The Unique and Important Role of the PA

Paula.pngAs an ambassador for the EA/PA profession, Paula Harding knows how important, rewarding and challenging the role of a Personal Assistant (PA) can be. ILSPA had the pleasure of talking to Paula about the role of the PA and what she feels makes a PA efficient and successful. 

Can you give us a brief explanation of what the role of a PA involves and how it differs from a Secretary?

As a PA, you would work with your Executive/s to manage their everyday business tasks. In addition, you are often considered as a confidante and sounding board to share and discuss ideas and challenges with. The role is strategic and operational, and will incorporate middle management duties such as project and budget management. A PA must be proactive and capable of making independent decisions on behalf of the Executive.

A Secretary is more of a transactional role employed to deal with correspondence, make appointments and carry out administrative tasks.

In your experience, what characteristics/skills does a good PA need?

* Resilience. You have to have the ability to get through tough days and bounce back from setbacks.

* Proactive. You must be able to manage your own workload and think and plan ahead.

* Not afraid to challenge. An Executive doesn’t want a “yes” person. If you think something isn’t right or if you don’t agree, say so.

* Confidentiality. You must never betray your Executive’s confidence or you will lose trust and respect. 

* Positive. Your Executive will need you to be the one who can get them through.

* Solution-orientated. You need to be able to think outside the box and solve problems. 

* Inter-personal skills. You have to build relationships with everyone, both internal and external stakeholders.

If you had one piece of advice for people looking to enter the profession, what would it be?

If you are in a position to try either a temporary or voluntary role, this would be a great way to find out if you enjoy the role and to determine if you have the aptitude for it. It is a complex role and you don’t really understand that until you have done it. If you can’t find that opportunity, look for a role that has transferable skills, such as an Administrator, Training Coordinator or HR Administrator – there are many different administrative roles. Start building up your skills and review PA job descriptions online to see what skills you need to develop. If a PA role comes up in your organisation, you will be in a good position to note your interest. If you are not successful, ask what it is you could do to be considered for the next role.

What is it about being a PA/EA that you love?

I love the fact that I make a difference in my Executives’ lives. I get enormous satisfaction from that. No two days are the same – there is such variety. You are heavily involved with the running of the organisation, and it is both extremely interesting and exciting to be a part of it.

As a PA, what’s the best thing you can do for your boss?

As I mentioned above, to be a confidante. It makes such a difference for your Executive to have an ally.

Paula is an Executive Assistant at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) supporting Professor Philip Padfield, Dean of Education, and the Senior Management Team. She is a member of the PA Hub, Executive and Personal Assistants Association, and the Institute of Administrative Management, and is an active member of business networking groups in Merseyside. An ambassador of the EA/PA profession, Paula is keen for EAs and PAs to discuss roles, to share knowledge and to network with business professionals to build business acumen and credibility.

We would like to thank Paula for taking the time to speak with us. For further insights and advice, connect with Paula on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.

If you are interested in becoming a Legal PA or would like to expand your skills and progress into the role, please contact us. ILSPA is here to help you in every step of your career, offering career advice and guidance to secure employment.