Here’s to career assistants on Administrative Professionals Day 2023 … and here’s to change

Here’s to you … today, and throughout the year

Today and every day, here’s to all the assistants who are continually developing because you treat what you do as a career! It’s Administrative Professionals Day 2023, and time we continue to progress beyond well-intended annual gestures of appreciation.

Let’s focus on ongoing professional development and recognising the value and potential high performing assistants offer. This is particularly relevant for HR teams and employers facing recruitment/retention challenges. Candy is dandy, yet investing in high performers is just good business.

It’s 2023. Let’s aim for an understanding of the potential high performing assistants offer employers, and a better understanding of the role itself

It’s no secret. Those who’ve been following this website since I launched it in 2013 will know I’ve long encouraged a shift away from well intended cards, flowers and lunches to mark Administrative Professionals Day and Week. I understand others have different views. I offer my comments as a speaker and trainer who was in the career myself for almost three decades, until 2018.

Rather than investing in an annual gesture of appreciation, employers would be well served through ongoing investments in professional development for the women and men in assistant roles. Despite recent reductions in some workplaces and sectors, many employers are facing costly recruitment and retention challenges. HR professionals and employers alike may want to assess just how well they understand the scope of contributions and the positive impacts high performing assistants offer – in their current roles, and as prospects for internal promotions.

You have a role in influencing perceptions

If you’re like me, you’ve likely found perceptions of assistant roles and the value you bring to an organisation can vary from one employer and principal (boss) to another. Many assistants enjoy well deserved respect, and thrive in workplace cultures where high performing assistants are recognised for all they bring to their respective organisations.

However, not all work environments are created equal. That means you may need to create opportunities to graciously elevate others’ understanding of this career. The way we speak about this career and the expertise we bring to our roles can have a bearing on what others think of the role. Change doesn’t happen overnight; this is an ongoing process.

Image and visibility

It’s not down solely to employers and your HR colleagues to better understand your skills, qualities, impacts and potential. Individually and collectively, assistants can collaborate to enhance perceptions of the role and the importance of investing in you and your development.

Our words and the manner in which we present ourselves have power. It’s up to you to determine whether you’ll tap in to that power, or toss it away. Be intentional in your communications. Do you use qualifiers that undermine your authority or expertise? If you’ve been in the room for one of my presentations on influence or on communications, you may recall me mentioning the day I realised I was doing just that during a phone conversation with a board Chair! I made an immediate commitment to myself that I’d not do so again. Do you present yourself confidently, and justifiably so on the basis of being well informed?

Approach networking with a sense of curiosity and genuine interest in others and their careers. Rather than sticking solely to “like-minded people”, a term I frequently see, make a point of also connecting with people outside your immediate circle. Expose yourself to views and ideas that may lead you to challenge your perceptions.

When you invest time and energy in professional development and networking, let your employer know. Demonstrate relevant returns on investments (ROI). When you’ve generated efficiencies or done something that created positive impacts, quantify and communicate this in a timely manner. None of this represents bragging. Done right, it helps raise your profile and supports an understanding of your role.

Some are daunted by the concept of networking, yet you needn’t be an extrovert to connect with others. Think about networking in the context of sharing and gaining insights and expertise, and as an ambassador for your organisation as well as the career. It’s not uncommon, when you expand your network, to find you’re able to facilitate introductions or introduce new ideas or efficiencies to the workplace.

When it comes to networking, avoid a numbers game. Go, instead, for meaningful conversations and exchanges, be they in person or digital. I subscribe to Elizabeth Bibesco’s approach: give without remembering, and take without forgetting.

Be a continual learner, and expand your scope of knowledge

Across careers, the way we work and the skills we’ll require are changing. ChatGPT, which I’ve written about on LinkedIn, here and elsewhere – as the cover article for the latest issue of Executive Support Magazine –  is merely one more indicator of the importance of being able to adapt and learn. It helps when we invest energy in understanding our organisation’s strategy, opportunities and challenges. Where will you invest time, energy and perhaps your personal budget when it comes to learning?

You may already hold an undergraduate or graduate degree, or a certificate or diploma. Whether or not you hold – or pursue – formal credentials, think about what will serve you and your employers (present and future) well when it comes to learning, professional development, and personal and professional growth. Your organisation routinely deals with matters such as risk management, strategic planning, cyber awareness and more. What do you know about these topics, or others in which your principal is engaged?

ESG, also known as environmental, social and governance, will already be on some employers’ radar, and will be appearing on more and more agendas before long. Be curious; think beyond the current parameters of your career.

Think, as well, about your aspirations for three, five and 10 years from now. It’s challenging to identify just what may serve you well a decade from now, yet we can start with the short and near term and then continue to rework and refine our sense of what will serve us well in the longer term.

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