What has winning the PA of the Year Award meant to you?
It feels amazing. I’m so delighted to have won; to have national recognition for my work is definitely my career highlight to date. I’m totally elated and I’m actually still waiting for the realisation that I won to properly sink in.
How has this impacted upon your professional life?
Although I only very recently won the award, I’ve had lots of emails from PAs across the country congratulating me, and some invitations to speak at PA events. It’s been fantastic as I’m always keen to meet and talk to PAs that share my passion for the profession. My colleagues at ELEXON have been very congratulatory too, and my boss Peter is very proud.
What do you think set your nomination apart?
I’m not sure. I’m just very passionate about how varied, demanding and fulfilling the PA role can be and I gave some examples of how I’ve grown my own role. I originally started ELEXON as PA to the CFO and was very eager and willing to expand the role. Within a couple of months I had been promoted to PA to the Chairman, CEO and CFO, so I was doing a job previously held by two people.
I continued to expand my role by getting involved in a number of important company-wide initiatives and projects: for example, the Customer Service Improvement Forum. I further developed my role when I was promoted to Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive, my current position, where I support the Chief Executive in a range of tasks and have line management responsibility for my own assistant.
I have been a PA at ELEXON for nearly 2.5 years, and in this time I have worked hard to prove that a PA role can be far wider than administrative work. I’m also very pleased that I’ve demonstrated that there can be career progression for PAs in my company.
What key skills and competencies do you need to become an exceptional PA?
First and foremost, PAs need to fully understand the business’s corporate strategic objectives. A PA’s role is to assist their Director in the achievement of these, so being able to prioritise them and work towards them is essential.
I also think that PAs should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as they are constantly meeting and liaising with very senior personnel. PAs also need to be fantastic organisers and confident, decisive crisis managers, as they are required to smoothly manage the constantly changing priorities of Directors. I think having a proactive and willing attitude is vital, as is having a discreet manner, as PAs are frequently required to deal with highly confidential or sensitive information.
Last but not least, I think PAs should have a real passion for the role. Our role has evolved so much in recent years; PAs bring a considerable amount of value to organisations, and we should be vocal about that to ensure that our demanding roles are recognised.
What are the most difficult aspects of the job and how do you overcome these?
One challenging aspect of the role is dealing with difficult people. If you’re a PA to a senior figure, you have to interact with some very influential and senior people, some of which can have quite a temper or ego and can be quite rude. I deal with them by reminding myself that it’s not personal and that regardless of their behaviour I’m a professional and will act in that manner.
Another difficult aspect of the role is time pressure. PAs juggle a million and one tasks and face demanding deadlines and it can get very stressful. I’m a big fan of ‘to do’ lists, where I list tasks in a prioritised order and make sure I work through them in that priority order.
Lastly, PAs need to manage their bosses and this can be tough: you need to be aware of your boss’ mental energy and act accordingly. This means that sometimes you have to push back on people and absorb pressure for your boss. Other times, even if your boss is having a difficult time, you may need to be very firm to ensure deadlines are met. The role really isn’t as easy as some people might think.
What advice would you give to PAs who want to advance their careers?
Go for it. Make time for your own personal development. I know this can be hard as PA roles are very busy, but it’s vital to take time out to decide how you want your career to progress. A great thing about being a PA is that you have a very close relationship with an influential senior person: your boss. Make sure you talk to your boss about your career aspirations so that he or she can support you, and ensure that you achieve your goals. Whether this is by approving training and study leave, securing involvement on particular projects, setting you up with some of their contacts to pursue new avenues or expanding your current role, you’ll never know what’s possible until you try asking for it. I’ve always been very open and honest with my bosses about my career ambitions and I’m very grateful for the fact that they’ve given me such fantastic support in developing and widening my role.
Is there any specific training that you found useful and would recommend?
I would highly recommend the APA Diploma in Personal Assistance. It’s a fantastic, varied and challenging course that really helps PAs to understand how to work more strategically, really effectively manage their boss and add maximum value to their business. I am also hoping to go on the Castalia PA Retreat later this year.
Do you think PAs get the credit they deserve?
Unfortunately I don’t think that PAs always do receive the recognition they should. The PA role has evolved tremendously in recent years, and I’m not sure everyone quite understands what many modern PA roles entail: for example management responsibility, seats on boards and involvement in key strategic projects.
As PAs we all need to work together to overcome this prejudice. If and when you come across people that don’t understand the PA role, enlighten them to the truth about what the modern PA does and how important the role is. We’ll beat the outdated stereotype a lot faster if we’re all out there correcting people.
I’m very grateful for The Hays and The Times PA of the Year Award. It’s really successful at elevating the status of PAs and adjusting out of date perceptions about us.
Are there any other tips or general advice that you would like to share?
Join any and every PA group that you can. It’s fantastic meting other like-minded people and you really do make some great business contacts and friends.