5 essential traits of a great executive assistant

A business woman working at a desk in front of a computer.
(Image credit: Claudio Scott / Pixabay)

In order to understand what makes a great executive assistant, we must first understand their responsibilities. These will typically involve managing a senior member of staff’s calendars and schedules, including making travel arrangements and communicating with the necessary people in order to make things happen.

When an executive assistant isn’t directly organizing their executive’s work schedule, they will take on other responsibilities such as maintaining a clear filing system, taking minutes in meetings, and other managerial responsibilities. 

Likely to be the point of contact for many members of staff and clients, an executive assistant serves as the face of their elected exec. A successful assistant will have these five traits:

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1. Excellent communication skills 

An executive assistant will find themselves talking to all manner of people, from high-level managers and external clients to members of staff and colleagues. Being able to set the correct tone is crucial.

Top-tier executives are among the most likely in a company to be communicating with people outside of the business, and being able to interact professionally and foster relationships will only prove valuable in the long term. 

This extends beyond verbal communication. A large portion of their time will be spent writing letters and emails, and even taking minutes in some meetings, so spelling, grammar and punctuation should be on point. 

With multiple teams working under any one executive, their assistant is likely to find themselves in a position of authority, often relaying information and instructions. A good assistant will be able to balance being approachable with giving clear, precise instructions and directions.

2. Multitasking and organizational skills 

An executive assistant will usually be working in a fast-paced environment and keeping up with the numerous company operations and supporting its leaders can be a tiresome task.

With so many responsibilities -  ranging from scheduling meetings to sending out communications - being able to prioritize jobs is key to any executive assistant’s success, and juggling more than one thing at once is only likely to help.

Furthermore, a strong candidate will be able to anticipate their manager’s needs ahead of time and have the right resources prepared.

Because a working day in the life of an assistant is likely to be hectic, setting expectations and maintaining boundaries will not only have its place in work but will also benefit their mental health. Working hard throughout the day will help them to finish tasks and allow them to unplug at the end of the day and reconnect with their personal life.

3. Professionalism 

In many cases, an executive assistant is likely to be the face of the company, and the person that clients may speak to before a high-level manager. A sense of professionalism will go a long way in creating the right impression.

Attention to detail and a high level of discretion should make a successful assistant, who is likely to face all the crises that an executive is unable to deal with.

An assistant also serves as a gatekeeper to the company’s employees, and anybody seeking to book time to speak with a manager will have to go through their assistant, which can give an assistant exposure to a variety of thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be directed towards the person in charge.

Finally, due to the fast nature of a business, mistakes are likely to be made as execs work to tight deadlines. Their assistants are often the last line of defense, and should be able to rectify any errors in a timely manner.

4. Collaborative and people skills 

Being an executive assistant can be tough, having to communicate with high-level managers, wealthy clients and investors, and the company’s workers and customers, each of whom demanding their own style and method of communication. 

Assistants should develop a great working relationship with their executive, with whom they will spend most of their day. A great trait is to be personable while maintaining a high enough level of professionalism that prevents the crossing of any boundaries.

Building a relationship with a manager’s close circle, including other execs, will help further down the line when collaborative tasks call on other people.

5. Constant development 

An executive assistant’s role will closely mirror an executive’s role, which means they are likely to be exposed to a whole host of new business protocols and procedures. A willingness - and ability - to learn is vital.

While the job will involve some exciting opportunities, data entry in some form will make up the bulk of most daily tasks, so a strong grasp on this is a must. Any opportunities for further training and development should be taken, which not only serves to improve skills but shows great initiative. 

At minimum, an executive assistant should be competent in suites like those offered by Microsoft, Apple, and Google, and should be able to type at a respectably high speed in order to keep up with the fast-paced nature and work in an efficient manner.

An assistant will likely be the first port of call before larger teams like IT, so being able to remedy easy fixes is a particularly useful skill with time-saving properties.

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Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!