Portrait of an Indispensable Administrative Professional

administrative professional sitting at desk on the phone taking notes

Happy Administrative Professionals’ Day! For the past eight years, I’ve focused my recruiting practice on placing administrative support professionals. As a result, I’ve gained an appreciation for indispensable administrative professionals who take a firm or executive to new heights.

I recently visited with Anne Steward, one of the most impressive administrative professionals I’ve met, to understand the traits and behaviors administrative professionals must demonstrate to set themselves apart from the pack. After 13 years as a legal secretary at an Am Law 100 firm in Chicago, Anne recently relocated to Washington, DC and now supports four lobbyists at a non-profit. Here’s some insight as to the characteristics that led Anne to become indispensable.

What do you think makes someone successful in an administrative role?

I think there are several things you really need to focus on to be outstanding at this job. First, it’s very important to be team-oriented. Even if you work for the rainmaker of the firm, you have to be willing to pitch in when you’re needed. The support of your team will prove to be invaluable, and the relationships you form with your colleagues are an important ingredient of success. Another crucial component of success is to set your own personal goals. Obviously in a support role, you’re going to learn the goals and systems of the person you’re supporting. But make sure you’re also setting professional goals that you want to hit. For example, after supporting the litigation department for a number of years at my former firm, I knew I wanted to learn a different practice area, and so I worked hard and then was granted a request to support the construction law area, which gave me the opportunity to learn real estate law. Lastly, I think it’s really important to be open to where management wants you to serve your organization. If your supervisor wants you to move to support a different group or executive, embrace that change and get as much exposure as you can!

What’s a tip that you would give to an admin looking to excel and move forward?

I think one of the best things I would recommend is to pursue all the training you can, especially in the technology field. I remember our firm working on a project with MacPac, a document automation software system, and some of it went completely over my head. So I approached my supervisor and asked if I could go to a further training on the software. He agreed, and by me taking the initiative to gain expertise in it, I was asked to train others and soon became the lead on the project we were working on. I was granted permission to take advanced training courses in Visio, PowerPoint, Excel, and many other programs, and I feel that set me apart and prepared me well to advance.

It sounds like you were able to develop your skills to be in a position to train and lead others. What leadership skills do you think are most important in a role like yours?

The most important leadership skill I have picked up is that you truly have to acknowledge and ask for help when you need it. Some people are fearful to ask for help, thinking that it makes them look incapable, but your coworkers are your allies! As I mentioned before, being a team player yourself is vital in the workplace, but it’s just as important to lean on others when you need to as well. It’s also important to learn how to approach others; recognize who you should be reaching out to and respectfully ask to borrow their expertise or have them teach you a new skill.

What do you enjoy most about being an admin?

I have found that an administrative support role is a great fit for me professionally. I like supporting someone so that they can absolutely excel at what they do. I’ve also enjoyed all of the things I’ve been able to learn in the role. By supporting an individual or team in a certain practice area, you really pick up on a great deal and learn more about what your personal interests are. For example, I learned in the law firm by supporting different areas that I was specifically interested in policy and government affairs, and that led me to pursue my M.S. in non-profit management. Now in my role at the think tank, I’m able to use both my administrative experience and my academic pursuits to be the best I can be in my role.

If you’re an administrative professional, follow the advice of someone like Anne who’s been in your footsteps, and see how incorporating these strategies can propel you to new heights within your organization. If you’re a colleague of an admin, understand where you can support your teammate and how you can help them develop. And finally, if you’re looking for someone talented to fill an admin role in your office, look for some of these qualities when you make a hiring decision – and consult the experts at Special Counsel to help you find the right administrative professional for your firm or corporation!

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