Chris Koney’s column: The art of being a professional executive assistant


A month ago, I had an interesting conversation with a group of industry professionals on various emerging trends within the business world during a three-day virtual marketing communications conference organized by a London based PR firm.

During one of the sessions, the speaker introduced the topic of which most of the participants appeared fixated with, the concept of Executive Assistants and the increasing demand for Executive Assistants by entrepreneurs, business owners and managers around the world.

Executive Assistants are high level administrative professionals who are able to maximize efficiency for their bosses and who are able to make decisions, on their behalf, based on the strategic direction of the business. Executive Assistants are highly autonomous and as well as covering various office management duties, they are also able to work at board level supporting their CEOs and Managing Directors as well as being able to provide administrative support on key projects.

Earlier this week, I had a lunch date with Alison Darkwah, the Founder and Managing Director of Executive PA Gem Consultancy Limited, a boutique training and recruitment company based in Ghana for aspiring executive assistants, personal assistants, secretaries and those in administrative roles.

Alison, a former Executive Assistant with over 20 years’ experience is now a trainer, recruiter and qualified NLP Practitioner with a well-established history in working within various sectors in the United Kingdom and Ghana.

Alison is exceptionally passionate about the role of an Executive Assistant and encourages it as a career choice, after experiencing a varied career journey herself. Our conversation was enlightening and gave me a deeper insight on the importance of an Executive and Personal Assistant within an organization.

Being an Executive Assistant can give you unprecedented access to Board Level Executives and the decision makers where an Executive Assistant is in a position to see all areas and understand exactly how a business is run and this is without any specific educational requirements. However, most Executive Assistants that Alison has interviewed, have a bachelor’s degree or other professional qualifications such as human resources or accounting, which helps develop foundational skills and knowledge.

“Executive Assistants don’t usually receive training, but they learn on the job – it also depends on what background they have come from, be it working in retail, hospitality (customer service) or an advertising company, the key qualities of an Executive Assistant is that they should have a core understanding about the business they work for, have exceptional organizational, diary management and communication skills, be a natural problem solver and are able to get things done, without being told what to do, those skills are either inherent or learned from previous similar roles,” she added.

A Personal Assistant administratively supports managerial teams, senior managers, department heads and reporting teams, whereby as a career path they can step up the career ladder to become an Executive Assistant. Some previous Executive Assistants have gone on to become Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officers or HR Managers in larger organizations – so the opportunities can be endless. This is one of Alison’s main goals with her team at Gem Consultancy.

Alison stated that whilst on the job it is important for Executive Assistants and Personal Assistants to continually update their skills, be tech savvy and are encouraged to pursue a certification or training in administrative support, project management or even an MBA which can add value to themselves, but at the same time, their experience will speak for itself and possibly increase their earning potential.

Executive Assistant salary ranges are extremely divided in Ghana – and there doesn’t seem to be any real obvious reasons for the pay gaps, except for what the company or executives are willing to pay.  What is evident is that Executive Assistants generally do receive a higher salary than that of a Personal Assistant.

“You are supposed to be a strategic working and thinking Executive Assistant and as you build your personal brand and network, you can be influential in any company you work for. Advance your relationship management with your executives and colleagues and understand how to apply emotional intelligence when resolving issues. It is also important to be a tech savvy Executive Assistant in diary and email management, this is the focus of our training programmes at Gem Consultancy,” Alison stated.

On July 29-30, Gem Consultancy will be conducting a two-day high level, interactive corporate training workshop designed to cover everything an Executive Assistant needs to know and learn to maintain their core value in an organization using practical exercises, such as diary and email management, time management, organizational skills and effective communication and listening exercises, including body language.

“The objective of this workshop is for Executive Assistants to understand themselves first, before understanding others. They will be able to identify the skills profile of a world class Executive Assistant and consciously become a strategic thinking Executive Assistant, recognizing the different working styles of their Executives.

In addition, the workshop will provide the tools on how to draft a professional business letter and proofread effectively as well as understand the different forms of communication styles using body language and improve on their listening skills.  The workshop will cover everything an Executive Assistant needs to know in setting themselves to being an influential Executive Assistant and Business Partner to their bosses,” she revealed.

There are 12 modules covered over the two days, so it’s a pretty intensive workshop – The participants will complete a personality test, discuss Relationship Management (the Executive Assistant and Executive Strategy), Emotional Intelligence and case study discussions relating to an Executive Assistant’s daily routine and responsibilities. Other areas also covered are modern day apps and technology, prioritization, organizational time management and confidentiality at work.

With the destructive impact of the coronavirus pandemic, one is tempted to ask what the future holds for Executive Assistants, is this the beginning of the end for the Executive Assistant?

“As I know, the position now, the Executive Assistant career is nowhere close to over, they are the lynchpin for any organization and to the executives they work for, and as more business owners and entrepreneurs recover and emerge from the pandemic, they will be looking for that ‘right hand person’ to work with them behind the scenes, to be their eyes and ears and to represent them and support them as the economy and their companies begins to grow. The Executive Assistant will do what they have always done, change and grow with the times,” Alison stated.

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