I had a fascinating conversation with a former work colleague recently who has had a varied career – she started out as a legal secretary, then moved to a personal assistant, then an executive assistant to the CEO of a listed company, to then owning her own small business providing EAs to executives in large corporations.


Her business started from a desire to see others succeed; and because she felt that secretaries often thought they should be designated as executive assistants when they were not really fulfilling that role. I asked her what she thought the difference was between a secretary and an executive assistant.


She said to put it simply, an executive assistant does all the things that a secretary does, but has much more responsibility with many, very senior level responsibilities. Some of which including research, personal contact with clients and suppliers, client database management, travel and conference planning, along with a host of other things she never imagined doing, such as organising a surprise birthday party for her boss’ husband.


She paused at this point and said that the fundamental thing an executive assistant must do is to understand why her boss does what he or she does. Understanding the person you are working for and what their goals are, both personally and professionally, as well as the values of the organisation, is of paramount importance for an executive assistant. That will give them a very clear understanding of what their responsibilities are to help the boss achieve those goals.


In a nutshell, the skills you need to move from being a secretary to an executive assistant include:


  • exceptional typing skills;
  • attention to detail;
  • perfect spelling, grammar, punctuation;
  • superior skills in most Office products;
  • time management and the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once;
  • confidentiality – not just discretion;
  • sound judgment;
  • problem solving skills;
  • the ability to stay calm under pressure; and
  • resilience


An executive assistant to a CEO, for example, is in effect representing that CEO, both within the workplace and outside. Appropriate dress standards, a confident manner, and a respectful persona are all necessary.


It is not an easy job, she said, but it is one that is incredibly rewarding. So think about your career – do you have what it takes to be an Executive Assistant?