A secretary used to be a status symbol and it was reserved for the favored few. Today, technology has stopped the need for flawless touch-typing and the secretary’s role has been transformed into what we call Personal Assistant or PA.
According to Cameron Lindsay, Associate Director of Office Services at leading recruitment consultancy, Search: “A good PA is a professional in their own right and can expect to earn a middle-management salary”
She adds that “the difference between a secretary and a PA is vast, in terms of the expectations of both employer and candidate, so recruiters confuse the two at their peril.”
In other words, a secretary should be able to expertly take a message for the manager she take care of whereas a PA should take the initiative to resolve the issue, running further investigation or delegating responsibility within much wider boundaries.
A PA can many times play a project management role; by keeping his/her superior informed, he/she can take decisions daily to see projects through to completion with a minimum of supervision.
As a result, while the salaries of secretaries have not progressed significantly over the last decade, the ones related to PAs have well increased. This is because the PA job is similar to the remuneration of a marketing or HR manager.
A good PA can progress into a management role. He/she can build successful careers in event or project management as a result of the skills and contacts they have collected.
For Cameron, “A good PA will command the respect of her boss and her peers and very often things would fall apart far more quickly if the PA falls sick than the member of the executive team. It’s the old multi-tasking thing; PA’s juggle responsibilities effortlessly and take a huge pressure off of the individuals or teams they support”.
This increase in status means that there are an increasing number of male PAs, but the job stays tremendously dominated by women.
PAs are not only the gatekeepers to the highest echelons of the business but they are the first persons contractors have to impress.
- There is no one qualification which unites PAs, and good secretarial skills are largely taken for granted. It is more the personal characteristics which will propel someone to the top of their profession – and make no mistake; good PAs are headhunted as much as any other manager, Cameron says.
- Some PAs will add to their CVs by taking additional qualifications in design or publishing, accounts management or even languages, but it’s the sheer force of character to stand up to Executive egos and to keep their heads while chaos reigns around them that separates the wheat from the chaff.
- The market for good PAs is extremely healthy and looks likely to continue to grow as managers continue to take on broader and broader roles.
- When managers admit they couldn’t do their jobs without their PA to back them up, they are not being coy or flattering. In our experience at Search, they are being entirely truthful. And their PAs know it too.