in everything you do.

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

What areas can you influence?

Next up. What areas can you influence?

You may not have direct responsibility for a whole load of tasks, but you do influence them.

Again, if it helps, make a list. A task that springs to mind is working with suppliers. You are not the person who necessarily signs the contracts for new suppliers, but you probably use them 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 see them 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 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, you’ll have to put your hand up when you might fall behind with deadlines or struggle 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 staff member).

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 excited about it and spent a lot of time on the details.

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

She was right.

I was having a great time working on this new task, but I had to consider all the other stuff I had to do. So 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 help to make each task successful.

This is why it is crucial that you ask for training and that 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 an essential competency for assistants, and it will only become more valued as our industry moves from a support role into a business-critical one.

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

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

Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

​The template gives you the steps to ensure that when you have a one-to-one meeting with your Executive, you get through all the work you need to cover and maximise your time together.

Five ways to improve your leadership skills

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

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

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

Always keep learning

We see this all the time in great leaders – they are still curious.

You should always keep learning as much as you can about the business, 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, 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 the initiative, understanding how the business works, motivating others, and taking responsibility for your work and the company’s success.

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 project groups, you should also ask for feedback after finishing the project.

Have those difficult conversations

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

Authentic leaders can initiate these types of discussions and structure them to make them worthwhile.

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 you can work on.

What does it mean to be a collaborative Assistant?

Every business and organisation needs employees to work together, move projects forward and reach common goals.

Collaboration is an essential skill for everyone.

However, for Assistants, collaboration is vital. We must work with other staff members on projects and reach common goals.

We also have to build a fantastic relationship with our Executives, which is heavily based on collaboration, trust and cooperation. To succeed as an Assistant, we need to be collaborative.

There are so many ways that Assistants can be collaborative and showcase their skills in this area.

I will list all the different areas that I think will showcase a collaborative Assistant.

  1. Understanding the mission: You need to know what your work means and how it fits into the scheme. You can be much more collaborative if you know the goals and strategies of the business.
  2. Understanding what is expected of you: What does your Executive expect? How do your work and what you do make a difference? Understanding the expectations of those around you – and of course, living up to the expectations will help you be seen as a team player and someone who collaborates.
  3. Sharing the responsibility: When you are a collaborative Assistant, you know what your work means and are responsible for the delivery of the work. Make sure you hit deadlines and present good-quality work. Share the responsibility of getting the goals completed and moving the business forward.
  4. Asking for feedback: When working collaboratively with your Executive and colleagues, you need clarity around your goals and objectives. You need to ask for feedback – are you on the right track? Is there anything you can change so that your work adds value?
  5. Knowing your strengths and building on your weaknesses: Collaborative Assistants understand what they are good at and showcase their talents. They put their hands up for projects they know they can ace and help drive the business forward. They also know which areas they can work on and develop. A collaborative Assistant can play to their strengths and help support their team.
  6. Going to the meetings: If you want to collaborate and feel part of the team (or in a team with your Executive), you must attend the meetings. Find out what happens at the meetings (not afterwards or through the grapevine). Go to the meetings.
  7. Having a ‘can-do’ attitude: When everyone is working towards achieving something, a ‘can-do’ attitude can help overcome obstacles and reach the result. For Assistants, a positive can-do attitude will get you far. It can also lead to innovation and finding new ways of working.
  8. Communicating all the time: We all know that Assistants need to have very effective communication skills. These skills shine when you also collaborate effectively. The traits of a collaborative Assistant include learning how to communicate so that your message is heard and actively listening to your Executive so that you truly understand what is required of you. You should never withhold information that will move the business forward. Never be scared to share your perspective.
  9. Emotionally intelligent: Collaboration is essential for a successful Assistant / Executive partnership. To get to a point where you can collaborate quickly and efficiently, you have to get to know each other on an emotional level. Assistants have to understand how their executives operate and what drives them. If they are snappy and irritable, why is that? What is the bigger picture, and what can you do to help get them back on an even keel? Collaboration is often about assessing the team’s mood and helping others with their challenges. This requires detaching yourself from your feelings and emotions, remaining calm and seeing the bigger picture.
  10. Respecting other people’s perspectives: There will be many different opinions when working towards a common goal. Recognising everyone’s perspective and thinking process will help you collaborate more effectively. Collaborative Assistants are open-minded and willing to listen to others to achieve a consensus.

How should Assistants represent their Executive at a meeting?

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. As a result, I didn’t do anything in the meeting except take a few notes and agree to report 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. I knew I could contribute, but I didn’t feel confident voicing my opinion because I was so unprepared.

After a bad start, I decided I wanted to be involved in meetings and enjoy making decisions on behalf of my manager. So, I devised a plan that would help me represent my manager at the drop of a hat and confidently. How should Assistants represent their boss at a meeting? Here is that plan.

Have regular meetings with your manager

Regular meetings with your manager help Assistants stay on top of everything that is happening.

In your catch-up meetings, review your manager’s diary that day and also for the week ahead.

It would be best if you discussed what each meeting is for, what the objectives are, who is attending, and what your Executive hopes to achieve during the meeting.

Hopefully, you will know most of these answers because you have arranged the meeting, but make sure all areas are covered, so if you have to step in for your manager, you already know what to expect.

Consistent catch-up meetings with your Executive will help you understand the overall business better and increase your awareness of your Executives 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 schedule a specific catch-up meeting to get a brief from your Executive.

Find out how they want you to feedback on the meeting outcomes.

Attend meetings with your Executive

As part of your development programme, ask your Executive if you can attend meetings with them to 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, just because most people want to share what they are thinking.

After a while, you will become a regular fixture at meetings, so when you represent your Executive on your own most of your colleagues will be used to seeing you there.

Attend meetings without your Executive

As you take on more work and become involved in more projects, you will inevitably attend more meetings.

In those meetings, always say something. Have an opinion and voice it.

This will improve your confidence, and your colleagues will see that you are worth listening to. The essential task for Assistants in meetings is to take the minutes, but this doesn’t mean you can’t voice your opinion. You have as much right to share your thoughts as anyone else in the meeting.

You want to be part of the meeting and offer your other skills.

Again, stepping out of your comfort zone will help your confidence.

Get to know your colleagues

Get to know all of your colleagues and how they interact with each other.

It is impossible to know everyone in a big organisation, but you should know all the departments heading up each department, how big the teams are, and what each part of the business does.

This should be easily accessible on your intranet or via HR, so do study up.

If you represent your Executive at a meeting, you may not know who the people in the room are personally, but you should understand what they do and what they want from your Executive.

Making big decisions

As tempting as it is to agree that the company should close early every Friday, your Executive will not be pleased if you agree with something that isn’t in the organisation’s best interest.

Remember that you can have opinions in meetings and certainly answer questions knowing that your manager would answer in the same way, but don’t say agree to anything if you are unsure.

It is okay to say that you don’t know and must find the information after the meeting.

Working well under pressure

You will have to work under pressure at some point in your career, meet tight deadlines, and deal with stressful situations.

Although organisations should care for their employee’s well-being and strive to create a calm environment, this is not always achievable.

Sometimes, even for the most organised Executives and Assistants, you will encounter working under pressure. Learning to cope with the demand and dealing with stress is essential for Assistants and, of course, keeping yourself healthy during these intense periods.

Here are five tips on how to work well under pressure:

Flip your thinking

It can be easy to feel anxious when working under pressure with looming deadlines, urgent requests and a long to-do list.

When working in this environment, you must see this period as a challenge you will win.

Assistants are good at working under pressure. We are creative thinkers and problem-solvers, so whenever you are working under pressure, the first thing to tell yourself is you will get through this and you are going to succeed.

Organise and prioritise

When working under pressure, try to stay in the here and now. You have much to get through, but focusing on future deadlines isn’t getting the work done. So instead, take a step back.

Every task can be broken down into smaller parts. Prioritise what needs to be done now, today.

Organise your workspace to have everything at your fingertips, and try to keep the space around you calm and tidy.

What are you doing with your time?

If you find that you regularly work under pressure, you will need to consider the reasons for this.

What are you doing with your time? How are you spending it? Are you procrastinating? How can you reclaim your time so that you are meeting deadlines and finishing projects?

If you are working under pressure because you are saying yes to every task that comes your way, you will also evaluate this position. You can’t be everything to everyone in the office. No matter how hard you try, some things have to give!

Plan ahead

There will be times when the work ramps up in every organisation, and everyone is under pressure to complete specific projects.

Assistants will undoubtedly be heavily involved in these periods. Therefore, you should plan to make sure that you are in an excellent position to care for yourself during these periods and handle the pressure.

Ensure you have cleared much of your work or put it on hold until the stressful time has passed. You know what is important to you and your Executive. Everything else can wait.

Reward yourself

When you have been through a highly pressured period, reward yourself.

When you are in the middle of the work and can’t see the endpoint, you can at least think about the excellent reward you are giving yourself at the end! Rewarding yourself and reflecting on what you have achieved is essential.

Everyone deserves a reward for their hard work, and you should never deny yourself something that makes you feel good about yourself.

Bridging the interpersonal gap between staff and a busy boss

A considerable part of an Executive’s job is to lead their staff, motivate and encourage them.

However, this isn’t always the case. Many Executives are too busy or under too much pressure to manage their staff effectively. Some executives are very good at what they do but don’t have the interpersonal skills to lead or motivate the team around them.

This lack of leadership can have a tangible impact on the office culture and morale of the staff. Assistants, of course, will also be affected by this lack of leadership and interpersonal skills. Of course, we must be managed as much as any other staff member. But, this is a problem in the office that we can help to solve.

We can add value when working with an Executive who struggles to manage their team.

Here is why.

Part of our role is to represent the best interests of our Executives to make them successful. So we can see the areas that they find challenging, be it time management, organisation or, in this case, people management, and we can support them with these issues.

Let’s look at how Assistants can bridge the interpersonal gap between staff and a busy boss.

First, this is not a comfortable place to find yourself as an Assistant.

Working with an Executive who doesn’t manage very well is challenging. First, you must determine why they are not great at motivating or managing. Are they too busy, are they under pressure, or do they lack interpersonal skills? Do they struggle to connect with people?

Whatever it happens to be, once you work out the reason, you need to ask yourself if you can still work with this Executive. They must also open up to you and trust you enough to help them manage their staff if they are happy to delegate this responsibility so that they can concentrate on their objectives. Great! This makes your role here much more manageable.

If they don’t see their lack of leadership as a problem, that is a problem, and you need to consider your position.

Okay, so let’s assume they want you to help bridge the gap.

Where do you start?

Here are a few strategies you can implement to help your Executive manage their team effectively and make your team much happier in the workplace.


Management’s lack of communication is the number one reason people get frustrated in their roles and lack motivation. How can you feel empowered when you don’t know what is happening? Assistants can add value here. Weekly communication with the team about your Executive’s activities will keep everyone up to date and in the loop.

Ask each of your Executive’s direct reports to send a similar email to you so that you can put that into a report for your Executive to read over on a Friday afternoon. As a warning, you need to be very involved in your Executive’s day, so you know what you can communicate and what is confidential.

1-2-1 meetings

Ensure your Executive has a 1-2-1 session with their direct reports at least once per month.

These 1-2-1 meetings must stay in the diary, so try not to move them.

Before the meeting, ensure the direct report submits an agenda they can work through together. This is essential because you don’t want your Executive to feel like the meeting was a waste of time and cancel the appointments.

Office culture

When working with an Executive who struggles to motivate their team, you can be sure this will affect the office culture and have a knock-on effect throughout the business.

You can turn the office culture around depending on how much scope you are given to oversee staff management. There are a few questions you can ask yourself that will start this process:

  • How can we make the team feel valued?
  • How can the team give feedback?
  • What are the organisation’s goals, values, and mission statement, and how does this affect our team?
  • What can we do to make work fun?
  • How do we show gratitude for their hard work?
Social events

There should be a social aspect in every organisation. Your team should be able to bond in a less formal environment and get to know each other on a personal level. It will be up to you to organise social events for your team. Make sure your

Executive gives you a budget each month for team drinks or team-bonding activities. If this is impossible, organise something cheap and cheerful monthly for your team to pay for themselves.

Making your team feel comfortable

In the past, I’ve worked with incredibly formidable executives who can be completely unapproachable. I’ve worked for executives who never leave their office and sit scowling at their screens all day.

I sat outside their office and watched as their team members built the courage to go into the office and speak to them.

It is horrible to see, and no one should have to work like that, but it happens every day in offices worldwide. If you are working with a tough Executive, be the happy, approachable person your colleagues see before they speak with your Executive.

Make them feel at ease, let them know what mood your Executive is in and give them a head’s up if specific topics aren’t going to fly today.

Inspiring trust

Assistants must gain their Executive’s confidence.

It is even more critical when working with an Executive who struggles to motivate their team. They will rely so heavily on you that the only way for the relationship to work is if they can trust you with their team.

You also have to inspire trust in your colleagues; you are the bridge between the top-level Executive and the rest of the employees, so they must trust that you know what you are doing.

If they don’t, you will find they go straight to the Executive rather than coming to you first. This can cause no end of headaches for you. So, inspiring trust in terms of keeping confidence and inspiring others to trust your skills. Getting this right will make your job a whole lot easier.

Working with your Executive

At the centre of the Assistant role is their working relationship with their Executive.

The relationship has to be effective and intentional for the Assistant to thrive in the role and the Executive to drive the organisation forward. For Assistants to move into a strategic partnership role, the working relationship with their Executive must be solid, with both sides of the partnership aware of what they need to bring to the table.

The role of the Personal and Executive Assistant has changed so much over the years. It is no longer the case that Assistants complete the tasks given to them by their Executive. Instead, the role is much more reactive, with Assistants taking part in many projects, crafting their roles and taking on their strategic work.

Nevertheless, the relationship with their Executive is at the heart of the role. The Assistant will always ensure their Executive succeeds, drives the business’s vision forward, and achieves its goals and objectives. For Assistants to thrive as strategic partners, the partnership must be reciprocal and dynamic.

We will look at how Assistants, working with their Executives, can ensure an effective partnership built on trust, open communication, and efficiency.

Creating an effective relationship with your Executive

As Assistants, we spend a vast amount of time with our managers. If the relationship turns sour, it is almost impossible for us to do our jobs effectively, and it devastates our work.

So how do we ensure this does not happen?

Here are some tips on maintaining a good relationship with your manager. This is the first step towards working as a strategic partner with your Executive.

Respect and trust

As with any relationship, the one you have with your manager should be built on respect and trust. Of course, this is a two-way street, but for an assistant, your manager needs to trust you explicitly.

So to guarantee their confidence meet deadlines, deliver work when you say you are going to, keep confidential matters top secret and don’t be seen as the office gossip.

They are human too

Talking to your manager about what you do outside of the office may seem daunting or even a complete waste of time, but I think it helps maintain good rapport.

Always ask them how their evening/weekend was, and look genuinely interested when they answer. You may find that you have things in common, and even if they do not reciprocate the question, you have gained at least a small insight into how their mood will be that day.

Also, if you focus on the positive traits of your manager, it will help you understand what motivates them to succeed.


Regularly and face to face!

Again this is a two-way thing and should be consistent throughout your work with your manager. Then, naturally, set up regular meetings to discuss workloads and diaries and be there for them when they need to talk about something.

Check-in with them throughout the day, even if it is to say where you are going. If you communicate with them effectively, you won’t be blindsided by unexpected problems.

Have a sense of humour

One of the most effective ways to manage my relationships is not to take them too seriously. This may sound controversial but let me explain. I’m not talking about the work itself, this is important and should be treated as such, but the relationship itself can be handled with a lighter touch.

If you appear happy and can have a good time at work, it enhances your relationships with colleagues, including your manager. So let them in on the joke occasionally and include them in the conversation.

For Assistants, the most important thing to get right is the relationship with your Executive. The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, it is your job to make your Executive as successful in their role as possible and to do this you will need to work with them very closely, it is much easier if you have a good relationship. Secondly, and this is particularly true if you are a 1-2-1 assistant, the only person that can appraise, reward or promote you is your Executive.

So, all in all, it makes it much easier if you do have a good working relationship with your boss. If you think you could improve your relationship with your boss, here are a few tips.

How was your weekend?

Invest time in getting to know your Executive. To do this, you should find out what their life is like outside of work and try to appreciate their sense of humour (even if you have to force yourself!)

Build rapport with your Executive

Talking to your manager about the things you do outside of the office may seem a bit daunting or even a complete waste of time, but it does help build rapport and a good understanding of how and why you are both doing what you do.

Always ask them how their evening/weekend was, and they look genuinely interested when they answer. You may find that you have things in common, and even if they do not reciprocate the question, you have gained at least a small insight into how their mood will be that day. Also, if you focus on the positive traits of your manager, it will help you understand what motivates them to succeed.

If you are in the early stages of improving your relationship with your Executive, check out our video on how Assistants can build rapport with their Executive.

What do they need to focus on?

You should ask them this question each week.

Find out what their issues are or have a specific problem to solve and then try to help. This could merely be clearing their schedule to concentrate on the issue at hand or helping them directly with the problem. Always ask your boss what you can do to help.

Make sure they know you are on their side

Executives have so much going on that quite often. As a result, they can drop the ball on certain things.

This is where you come in. One of the main aspects of the role is to make your boss look good. So to do this, ensure you know the tasks they tend to neglect and make sure you do them.

For example, if they are always late, make sure you build contingency time in their schedule to get to their meetings on time. If they are continually losing things, make sure you keep a copy of all of their paperwork. Once you make them look good, the next step is to let them know you are on their side.

It can be easy for them to neglect you, making sure they are aware of how much you are doing for them.

A simple way to do this is to feedback on all of the work you do at each face to face meeting you have.

What do they value in your colleagues?

It is well worth looking at how your Executive interacts with other employees.

Who do they like, interact with and respond well to? What characteristics and habits do these people have? Can you learn from them or follow some of their practices to ingratiate yourself with your manager?

Communication – when and how

I’ve always said that Assistants must communicate regularly with their Executive, which has to be face to face.

Assistants also have to know when best to communicate with their manager and which communication channels to use. Assistants are not mind readers, and the best way to get answers to these questions is to ask the manager.

They have to see you as an equal

This is important as an Assistant.

Your Executive has to see you as an equal, not as somebody that does everything for them no matter what, or any other negative stereotypes that Assistants often have to face.

The relationship may not be quite that bad, but it could be that your boss doesn’t think that you are as important as their other employees and spends less time investing in you. Either way, you have got to make them see you as an equal in every regard (even if they are the organisation’s CEO).

How do you do this?

Well, firstly, you have to see yourself as their equal. You have to think that you are just as important as them and that you have the right to be heard and the right to speak. You bring a tremendous amount of value to the organisation, and your Executive should respect you for that. You should also respect yourself for that too!

You should see yourself in a partnership with your boss based on a mutual understanding and wanting to achieve the same objectives. Yes, your Executive is more senior to you, and you should undoubtedly show them respect, but you are equally responsible for its success in terms of your partnership.

Respect their time

We save our boss time.

It is the foundation on which our role is built.

More than any other staff member, we should understand how much time our Executive has to dedicate to specific tasks and shouldn’t take more of their time than we need.

For every meeting, come prepared with the correct paperwork. Before the meeting, anticipate the questions they will ask you and find out the right answers. If it helps, set an agenda for each session so that you both know precisely what needs to be achieved by the end of each meeting.

Think about how long you will need; don’t just put an hour in their diary because it is easier for you. Senior Executives will not like time-wasters, so we should do everything we can to respect their time.


This is easier said than done, but you will improve the relationship with your boss if they truly value you as an asset. They are going to appreciate you if you are excellent at your job and over-deliver for them.

How do you over-deliver?

Well, first of all, make sure you have your usual daily tasks under control and then start asking for more work and more projects. The additional work that you take on shouldn’t be detrimental to your basic tasks but will help your reputation at work and, ultimately, your relationship with your boss.

Ask for their advice

Ask for advice, and then act on that advice.

You work for a senior Executive. They will have some good business knowledge to pass down to you, so do ask them to share their experiences with you. Everyone likes to voice an opinion, including your boss.

Do be selective with the type of advice you ask for, obviously don’t ask for advice on something fundamental to your role. You still need to be seen as an expert assistant. Instead, ask them how they dealt with certain situations or think the best course of action is on more complicated tasks.

Asking for advice should encourage your Executive to see themselves as a bit of a mentor, which in turn should help your relationship develop a certain amount of trust.

Don’t wait to be told what to do

And here is my final piece of advice, and it is something that assistants are pretty good at.

Don’t wait to be told what to do. If something is causing your Executive stress or is an unnecessary waste of their time, you should be doing everything you can to fix it for them. An excellent stable working relationship between you and your Executive is achievable if your manager doesn’t feel like they have to manage you.

Don’t get me wrong; they have to be a good manager who supports you professionally through regular catch up meetings and feedback. But on a day to day basis, you should be anticipating their needs and ensuring everything is running smoothly around them.

Making your Executive successful in their role

We are employed to make our boss’s job easier, to remove unnecessary work and allow them to focus on running the company, but how do you make your boss successful?

Here are a few pointers that I think help us achieve that goal.

Understand the rhythm of your manager’s day

It is essential to know at what point during the day your manager is at their peak.

Are they a morning or afternoon people? Do they take a while to get going in the morning or start to flag in the afternoon?

A good way of finding this out is by monitoring when they need caffeine!

Once you have this information, you will know the best time to schedule meetings and when to leave time free to get stuck into their emails or write reports.

As we know, minimising interruption is a vital part of Assistants’ service. However, it is even more important to know when it is appropriate and how you interrupt them.

Information is king

Ultimately, your manager needs to know what they are discussing, whether with the CEO, clients, board, or staff members. Your manager needs to have the correct information to communicate what they know and what they can offer.

To help them succeed, Assistants should provide information in the correct quantity and format that works best for the manager.

Simple right?

Well, no, not really – how do we know what information they need? Indeed we would be doing their job if we had that knowledge.

Well, this is precisely my point we should have knowledge of their job and the business to provide them with the information they need to succeed.

How do we do this?

Start by attending meetings with your manager, taking notes, and having that information readily available if you need to remind them or refer back to what was discussed. Know what is happening elsewhere in the business and feed this information before. Get to grips with the office structure and how it relates to your Executive – who do they need to see and see them?

If your manager knows they can rely on you to be a centre of knowledge, it will free up space in their brains to concentrate on something else.

Keep on top of tasks

So you have a to-do list.

Sure, you do, but do you have a to-do list for your manager? Do you know what they need to achieve by the end of the day, week or month?

It is a good idea to have access to their task list (MS outlook is excellent for this) so that you can keep an accurate record of what they need to do and remind them of any outstanding work.

A vital characteristic of a successful person is the appearance of being on top of things and meeting deadlines. If you know, they have something urgent. You can schedule a time for them, rearrange meetings or stop anyone interrupting them until that task has a tick next to it.

Also, if you can access their task list, it is easier to do the small things they shouldn’t be doing anyway!

Reputation Management

From the moment you start working with your manager, you should be figuring out what they are terrible at. I know this sounds slightly negative, and a bit mean, but knowing what they are rubbish at means you know what to focus on being good at!

Are they untidy, do they lose things all the time, are they unorganised or continuously late for meetings – do they completely forget they are supposed to be in a meeting!?

If this is the case, they will have a reputation in the office for having this weakness, which won’t reflect well on them. So whatever issue they have, work on the basis that you will excel at propping up their weaker side, which should make them much better at their job and, therefore, more successful.

It will also improve their reputation at work, which will add to their success.

Questions Assistants can ask their Executive to build a strategic partnership

I think this approach works particularly well when an Assistnat is in a new job, especially if your manager hasn’t had an assistant before or isn’t sure how to work with you.

If you have been in the role for a while but are struggling to develop your relationship with your manager or a colleague, this approach might also be worth trying. You can ask your Executive a few questions to provoke honest answers, help you understand their needs, and add value.

  • Is there anything you do not want me to go near or change in any way?
  • What is your biggest distraction?
  • What do you dislike in your daily routine?
  • Is there anyone that you don’t want to talk to?
  • Are there any points in the day when I should leave you alone?
  • What personality types do you dislike working with?
  • Are there any aspects of my role you don’t need me to do?
  • What do you least value in an assistant?
  • Are there any forms of communication you dislike?
  • What details bother you? What doesn’t?

If you have been on the job for a while, these questions are still relevant as you will probably gain a different insight into how your manager likes to work.

As we all know, it can be cathartic moaning about your least favourite parts of the day, and I bet your managers get very little chance to do that!

Managing Up for Personal and Executive Assistants

Some people are great at ‘managing up’, but assistants must be fantastic at it!

The central part of our job is to manage our Executive’s time to concentrate on the essential tasks that keep the business going.

But we don’t just stop there. We manage every aspect of their day. From reading their emails and responding with kind words, getting them coffee so that they are awake and alert throughout the day, buying their presents so that they look generous and thoughtful, the list is endless.

There are enormous benefits for staff that are good at managing up.

They are seen, by their Executive, as a helpful resource rather than a hindrance, and they learn very quickly how to get the most out of their manager in a way that will advantage them.

We spend all day managing our executives and evaluating their needs, but do we effectively manage up?

If not, we could miss out on some fantastic benefits.

Know your manager’s limitations

To start managing up, we have to come to terms with the fact that our manager has limitations.

We are in the perfect position as assistants to understand those limitations. We work very closely with our managers and should already be helping them with the work that takes most of their time.

For example, we will know if a big problem for them is their organisational skills or they are not good at delegating. We will likely have first-hand knowledge of this and already be aiding them with their needs, so managing up for us has to be more than just helping with their limitations.

We have to take on the tasks they don’t want to or can’t do, and we have to make that our speciality. Taking on such responsibilities will only help our careers and enable us to learn more in the long run.

For example, your Executive doesn’t like filing (to be fair, who does)? If we take that job on, we have access to relevant documents that we should read to understand better what is happening in the business. Another example is if your boss doesn’t like dealing with difficult staff members, act as a go-between so that you can enhance your people skills.

Again, if you ever manage teams, this training will be helpful. You are increasing your skills while managing your boss’s limitations.

Be honest

As an Assistant, we are in a fortunate position in that we often get to tell our boss what to do. So, for example, when they have to be in meetings, they can take their lunch, what they have to read, and which emails they must answer first.

Again, not many of our colleagues have this type of relationship with the boss, so we can use it to our advantage when managing up.

We can be honest; we don’t have to be ‘yes men/women’.

We can be a breath of fresh air, be asked our opinion and give advice, and most importantly, be trusted. This leads to respect, which is necessary for an assistant to progress in the workplace.

Take responsibility for the relationship

The relationship with your manager is a two-way street; we should not rely on them always to know what is required to make the relationship work. Instead, we should control the relationship by understanding their style, how they like to communicate, and when best to approach them.

Assistants should have consistent meetings with their managers. Use this time wisely – come prepared for every meeting and make sure you have enough information for your boss to make any decisions you want during the meeting.

We are already managing their time effectively, but managing up will mean that we get what we want out of the time we spend with them as much as they do.

Proactivity is always going to be key

In everything we do, proactivity is a required skill.

This is undoubtedly the case when it comes to managing up. It would be best to be on top of everything you do so your manager doesn’t have to worry about managing you. A good way of appearing proactive is keeping a record (either physically or mentally) of the status of each task that your manager has given you. Then, if you can reel off updates whenever asked, you will look in complete control.

Also, you know, be proactive. If something is broken, fix it and keep everything ticking over nicely so your manager doesn’t have to be concerned with the general office issues. Let them know you are proactive, though I don’t think your work speaks for itself.

As an Assistant, it rarely gets noticed.

So, be indispensable to your manager, but let them know you are too!

20 ways to impress your Executive

We have a great cheat sheet to help Assistants build a strategic partnership with their Executives. The cheat sheet is full of fantastic tips and tricks that Assistants can quickly implement to build rapport, manage expectations, and communicate effectively with their Executives.

20 ways to impress your Executive

20 Ways to Impress Your Executive

The worksheet gives you 20 ideas to elevate you in the Assistant role.

It’s expertly designed to help you establish a strategic partnership with your Executive, enhancing collaboration and mutual success.

Effective Communication between an Assistant and their Executive

Communication between an Assistant and their Executive is everything! It is so vital that you communicate regularly and face to face! Again this is a two-way thing and should be consistent throughout your work with your manager. So, naturally, set up regular meetings to discuss workloads and diaries and be there for them when they need to talk about something.

Check-in with them throughout the day, even if it is to say where you are going. If you communicate with them effectively, you won’t be blindsided by unexpected problems.

A continual dialogue is so important

Don’t make the mistake that you and your manager are on the same page! It’s hard enough being on the same page with your friends and family, let alone your work colleagues!

The only way to ensure you understand what your boss wants from you is to continuously communicate with them and have an open and honest dialogue. Understanding their priorities and aligning your goals with theirs is in your best interest.

Communication – when and how

Understanding when and how to communicate is also essential. You have to communicate effectively and strategically to get the most out of every interaction.

Before attempting any communication, think about what you are trying to convey. Organise this in your mind and stick to the key points. If you need to, write these key points down so that you can refer back if the topic runs away from you. This should be used in any form of communication, from emailing someone to meeting them face-to-face.

Remember that communication is a two-way street.

Don’t let your manager get away with vague instructions.

This is so important because it is so easy for them to do. You are there to support them, so they may spend less time explaining what they need from you than they would with your colleagues. Always define the specifics to your manager (either with a follow-up email or during the initial project conversation). With long-term tasks, such as a diary or email management, do the same thing, define exactly how they want you to manage their correspondence and calendar.

Again have this conversation immediately if you haven’t already – how else do you know if you are meeting their expectations?

If you have been working with your manager for a while, it is always worth having a review meeting to suggest new working methods and any best practices you have picked up from colleagues or previous roles. Suggest this to your manager and work in ways to ask precisely what their expectations are!

Managing Expectations

In this video, Nicky Christmas, the Founder and Editor of Practically Perfect PA, explains how important it is for Assistants to manage expectations and communicate openly and honestly with their Executives.

How to build trust with your Executive

One of the most common challenges I hear from Assistants who want to push their careers forward is that their Executives do not trust them enough to hand over exciting projects and tasks.

This is generally because the Executive struggles to delegate and likes to control their work, or they don’t quite get the Assistant role.

It rarely has anything to do with the Assistant not being competent enough to do the job. If you find yourself in this situation, it can be frustrating. But it is something that you can change. It is a long road that takes a lot of patience, but you can get your Executive to give you challenging work.

Let’s start that journey by looking at how to build trust with your Executive.

First, you must tell yourself that you are in charge of the relationship with your Executive. You are responsible for making the partnership work and making them see what you are capable of.

You are there to save them time, and in an ideal world, you will be doing all of the work that takes them away from driving the business forward.

This is easier said than done.

Many executives feel like they do the work better, want to control everything, and struggle to delegate. It’s not personal.

They don’t think you are not doing a good job; they want to do everything themselves. I’ve got a lot of experience with this, firstly as an Assistant working with a COO who tried to do everything himself and now as a business owner who struggles to delegate!

From experience, trust is the emotion that helps in this scenario. Your Executive must trust that you will do as good a job as they, and trust will relieve their anxiety.

How do you build that trust?

Here are a few areas that will help build trust between an Assistant and their Executive.


This is the first step to being trusted.

Have a look at all of the day-to-day tasks that are assigned to you. I bet there are loads. However, these are the tasks that you should have complete control over. They may be minor things like picking up the post every morning to more significant tasks like managing your Executive’s schedule.

For every task you have complete control over, think to yourself: How can I make every job a complete success? What can I do to ensure the process attached to each task runs smoothly and is working well? Then, list these tasks and spend some time making them more efficient.

You are accountable for these tasks and should take responsibility for their success.

Consistently communicate with your Executive

Communication is so important when building trust.

Ensure your Executive knows everything you do and how well you do. You have to blow your own trumpet so that your Executive knows what you are capable of. If you receive excellent feedback from colleagues, pass it on to your Executive. Champion yourself!

You also need to ask the right questions.

Make sure you have a one-to-one meeting with your Executive, and during the meeting, ask lots of questions about their workload and what you can do to help.

Your Executive will know that they need to give you challenging work. It is harder to ignore that fact if you consistently ask for work and offer to do things.

Consistent in your behaviour

When building trust, you need to be consistent in your behaviour.

This can be tough if you are having a shitty day, but you should always try to have a smile on your face. Be willing to do lots of different tasks and act as a positive presence in the workplace.

If you are consistent in how you work with your Executive, they will know what to expect every day, and they can rely on you.

Grace under fire is my favourite competency for Assistants because Executives respect this in Assistants, which is essential when building trust with business leaders.


Keeping your Executive’s confidence is vital for many reasons, not least because you need to trust each other explicitly for the partnership to work.

Don’t ever drop the ball on this one. If you want your Executive to trust you, you can not gossip or share sensitive information with anyone in your organisation.

Trust is built and maintained through everyday actions. If you feel trust is lacking in your relationship with your Executive, you can work on this today and every day going forward.

It takes time, but you can make a change to be trusted to do more challenging work.

What meetings should you have with your Executive?

We all know that communication with your Executive is critical to a successful working relationship. I’ve found that the more access an Assistant has to their Executive, the more they are seen as a vital asset.

But, when you work with a busy Executive, it can be challenging to get time with them. I know how difficult it can be, especially if they travel frequently or work remotely.

However – I want to repeat this. If you have access to your Executive, if they let you into their inner circle, you will be a better Assistant, and in turn, they will be a better Executive and Leader.

It is that simple.

Communication is vital, and meeting and talking regularly is essential for the relationship. How do you do this?

Like anything, you, along with your Executive, must first decide that this is how you will work together and second, you must make it a habit. You have to organise your Executive’s schedule to meet and talk often and stick to the schedule.

Once you start to follow the plan, you will notice that you both (but more importantly, your Executive) rely on this regular communication. I want to share how exactly you should plan the meetings with your Executive, including the frequency and what you should cover.

Daily catch up

You should meet or speak for, at the very least, 15 minutes per day. Most Assistants will spend more time with their Executives, so this is the minimum amount of time.

I worked with an incredibly busy Executive who packed her day full of meetings, and for us, 15 minutes at the beginning of the day worked well with a 15-minute catch-up at the end of the day. Sometimes the 15 minutes was a walking/talking conversation, but it gave me enough time to ask those few vital questions and for my Executive to feel my presence during the day.

With Executive’s with a smaller workload, half an hour at their desk every day worked well.

For many executives, these meetings will feel like breathing space. They can re-focus on what they want to achieve and delegate work to help them achieve it – which feels good!

During your daily catch-ups, you should cover the necessary information that you both need to move your day forward.

If your Executive is travelling, you should send a ‘touch-base’ email covering everything you would typically cover in your catch-up meeting.

A weekly catch-up meetings

You need a slightly longer weekly catch-up with your Executive to plan the schedule, deal with the paperwork, and look at where you are with goals and objectives, ongoing projects, and the to-do list.

If your Executive is in the office, Friday afternoon works well. The office tends to be quieter, you can plan the week, and most people are a bit more relaxed on a Friday afternoon so that you can enjoy half an hour together.

During these weekly catch-up meetings, this is the time for Assistants to discover the why behind the what. Why are we doing these tasks? What is the bigger picture here? These meetings motivate us as much as we can move the work along for our Executive.

Monthly goal and objective planning

The monthly goal and objective planning will help you plan out your Executive’s calendar for the month and the tasks you both need to focus on.

These meetings are helpful because they give you the understanding you need to make decisions on your Executive’s behalf.

When colleagues want your Executive’s time or ask you to do things that fit the strategy, these meetings and the knowledge you gain will give you the confidence to say no (or not now) to specific requests. So what should you cover in these meetings?

Treat them as you would any project planning meeting. Follow an agenda, for example:

  • What are the objectives for this month?
  • Update on where we are with goals/objectives
  • What are the roadblocks and risks?
  • What are the deadlines and milestones?
Quarterly strategic reviews

If you want to be seen as a strategic business partner, you must know the strategy! Attend meetings with your Executive that drive the strategy forward, so you don’t have to hear through the grapevine what is happening. Schedule quarterly strategic reviews with your Executive to ensure their time is spent on the right things. Again in these meetings, you should have the schedule open. You should be discussing goals and objectives for the quarter and spend this time getting to grips with what is going on in your Executive’s world. If your Executive is short on time, it might be worth integrating your quarterly strategic review with your team.

This works well because you get an overview of everyone’s objectives for the quarter in the future. You can plan to support your Executive and their direct report’s expectations. The more you know, the better you will operate in your role.

As a quick aside, you might think there is no way you will get this much time with your Executive, and I hear you.

But, you have to plan these meetings, and if you are running the schedule, you have to make your Executive stick to it – like a habit.

Once they understand the value of regular communication with you, your job becomes more manageable, and they are more successful.

Twice-yearly performance reviews

And, of course, you should have twice-yearly performance reviews to know how you perform in your role.

Many Executives mistake the daily and weekly catch-up meetings as a time for the Assistants to talk about their performance.


These meetings are business-critical. Use your performance review time to discuss your performance and your remuneration.

Regular meetings with your Executive’s direct reports

Last but not least, you should schedule regular meetings (over a coffee or something equally informal) with your Executive’s direct reports to get a sense of where the business is going from different points of view.

If your Executive works well with their direct reports and likes and trusts their team, you should ensure you have as much access to them as possible.

These people are making the business happen, and you need to know their goals and objectives too.

6 things to stop doing in your one to one meeting

For Assistants, the time they spend with their Executive in a one-to-one setting is necessary and enables them to get on with all the tasks that require just that little bit of input from their boss.

But, as I’ve heard many times, many of you out there do not get one-to-one time, or you have ad hoc meetings as and when you can squeeze five minutes into a packed schedule.

Or, as I’ve also heard, you don’t get any time with your Executive, and you are left without a clue about specific tasks and how to proceed. So, today I thought I would share the six things to stop doing in your one-to-one meetings with your boss.

Stop calling it a one-to-one.

This is my first and crucial point. The one-to-one should update your Executive on work in progress and tasks that require their input. You know how precious their time is, so why call the meeting a one-to-one when it is a meeting about business-critical decisions? Changing the name of the meeting to ‘business update’ will show the importance of the meeting in your Executive’s diary.

Stop making it about you.

Once you have changed the name of the meeting, it is time to change the tone of the discussion. This time should not be used to catch up on how you feel about work or your career development (you should have separate quarterly meetings about that). Instead, use this time to work through the urgent matters critical to you and your Executive. The discussion should be structured, professional and thorough.

Stop trying to get through everything on your to-do list.

You should have a minimum of half an hour a day with your Executive to go through the essential things on your list. Before going into the meeting, think about the vital messages you need to give to your Executive. What do you need from them? It would be best if you didn’t bombard them with every bit of detail or every task that requires their attention. Some things can wait, and some things are not urgent at that given point in time. Instead, think about the overall objectives for that week and month. What is required to move those forward?

Stop sitting back and letting your Executive control the meeting.

This is your meeting, so make sure you participate. What do you want from the meeting? What information do you need to take your tasks forward? You work together in a partnership, so you need decisions and details to progress your work. There will be times when you are a sounding board for your Executive, which is excellent. Make sure you judge each meeting on their own merits.

Stop leaving without any actions.

If your Executive is in full flow, giving you more work, it can be hard to stop them and ask for their decision on something. Use your judgement. Sometimes the work that you need isn’t as important. But if it is. Make sure you ask the question. If it is business-critical to you. Ask the question!

Stop taking the meeting out of the diary.

My final point. When your Executive already has a packed schedule, taking your meeting out of the diary can be the easiest thing. Do not do this! It devalues the necessary time you need with your Executive and your work. So stop doing it!

Strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant

To work successfully as a strategic business partner, Assistants must increase their overall understanding of the business, take the initiative and be proactive.

This is easier said than done! We share our top tips on how you can develop strategic thinking while managing your day-to-day tasks.

The road to strategic thinking – taking the initial steps to becoming a strategic business partner

The move from the Personal or Executive Assistants as an Administrative resource to a real strategic business partner has been in effect for the last decade. Many of us have a long way to go to get our organisations and our Executives to understand the value we can bring to the role.

Many Assistants still don’t have a clear career path, we aren’t taken seriously, our bosses don’t give us the platform to be strategic, and we are excluded from the conversation.

Strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant. There are a lot of challenges…

One of them, for me, is what exactly does the term mean when they are talking about strategic business partners because, for me, strategy is the thing that is put into place that moves the business forward.

That is the job of the Executive Board, so how do Assistants fit into that?

What does it look like to be a strategic business partner?

I’ve spent a lot of time reading articles about this term and speaking to thought leaders in the profession.

Here is a look at some of the skills and competencies that make up what is considered to be a strategic business partner.

  • They maximise efficiency
  • They think like managers
  • They are results driven
  • They are analytical
  • They are proactive rather than reactive
  • They align their objectives to those of the business
  • They reduce complexity to simplicity
  • They are willing to adapt and change
  • They are not afraid to apply new skills
  • They make decisions based on the strategic direction of the business
  • They are daily, minute by minute, problem solvers.
  • They find the time to plan and strategize
  • They make decisions based on the needs of the Executive and the organisation
  • They are prepared to disagree with their Executive and offer alternative solutions
  • They eliminate conflict
  • They can work without instruction or direction
  • They can work under pressure
  • They can hold their own in a wide variety of situations
  • They advance the career of their boss and the growth of their company
  • They relate everything back to the bottom line

Daily Checklist for Assistants

Use this checklist to ensure every task you have is managed and executed flawlessly.

Our daily checklist for Executive Assistants is designed to streamline your workflow and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

The challenges

Okay, so if these are the areas that the role is moving into and the characteristics of a strategic business partner, what are the challenges?

Why aren’t all Assistants there yet? Here are a few examples of the challenges Assistants face:

  • Finding the time to be strategic
  • Having the confidence
  • Moving from a reactive to a proactive assistant
  • Having the backing of your Executive
  • What steps do Assistants have to take?

I think the first thing to say is that you will all be at different points along the road to being a strategic business partner.

Unfortunately, there is no road map for this because our career paths are so varied, and we all have such different experiences in the role that change from job to job, company to company, so a lot of this work you will have to do on your own.


You’ve got to do it!

The thought leaders are elevating the role to this level, which means recruitment companies use this jargon in their job descriptions. This is what ultimately businesses are going to want in their staff.

To ensure that you future proof your career and that you are ready for the next five years, this level of interaction within your business is imperative.

It’s getting to be as vital as it was 15 years ago to know how to use Microsoft.

Also, it’s worth noting that the strategic work is also where the reward and recognition lives; this is how you get yourself noticed.

This is your career, and you have to put yourself out there if you want the rewards and the gratification that really can come from being an Assistant.

Strategic thinking, proactivity, and adding value as an Assistant is more important than ever.

What is strategy, and where does it come from?

The first thing we have to do is define what we mean by strategic because, as I said, this is what drives the business forward.

It is the plan that all employees follow to make the business successful.

The CEO and board members make the strategy, and we follow it.

So how does a strategic business partner fit into that process?

For me, strategy covers a lot, and people say it when they don’t know what they mean. All of the examples I gave above could be considered strategic, but for me, this is what I mean when I talk about PAs being strategic.

Strategy is the art of adding value

This applies to Assistants because we are very much there to add value to the organisation but save our Executive’s time (and now also working on projects and tasks outside of the traditional Assistant role).

Okay, now we know what we mean by strategy. Let’s look at the steps you can follow to get there.

In his book, David Sinek talks about the idea of starting with why and understanding your organisation’s purpose.

Start with the why
  • Why does your organisation do what it does?
  • Not what it does or how it does it, but why?
  • What is the purpose of your organisation?

And then within that – why does your Executive or Executives do what they do? What are their core beliefs and values? Why do they work in a certain way, and what makes them tick?

Once you start to think about the why of things, you will begin to understand what the bigger picture is – in other words, why something has to be done rather than just getting on and doing it.

Live and breathe the company strategy

Assistants have to live and breathe the company strategy.

You have to be 100% involved in it.

You have to understand it, and you have to activate all of your work based on the overall objectives of the organisation and then the goals of your Executive.

Here are some solid tips on how you start to understand the strategy of the business.

#1 Never Stop Learning

Attend training in areas that you can improve – business strategy, finance, marketing, whatever it is. Where can you add value?

Where is there a gap in expertise – can you fill that gap?

Graduate programmes

In house training

Shadow others in your PA network, your colleagues, members of the board etc.

Get a mentor – is there a PA in your office who is a strategic business partner, what did they do, how did they get there?

There is a lot to learn!

Suppose you have an Executive that doesn’t appreciate what you do or what you can do. They will find that you’ve left in 5 years and found someone who does get what an EA can offer, and they’ll be stuck trying to work out how to use AI to schedule a meeting with their new millennial boss!

#2 Never stop networking

Networking is the foundation to good overall business acumen and understanding the direction of the business.

Networking for PAs is essential for so many reasons, but it will significantly improve your knowledge in terms of business acumen.

And here is why.

When you network, you find out about stuff! So go to networking events (which are quite often free or a small fee), meet with other PAs, attend the training sessions that go along with networking events, meet with suppliers. Go to team drinks, go to departmental beverages, go to your organisation’s networking events and talk to people!

One of the cheapest ways to find out about the organisation is to talk to people and ask what they do!

As an Assistant, you are automatically given a level of trust that other people within the organisation are not, so take advantage of that. Always ask, ‘what is happening with you?’

People want to get on well with Assistants. They know that Assistants are worth knowing and have a lot of information, so you use this to your advantage to build your knowledge of the company and what is going on. As I said before, be curious!

If you don’t already, it is well worth setting up an internal network for all of the Assistants within the organisation.

If you have an internal network to share business information and have speakers from the business come and talk to you about the strategic direction, you will increase the visibility of the Assistants within the organisation.

And, again, this doesn’t cost your company too much money!

#3 Read Everything

This might seem obvious to some of you, but I’ve met Assistants who don’t do this, and it is this. READ everything!

And I mean everything!

Read your Executive’s emails – both their inbox and sent items. Read their reports, read their memos, files, past emails – everything!

Does your manager subscribe to business magazines?

If they do, this is great because you open their post and can read the magazines before giving it to them! Not only does this help with your business knowledge, but it also gives you something to talk to your boss about. This is excellent when you build rapport and find common ground, which is vital to being a strategic business partner.

Reading doesn’t stop there.

Make sure you read everything put up on your internal communication systems – intranet, collaborative tools such as Slack or Trello and briefing documents. I always found the intranet a weird and wonderful place to get lots of information about the organisation.

I highly highly recommend that you read lots of career and personal development books. I love getting lost in a good book and will always find time to read fiction, so I make sure that I will read one non-fiction book that will develop me professionally with every two fiction books I read.

Feedly is my app of choice.

When it comes to reading, prioritise what to read. Business-related and boss related stuff comes first.

Then create some time to read everything else. As I said, I love a good book, so I have the routine of reading one non-fiction to every two trashy fiction or celebrity autobiographies that I love but don’t feed the brain!

#4 Listen to Everything

Because this is how you find out how your Executive operates and the people they surround themselves with.

Do you take minutes at meetings?

Again this is another fantastic way to increase your business awareness. In a previous role, I managed 12 Committees, all of which had a particular interest in different areas of accountancy.

I attended all of the Committee meetings and took all of the minutes. During the meetings, I would listen to what everyone was saying and take notes on anything I didn’t understand to research it later. I would also talk to the members during refreshment breaks and read all of the supporting documents and regular newsletters.

By the end of the four years I worked in that role, my knowledge of accountancy was extraordinary!

So while you are reading everything, also listen to everything too!

Listen to what is going on around, what your colleagues are talking about over lunch or during post-work drinks. You don’t need to divulge this information to anyone, but being business savvy isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of the business. It is also about the mood and feel of the office.

People make businesses, so make sure you also have a good understanding of what is happening with your colleagues and the organisation’s culture.

#5 Attend Meetings

Do you attend meetings with your manager?

If you don’t, you need to. You must be privy to the same information as your manager. Okay, there will be times that you don’t attend meetings – 1.2.1s with other members of staff, but you should be attending client meetings, board meetings, team meetings and project meetings.

Attending meetings will bring you into contact with the company’s decision-makers, and you will be privy to their conversations and how they come to make decisions.

Ensure you listen to these people. If you know why decisions are made in the company, you can start making choices about your everyday work following the same strategy as the executive team.

Even after 1.2.1 meetings, you should probably get an update on any actions from that session. I will come on to this in more detail, so let’s stick with listening for a second.

When you are in these meetings, you are an active participant. Be part of the meeting. As your Executive’s Assistant and as a member of the organisation, you have every right to be there.

For me, I used to get nervous in meetings, and I would sweat if I know I had to present something, and I had to force myself to speak up.

To get over my nerves, I started to over-prepare, and although this tactic is quite clearly a lack of confidence (I doubt my male colleagues were doing the same). I would rehearse what I had to talk about, think about questions I might be asked, and read everything that was happening around the meeting, so I felt more prepared. It wasn’t necessary half the time, but it helped me feel more confident to speak up.

I want to read you this excerpt from a LinkedIn article written by Adam Hergenrother, the CEO of his own global business.

Your Assistant works WITH you, not FOR you. Hallie reads all of my emails, attends the majority of my classes & trainings, listens on calls, and sits in on meetings. She is more effective when she knows what I know, knows how I think, how I solve problems, and what I have decided and promised (so she can follow-up and deliver). Do not keep your Assistant on the periphery, assigning tasks that have no context or meaning. They will be far more invested in your success when they are a part of the entire process, and eventually part of the decision making or even making decisions on your behalf. When you bring your assistant into your inner circle – everyone wins.

#6 Push your boundaries

You have to push your business boundaries.

Put yourself out there, ask questions. If you don’t know the answer to something, go and find out. Research and investigate things. Ask to be part of a cross-departmental project. One tip is always to offer to organise events. You will find out a lot of stuff when you organise an event for your business.

You will work with different colleagues, and if you sit at the registration desk, you will meet different people.

Be visible at all times.

Getting ahead doesn’t just start with how competent you are, which sucks for women in business; it also has a lot to do with confidence. You can be the most qualified person in the room, but if there is somebody with more confidence, they will be heard first.

So you have to be confident, and I hope you can feel like you can get yourself to a strategic business partner level.

Also, when you get back, and you start following these steps, you will feel more confident to sit with your Executive and show them that you understand the company’s strategy and that you are implementing it into your work by thinking strategically.

This depth of knowledge will be impressive because they might not think you consider the bigger picture.

#7 Finding the time to think

Lastly, like your manager, you have to have the time to think strategically

It is so standard for assistants to dive into work, get things done, and shift through tons of work. We are the go-to person.

When you need to think strategically, you need to slow down and think through your options. Some of the great Executive Assistants that I have met take time out of the office to plan and prepare for the month ahead.

Putting it into Practice

Each month pick a topic that you would like to develop.

During that month, find some time, over lunch, during your commute, or if you can, take some personal development time during your working hours to dedicate to developing your strategic knowledge. Remember, if you read and listen to everything around you, you will be continually improving your business knowledge. Still, it is also essential to take time to dedicate it too.

Let your Executive know that you want to improve your business savvy and ask for their input in this – get them involved and interested in your development. Lastly, make this part of your overall objectives for the year. If this is part of your career development plan, you are actually allowed to dedicate time within your working hours to this! It is the only way you will show strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

Developing your business acumen

I like this definition of business acumen. It is from the Financial Times Lexicon:

In practice, people with business acumen are thought of as having business ‘sense’ or business ‘smarts’. They are able to obtain essential information about a situation, focus on the key objectives, recognise the relevant options available for a solution, select an appropriate course of action and set in motion an implementation plan to get the job done.

Developing business acumen takes time. It has to be achieved through learning and training, and ultimately it has to be part of your ongoing development plan. Expanding your business awareness has to be constant.

Having strong business sense isn’t easy to develop, but it is incredibly vital for an assistant. We support people that have solid business acumen.

They wouldn’t be in the position they are in without it! How can we help them if we do not understand their business, their strategic objectives and the pressures they face daily?

The difficulty is that many organisations don’t understand this need and do not offer assistants the opportunity to attend training courses or take time out of their day to build their business acumen.

Many bosses do not see the potential in their assistants or the bonus of having an assistant with a good knowledge of the business and what that means in terms of the extra support they would receive.

In this video, Nicky will discuss all the different methods she has employed to improve her business acumen as an Executive Assistant and business owner.Strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

Resources to increase your business acumen

It goes without saying that for an Assistant to be successful in the role, they need to have strong business acumen. I’ve written about this skill a lot over the years, and I have presented on the topic at various events.

It is a topic close to my heart because I genuinely think once Assistants develop business awareness and get a good grasp of the organisation they work in and the industry, they will open up their career to lots of fantastic opportunities and more reward and recognition.

Understanding the business makes you a better Assistant. You are part of the organisation and team rather than someone who works separately from everyone else. You can make informed decisions based on the strategy and objectives of the business.

I have two resources from Practically Perfect PA to share with you before we delve into more resources to increase your business acumen.

There is are also two fantastic blog posts on All Things Admin that I would highly recommend you read, called Developing Your Business Acumen: You Must Read to Succeed and 5 Ways to Develop Your Admin Business Acumen.

Strong Business acumen starts with an understanding of how your organisation makes money. As an Assistant, you have access to a lot of information that will show you how your organisation makes money.

Understanding your organisation’s financials

I always say that Assistants should read everything that passes their desk, but specifically, you should read:

Financial Statements (the Annual Report is generally made available to staff). What do the leaders say is vital to your business? What metrics do they use to measure success? Where does the company make and spend money?

  • Client proposals
  • Project charters (that your Executive is involved in)
  • Internal newsletters and updates
  • The organisation’s website – specifically the press releases, company structure and value statements.

Once you understand how your organisation makes money, you will begin to know how your business fits into the overall industry and the bigger picture.

If you are not sure about the financial jargon that comes with every financial document, I would highly recommend you read What the CEO wants you to Know.

Overall awareness of your business’s financials, if they have had a good year, won clients, or if they have had setbacks is crucial for your business acumen, and it will help you build a partnership with your Executive.

Understanding your industry

Getting to grips with the industry you work in can be pretty overwhelming, mainly if you work in a very technical industry.

But you’ve got to try and understand what your business does and how it fits in with the industry. If you work for a global organisation, say a financial institution or a large conglomerate. You should understand the bigger picture, of course, but then concentrate on what your department does and how it fits into the overall business structure.

There will be a lot of resources available for you to read up on your industry, and I would suggest you start with:

  • Trade journals and magazines that you can pick up in your office or are sent to your Executive
  • Follow leading industry experts on social media
  • In-house courses on your industry (Introduction to Insurance, for example)
  • Research the competition

Again this will develop your business acumen and give you something to discuss with your colleagues and your Executive. You will understand the climate in which your business operates and start to grasp the company’s objectives.

Improving your business knowledge

There are a lot of great resources available online that can help you improve your overall business knowledge. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Work it Daily (Blog)
  • Forbes
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Business Insider
  • Entrepreneur
  • Leaders In Heels
  • Management Blog
  • Michael Hyatt

As I said at the beginning of the post developing your business acumen is so essential for Assistants. It does set you apart and will push your career forward.

The rewards are there if you take the time to develop this skill. The good news is that you can build your business acumen by delving into many free resources. You just need to make the time for it! It is so necessary when building your strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

Getting to grips with your organisation’s strategy

For Assistants, it has become more apparent that the way forward in our profession is to work as a strategic business partner with our Executive. To introduce strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

We have written about this a lot over here on Practically Perfect PA and something I have advocated for many years. The role of the Assistant isn’t going anywhere, despite the developments in AI, but it is changing and will continue to change at a rapid pace.

The changes have mostly come in how we work and the skills we have developed and must continue to grow. We are much more aligned with our organisation’s goals, and our work adds to the bottom line.

What does all this mean practically?

Well, we should work more strategically and make decisions based on the strategy of the organisation. But, strategy is such an overarching word and means different things to different people, so how do we get to grips with our organisation’s strategy and think more strategically. How do we introduce strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant?

There are many resources available to Assistants on how to think and work as a strategic business partner. I would push you in the direction of Melba Duncan and her work on this topic, starting with her incredible and ground-breaking article in the Harvard Business Review – The Case for the Executive Assistant.

Understanding your organisation’s strategy

There will be many documents that you can read to help you understand your organisation’s strategy. They should be on your intranet or knowledge database but if not, ask your Executive for a copy (or look through their emails). For starters, try to read the following:

  • Vision / Mission statements
  • Growth strategies
  • Goals and objectives
  • Executive summaries
  • SWOT analysis
  • Key Performance Indicators
  • Customer profiles
  • Industry analysis
  • Marketing plans
  • Organisational charts and structures

Try also to gain an understanding of how your organisation makes money. As an Assistant, you have access to a lot of information that will show you how your organisation makes money.

Getting to the top of the industry will be the ultimate strategy for your organisation, so it is essential to understand how they plan to do that and, if they are already at the top, how they plan to stay there!

Improving your strategic thinking

Along with understanding the business you work in, Assistants need to think more strategically and make decisions based on the organisation’s strategy.

How do you go about doing this?

Like your Executive, you have to have the time to think strategically. Giving yourself time helps develop strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

It is so standard for assistants to dive into work, get things done, and shift through tons of work.

We are the go-to person.

When you need to think strategically, you need to slow down, find the time and think through your options. Here are just a few resources that can help you to think more strategically:

Four ways to improve your strategic thinking

The Manager’s Guide to Understanding Strategy: Getting Started

How to Master Strategic Thinking

Eight books for strategic Assistants

The trait that I admire most in exceptional leaders (think Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown) is the time they dedicate to learning new things.

I love that they read, take on new ideas and concepts and never stop growing.

This is something that I always try to find time for, and I think it is essential for Assistants to do the same. I get how hard it is to find a space in your business schedule for career development. But taking the time is the only way to understand strategic thinking, proactivity and adding value as an Assistant.

Let’s face it, picking up a career book probably isn’t top of your priority list when you have some downtime. But, there are so many great resources out there that can propel your career forward. I’ve put together a list of eight great business books for strategic Assistants.

If you want to take your job to the next level and work as a business asset and strategic partner – these are the books that will help you get there!

So good they can’t ignore you by Cal Newport

Favourite quote: “Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Favourite quote: “Powerful people initiate speech more often, talk more overall, and make more eye contact while they’re speaking than powerless people do. When we feel powerful, we speak more slowly and take more time. We don’t rush. We’re not afraid to pause. We feel entitled to the time we’re using.”

Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher

Favourite quote: “You can waste a perfectly good life trying to meet the standards of someone who thinks you’re not good enough because they can’t understand who you are.”

Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Favourite quote: “People’s emotions are rarely put into words, far more often they are expressed through other cues.

the key to intuiting another’s feelings is in the ability to read nonverbal channels, tone of voice, gesture, facial expression and the like.”

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

Favourite quote: “People can have two different mindsets, she says. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe that their talents and abilities are carved in stone. Those with a “growth mindset” believe that their talents and abilities can be developed. Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.”

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi

Favourite quote: “I’ve come to believe that connecting is one of the most important business—and life—skill sets you’ll ever learn. Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and like. Careers—in every imaginable fieldwork, the same”

Give & Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

Favourite quote: “This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

The mindset of a successful strategic business partner

So you are getting all the basics right in your Assistant role and ready to move into a more strategic partnership with your Executive.

We will cover the mindset of a successful strategic business partner and how Assistants can shift their mindset and move into a strategic partnership with their Executive. We share everything we have learned from successful strategic business partners over the last ten years of running Practically Perfect PA.

Battling imposture syndrome as an Assistant

A few years ago, I worked as a PA within a large team of highly qualified, talented, and confident project management consultants. One of my colleagues asked me to come to a meeting to discuss how the organisation could communicate more successfully with staff.

I wasn’t there to take notes or represent my Executive but to offer my thoughts and opinions, and I freaked out. I felt like a complete fraud, even though I had many ideas and worked on similar projects in other organisations.

Nevertheless, I didn’t say very much in that meeting, and when asked a specific question, I said I didn’t know, and I generally looked and felt utterly redundant.

I’m sure we’ve all been there, feeling like a fraud at work and having a significant crisis of confidence.

I felt so stupid that day that I promised myself. It wouldn’t happen again. I’ve thrown myself into a few situations where I have felt totally out of my depth, questioned my entire career and skill set and wanted to crawl back into bed and hide.

I started telling myself that I have to basically ‘fake it till I make it’, which is what I’ve done ever since!

Here are some of my thoughts on why, sometimes, it’s pretty helpful to feel like a fraud at work and how it helps shift the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Why are you here?

That is the first thing to ask yourself.

Why are you in this situation?

You are here because you aced an interview where your Executive and your organisation saw something that makes you awesome. It might be your knowledge, skills, qualifications, or fantastic personality.

Whatever it is – you have every right to be there and heard.

You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone

If you always do the same thing, you will never give yourself a chance to grow and develop.

I’ve heard so many incredibly successful business people say that they said yes to situations and figured out how to make them successful.

Yes, that is a terrifying prospect, but if you know deep down that you can do something, but it is scary – say yes.

You will not regret it.

Everyone starts as a beginner. When you started using MS Outlook all those years ago, you didn’t know everything, but now you are a complete whizz.

It is the same for any task or activity you want to do. Public speaking? The more you do it, trust me, the easier it gets.

Don’t give yourself undue amounts of stress

Some people love working under pressure and need that buzz to achieve great things.

Good for them. I’m not one of them! I like to be organised when fleeing my comfort zone.

Feeling like a fraud doesn’t mean diving off the deep end. It means giving something a go.

It doesn’t mean taking up a challenge but not asking for help. It means taking on new challenges but having a support system to help manage your development.

You are your own worst enemy

I hear this phrase a lot, and it is so true.

No one is harsher on themselves than you.

I’m so guilty of this, and I know from experience it can hamper your chances of outstanding achievements. You want to set yourself high expectations but not so ridiculously high that you don’t even bother to try because you might fail.

Are you over your head?

This is also an excellent question to ask yourself because sometimes Assistants can be given work totally outside their job description.

For example, many of us are asked to organise events, manage projects, procure services and suppliers, manage budgets and recruit new staff.

All of these tasks are full-time, professional jobs for some people!

If you have been asked to do something you haven’t done before, don’t say no, but do ask for time to up-skill, attend training and learn what you are supposed to do!

When you take on a challenge, you need the right tools to make it a success!

Working as a business-critical Assistant

In this honest and frank panel session, Nicky Christmas, former EA and now Editor and Founder of Practically Perfect PA, talks with Assistants who have transitioned to become a business critical assistant.

They share their experiences, challenges and triumphs of their career development as Assistants and the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Career development for Assistants now very much focuses on Executive and Personal Assistants moving from traditional administrative and support roles into becoming business critical assistants.

How to take the initiative when working with a micromanager

Working for someone who is a micromanager is hard work. There is no denying it, and it is especially true for Assistants.

We are there to save our Executive’s time and the organisation’s money.

It is hard to do that part of our job if our Executive is involved in everything we do. Micromanagers are usually well-meaning, but they want to control everything and ultimately think they can do everything better than everyone else.

It is exhausting for them, and it is demoralising for everyone else! How do you work with a micromanager without going crazy or quitting?

There are strategies you can implement that will help you work with a micromanager. They take a long time, but they are worth initiating if you love your job or don’t want to quit.

When working with a micromanager, you need to realise two things. Firstly, your manager will have high anxiety, and you will need to manage this.

Secondly, you need to build trust between the two of you. They need to trust you explicitly, and you have to work very hard never to let them down.

What do they expect from you?

The first thing you need to work on is how you communicate with your Executive. The lines of communication need to be open and honest.

I know this is hard to do with a micromanager. If you are honest, everything will spill out about how much you hate their micromanaging! Instead, be realistic about your expectations and ask them to be honest about theirs. What standards are the most important to them?

Once you understand this, you can work at that level.

Please keep them in the loop at all times.

Again, this is frustrating, but you must remind yourself that they must know this. They will feel out of control and anxious if they don’t know what is happening.

So, you should check in with them daily, write updated reports on your work and schedule regular catch-ups. When working with a micromanager, you should get ahead of the problem. You know they want to be involved and are worried when they are not in the loop.

So, share everything. Please keep them in the loop and manage the flow of information.

Take the initiative but take it slowly.

Once you feel like you have gained trust, you can start taking action.

The thing with micromanagers is that they take on way too much work that is probably below their pay grade and causes a lot of stress.

They need a robust Assistant to take tasks away from them and organise their day so that they can concentrate on the bigger-picture stuff. Again, it is hard work, but you must over-deliver every day with a micromanager.

They need to be impressed.

You need to anticipate their concerns and work one, maybe even two steps ahead of them.

How do you do this?

Get involved in everything that they do. Ask lots of questions and read everything that goes to them (via email and any paperwork). If they are always asking you about your work or reminding you of deadlines, ensure you hit them way ahead of time.

You know they will ask you, so why not reply with, ‘well, actually, I’ve already done it, and the details are on your desk/ email’?

Do they have enough work?

I know this isn’t your job, but it is worth considering.

Do they have enough work to keep them busy?

I’ve worked with micromanagers before who micromanaged because they didn’t have a lot of work and needed to fill their day with something. It probably doesn’t improve your career if you are in the position. You want to work with an Executive who is dynamic and moving the organisation forward.

Their work should matter, and so should yours. If you are working with a micromanager who doesn’t have much on their plate, it might be worth looking for another role.

Can you tell them they are micromanaging?

It depends on the type of Executive you work for and their personality.

If you work for a well-meaning Executive, you should try to converse with them. They will be so stressed about ‘letting go’ of work that talking to someone about their anxiety might be a relief. If you work in a more restrictive environment and are uncomfortable offering that feedback, you should probably address the issue in your performance review.

Make it about you rather than them. Ask for more challenging projects. Say you would like to complete some tasks from start to finish on your own, updating them frequently, but something that challenges you. If you get this chance, regularly thank them for the opportunity and their trust.

As I said, working with a micromanager is not easy for an Assistant. Still, it is manageable if you try to understand their point of view and work with them over a long time to get them to trust you and see that you are excellent at your job and have the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Taking the initiative and being curious

Three exceptionally experienced Executive Assistants talk about taking the initiative at work to increase their career options as Executive Assistants and the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Taking the initiative has led our three panellists to a more enjoyable and fulfilling assistant career and allowed their organisation to tap their skills fully.

How to think more analytically

Asking thoughtful questions

This is the first step towards thinking more analytically.

Asking good, thoughtful questions will always help you dive deeper into the conversation and help you stand out as someone striving to learn more.

You want to ensure that your questions are specific and get the required information, so it is always best to prep your questions before your conversation or meeting.

If you are attending a team meeting or one-to-one with your Executive, read all the documentation around the event and think of some questions that might help push your workload along or your Executive’s projects.

If you can’t think of anything specific that you want to drill down on, sometimes a simple ‘can you tell me more about that?’ will help you learn more about the project or task.

Be careful when you ask questions, and find an appropriate time. For instance, you might want to follow up on it after the meeting.

Data analysis

Whatever industry you are in, there will be a ton of data that helps your Executive make decisions about the business.

For Assistants, we always see these reports, graphs, spreadsheets and presentations. We often print everything out or send everything over to our Executive without reading the material.

We are busy people, so I get it!

But, try to find the time to understand what your Executive is reading so that you know what they know and help them make decisions based on the data and findings presented.

Information seeking

This is something that Assistants are good at innately.

We are often tasked with information exploring – think of the famous quote from The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda asks Andy, “Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning.”

We always have to seek information, find things and make arrangements with few details.

Analytical people can use various tools and sources to gather information and present it in the correct format.


Judgement is a fantastic skill to have and use at work. Using your judgement takes time. It is considered, and you look at all the facts before deciding.

This ability usually comes with a level head and a panoramic view of everything happening.

For Assistants, we are often asked to make decisions regularly, usually when something has gone wrong, or someone needs something urgent from us.

These high-pressure situations are much easier to deal with when practised to use your judgement.

Experience, knowledge, and awareness of what is going on in judgement can be improved.

If you spend time with your Executive and get to know their thoughts, you can also make judgement calls based on what you think they would do in that situation.


Last but not least, it is always good to have a little bit of doubt in our line of work when someone tells us something is urgent, for instance!

Balancing scepticism with openness is crucial, but having a good healthy dose of scepticism is helpful, especially around pricing and when you need to negotiate with a supplier.

In conclusion, the qualities of a successful strategic business partner can be learned by any Executive Assistant who is passionate about advancing through their career.