Celebrating NHS Wales PA, and Those Who Lead

This is an open letter to the 420 or so members of the NHS Wales PA Network. A number of administrative colleagues of the Welsh National Health Service will be gathering for their annual conference on September 15th, and the occasion marks the network’s 10th anniversary.

I can picture it now. Little ones, teens and their parents have begun adjusting to the annual return to routines that inevitably force themselves upon you not long after the August Bank Holiday. While summers can be grand, many find there’s satisfaction to be had in a change of season, and Autumn is almost upon us. Back in the office, things have begun to settle back into their usual rhythms – that is, until Friday the 15th of September rolls around.

That’s when colleagues of roughly 120 members of the NHS Wales PA Network may be temporarily discombobulated. How so? Well, although you no doubt prepared them for it (and likely put in extra effort to have everything organised for your absence), some may have forgotten that this date marks a significant milestone. For a few NHS colleagues, it may be only when they step into the office Friday morning that they’ll remember they’ll have to manage without some of their EA, PA or Admin. Assistant colleagues for a bit.

You, on the other hand, have had this date ingrained in your schedule for some time. That’s perfectly understandable, because this date marks the NHS Wales PA Conference!


Happy 10th birthday to you!

Congratulations to the 420 or so members of the NHS Wales PA Network – and to the Directors and other leaders who astutely support its existence!

You’re likely reading this at some point in the conference when you’ve peered into the goody bags organisers thoughtfully put together for all participants. If you’re like me, you may be hoping for a bit of chocolate. Dark chocolate would do the trick, but you wouldn’t object to milk chocolate, either.

What you may not have been expecting, as you sit in the conference room at the Mercure Holland House Hotel, was a congratulatory note from some woman thousands of kilometers away, over the Atlantic and then all the way to the Pacific coast, at the western end of that massive country known as Canada.


Hold on a minute …

How does a woman living in Vancouver, Canada know anything about our network or where we’re holding our conference?,  you may ask. It’s simple, and it has nothing to do with my first visit to Wales, when we caught the ferry from Swansea to Cork.

Nope. I know about your network, and your conference this week, because I’m also a firm believer in the power of networks – both internal and external. While we’ve not yet met in person, I know your founder Catherine Thomas through external networks that reflect a global maturation of the admin. professional community.

I work full time with a board of directors and, in my down time, I publish Exceptional EA as a resource for Administrative Assistants, PAs, EAs and other admin. professionals around this planet of ours. While we needn’t treat ourselves as individuals too seriously, I write for people who take the admin. career seriously – people who want to perform at their highest possible level, while enjoying what they do.


In February 2016, I interviewed Catherine for my Real Careers series. She’s one of more than a hundred high performing admin. professionals I’ve interviewed from 23 countries to date, and the series is designed to help inspire and inform peers across the globe.

While I loved the photo Catherine provided for her interview (you’ll be unsurprised to know it has something to do with sheep!), something else that resonated was Catherine’s pride in the NHS Wales PA Network.

You see, I’ve also created two internal networks – one at the college where I now work, and another at my previous place of employment. In both instances, as did Catherine, I developed business plans. In both cases, I demonstrated to the CEO and C-Suite colleagues that an internal network would benefit the organisation as a whole. We launched the first such internal network in 2006 and, like your network, it’s still going strong. In my current workplace, I took a slightly different approach to naming the network; as a result, we identified it as a community of practice. Have a look at the drop-down options under the Your Career section of my website if you’d like to learn more.


A challenge for NHS Wales PA members

If you’re participating in this year’s NHS Wales PA conference, that in itself is a statement of the value your network holds for you.

As the Past Chair of a national board of directors, and as someone who has helped guide the success of more than a couple of networks, I have some insights on the work that’s involved in coordinating conferences such as yours.

Stepping up to the plate: taking action in response to an opportunity or crisis

Leading a conference is a labour of love; it’s a lot of work. You likely already recognise that. If I was in the room with you and your colleagues, and speaking these words to you in person, more than a few of you might avert your eyes because you’re intelligent and you’d know that this challenge relates to stepping up to the plate.

No, I’m not talking about food again! Stepping up to the plate is a baseball term here in North America; it implies a preparedness to take action in the face of opportunity or crisis. Now, I would view stewardship of the 2018 NHS Wales PA Conference as the former: an opportunity.

Stewardship of the 2018 NHS Wales PA Conference represents both work and a tremendous opportunity

Without benefit of direct experience guiding a network or organising a conference, it could be easy to underestimate how immensely rewarding the experience can be. Such leadership can be a tremendous opportunity for both personal and professional growth – and it’s healthy for the organisation.


Another change of season

There’s a reason, of course, that many democracies impose term limits. No matter how wonderful and talented a leader is, all organisations can benefit from periodic changes in leadership. Fresh eyes and perspectives can help build on past successes, and new leaders can always turn to those who’ve previously carried the load for advice and a friendly ear.

When I interviewed Catherine last year, for example, she said she owed a lot to Susie Barron-Stubley. Catherine commented that your network “… came to life after a conference 10+ years ago, where Susie Barron-Stubley spoke about the value of PA networks. By the time I had commuted back to Wales from London, I had written a business plan illustrating how we were going to implement a network in my organisation.”

I’d respectfully suggest (and Cath had no idea I’d be writing this) that your network owes a lot to both Catherine Thomas and Susie Barron-Stubley. Those of you who want to see another great conference in 2018 have the benefit of  Catherine’s experience, which can make stepping up to the plate that much more manageable.


You should know

Catherine asked me more than a few weeks ago to write a message to your network, to help you celebrate your 10th anniversary. She left the topic up to me but, as the date drew near, I asked  if there was any particular theme she’d like me to touch upon. She came back to me with a request to write about the importance of networking. You’ll find a few articles on the topic on my website, but I thought it important to focus in on your own network, and how you choose to guide its future.



I hope I have that right! Here’s to your 11th anniversary next year!

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