Serena Tang is associate director at Page Personnel Hong Kong.
How can an executive assistant make their voice heard?
Last year I joined a multinational company as an executive assistant (EA) to a C-suite executive. In my previous company, which was smaller, I held a PA position and felt like a valuable member of the team, able to contribute ideas and opinions. However, in my new role, I feel like any input beyond arranging things for my boss and taking meeting minutes is discouraged. Is this common for EA positions in larger companies? Is there anything I can do to be viewed as a more important member of the team, given my role?
The role and level of involvement of an executive assistant is highly dependent on the nature of the business and the person you support. It is also shaped by the previous incumbent in your role, who may have defined the job description for that position.
The C-suite executive you support is likely limited to making decisions and may not be part of the development of the ideas that led to these decisions. The matters in which this executive is engaged may also be more high-level and confidential, in which case it may not be appropriate for you to provide input.
Regarding EA involvement in strategy, the size of the company does matter. In boutique firms where there may be limited resources, employees often wear multiple hats, and you may be invited, if not required, to do more. A larger company may be better structured, and each role is defined and highly specialised. Your executive, for example, likely has a team of experts that contribute ideas.
You are experiencing a classic dilemma: is it better to play a big role in a small company or hold a small role in a big company? There are pros and cons to either role and both serve as good career development. Now that you have progressed from a smaller company to a larger one, you have the opportunity to build on your experience and work toward playing a bigger role in a big company.
To expand your involvement in the business and be viewed as a more important member of the team in your current role, you should start by building trust and excelling in what you were recruited to do. This adds credibility to your input and also earns you the right to make requests, be they for flexibility of hours or more responsibilities. If you can’t manage basic tasks, you will not be trusted to have a say in more important matters.
When communicating your concerns, ensure the timing is good. After six to 12 months in the role, it is appropriate to initiate such a conversation – perhaps during a mid-year review or annual appraisal meeting. During the meeting, maintain a positive and professional attitude, show appreciation for the opportunity provided and ask for feedback. You can then ask for more involvement, be it via a particular project or additional tasks.
If your executive has not had an EA as interested in the business as you are, they may need to adjust expectations and expand the scope of your role.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as How can an executive assistant make their voice heard?