Real Careers: Karla Danielle Heywood

Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to 21 countries to date: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the USA and Wales.  Today, we make our way to Stockport, Hyde in England.

Karla Danielle Heywood is Executive Personal Assistant to the faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University. Here’s a look at her world.

Another Dedicated Equestrian

The first thing I do when my alarm goes off is check my emails!

I have a horse, so this is my second port of call.  I wake at 7:00, do the usual morning things EXCEPT breakfast, and then arrive at the stables (approximately a two-minute drive) at 7:30. I often have my work trousers and vest on with waterproofs over the top as I give the horses their breakfast, turn them out in the field, muck the stables ready for the evening … and then take off my waterproofs, wash my hands, etc., and drive into work. I’m normally putting my blouse and jacket on in the multi-storey car park, and my go to hair style is normally pinned up,  which means I don’t look windswept when I arrive!

My drive to the office is approximately an hour. I normally arrive at around 8:55 for a 9:00 a.m. start. Who or what is on your commuting playlist or podcast? Key 103’s “Game of Phones” at 8:30 every morning sees a male and female contestant go head to head. They’re given a letter of the alphabet and are asked questions, which they must answer beginning with that letter. It’s a good brain warm up on the way to work.

At the Office

Morning Routines: The first thing I do at home each morning is check my email, so I normally know what to expect when I come into the office. As soon as I arrive, I then check messages again, as the first port of call is to get any papers together ready for my Exec. Then, it’s a coffee for both of us and Weetabix for me, normally whilst catching up and going through the week ahead. Only on very rare occasions will his first meeting of the week not be with myself!

Primary Responsibilities: Well … there’s diary management as well as meeting and greeting visitors; we sometimes have up to 15 meetings per day! There’s also Faculty Executive Group support, which implies agenda, minutes, etc.

Faculty staffing is another responsibility. We have approximately 200 Academic staff members, and I coordinate induction information and IT, etc. I’m responsible for keeping track of leavers, replacements, funding for positions, job grades, roles, salaries, mobile phone bills, online profiles for individual staff members, and promotion.

I also focus on budget management. Along with the accountant, I’m responsible for ensuring all staff adhere to the university budget policies, and keep the executive up to date on any expenditure I think is “over and above”. I can approve up to £10,000 worth of expenditures on his behalf, and hold a company credit card. This is an enormous part of my role, and I am tasked with reducing expenditures and ensuring there is value for money on all purchases.

How long is your work day? I work from 9:00 to 4:45, with a 45 minute lunch. This can vary with “away days”, when I’ll arrive earlier and leave later. In the run up to one of these days, I find I can work until 7:00 p.m. We do get “TOIL” (time off in lieu) for any agreed upon out of hours office work we do. This is a huge bonus, but the challenge is finding the time to take it back!

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch? I almost always try to take a lunch break, even if it’s walking to the local shop … anything that doesn’t involve emails, so I can give myself chance to switch off and recharge. I never used to do this until I heard a few PAs talk at Office Show 2015 about how vital this is! I realise now how much more focused you are when you settle back into work after a lunch break, rather than steaming through half charged.

Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? We are not allowed to work at home, and during office hours you HAVE to be present in the office. But I find I’m doing emails easily till 10:00 p.m. when needed, and from 7:00 a.m. onward.  I am always on my email, even when off sick or on leave. I’m scared of missing anything and like to stay on top of matters. I do of course delegate the work that comes through in these periods if it’s urgent, but having an eye on my emails is an absolute must for me.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? My job isn’t flexible. I don’t get to work from home, and work in a large, open plan office which can sometimes be challenging.  We are line managed by an admin. team so my exec isn’t my boss, which sometimes has its disadvantages. Another challenge is when others in the immediate team don’t realise how heavy your workload is.

I appreciate that my boss really listens to me and helps me implement change

What do you most enjoy about your career? I have a great relationship with my exec, and have a formed a great friendship from working so closely! I enjoy managing my own workload, and appreciate that my boss really listens to me and helps me implement change.

On Saying “No”

I say “no” quite a lot. The more you say it, the easier it becomes – and having the backing of my exec to say no is also great! Some of the ways I say no …

  • Delegate to others who are capable: No, but XXX will be able to help.
  • No, but try this person – and if they can’t help you, I’ll see what I can do.
  • Negotiate timelines: No, I’m sorry. I have something else to do, but could look at it tomorrow after lunch.
  • No. Sorry; my exec has me working on this as a priority.
  • When people try to push their work onto you: No. Sorry; this is really within your remit.
Karla’s World

Map of worldI’m from Stockport, Hyde. I’m definitely a countryside person, and spend time away from work horse riding.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Spending time at the yard, and going for nice lunches/evening meals

A dream holiday or travel adventure? Somewhere that involves a lot of activity and exploring

Professional Development

Peer and Professional Associations: I’m very lucky. In my current role, most CPD (Certified Professional Development) I want to do is allowed and costs are covered to a certain extent.



Preferred form(s) of social media? Twitter

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Canva for designing, Doodle Poll for organising suitable meeting times, and OneNote for collaboration work

 Email management will save you so much time

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? Smart trousers and a nice blouse!

Heels or flats in the office? Flats! For your commute? Slippers! Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Aldo

What might we find in your desk drawer? Chewits, Snack a Jacks, a lot of good stationery hidden from everyone else, slippers for when I get cold feet in the office, and an extra cardigan!

Travel or travel planning advice? Book in advance for the best price, and book flexible tickets so that you can change them if need be!

The more you say no, the easier it becomes

Inspirational reads? Definitely Lucy Brazier from Executive Secretary and Nicky Christmas from Practically Perfect PA

Role models or mentors? Angela Mann was my manager when I first started at MMU. She was the Projects Manager, and was amazing. Angela taught me so much – things I didn’t even need to know at the time, that have since proved invaluable. She believed in me and knew I would excel! We’re still in touch now.

On Karla’s role model: Angela Mann taught me so much … she believed in me and knew I would excel

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. I was originally working for the University within an events management role, and was approached by the Head of Academic Services to take this job role on secondment. Eight different PAs had previously worked in the position.

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I definitely want to progress, but I’m not sure what that may look like. I’ve worked in events and project management and thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoy budget management and using my initiative. Maybe a business development or managerial role, probably moving away from governance and secretariat.

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Keep a good to do list, and don’t overlook email management. It will save you so much time!

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal? Ask, “What does an ideal day look like for you?” Learn about start and finish times, whether they like gaps after meeting or prefer to hold them back to back,  and the average duration of their meetings.

Learn to delegate

Your most effective time management strategy? Good email management. If you have stones and sand, you put the stones in first and then the sand after … it then fits in around the stones, otherwise it wouldn’t all fit. Work out what are your stones and which is the sand that will fit around them! If you do ALL your sand tasks first, you won’t fit the stones in. If you can answer an email quickly and get rid of it, do it there and then!

Learn to delegate to team members. Decide which tasks you will delegate and get the manager’s support. Explain how you want a task done, and then you don’t have to explain each time.

Get to a few networks and read some blogs

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Brace yourself and get on some courses where possible. Times change so quickly in this role, with technology ever changing. Get to a few networks and read some blogs!

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: I find it helps if you form a friendship. You need to be open with one another. I worked with an assistant whose executive who would tell her everything was fine, but then blow up two weeks later. Honesty is brutal but key.

For those interested in promotion: Work hard. Just because you’re paid to work from 9:00 till 5:00 doesn’t mean those are the hours you’ll actually work – but it WILL pay off!

Do a task to the best of your ability and ask for feedback! Try and find a buddy to help you with things. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn!


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Karla mentioned may be interested in checking the following links.

To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.

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