Upskill in These Executive Assistant Qualities to Succeed, No Matter Your Position

UPDATED: January 24, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 12, 2023
skilled executive assistant helping boss

Attention to detail. Problem-solving skills. Creativity. All qualities you’d like to embody professionally, right? As that oft-quoted expression goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” What better group to model yourself after than executive assistants? These individuals keep many of us on task and thriving. They also have a lot to teach us about how to be better employees and team members. Here are a few typical executive assistant qualities you can adopt to help you find success, no matter your role.

4 executive assistant skills everyone needs

1. Approaching problems creatively

People often equate creativity to writing a bestselling novel or creating a stunning piece of art. In a professional sense, creativity could be producing a killer presentation deck, but more often it means bringing new ideas and fresh perspective to a problem. Executive assistants are not simply order-takers. Thanks to their experience and connections throughout an organization, they’ve developed ways of thinking and shortcuts that not only enable them to complete tasks faster, but better. 

Does their leader need to free up 20 minutes in their packed schedule to meet with someone? That executive could become quickly overwhelmed at just the thought of navigating competing priorities and overbookings. The executive assistant, though, can bring calm to the chaos, using good judgment and skilled intuition to prioritize appropriately. It’s a quality we should all strive for: to go beyond the question at hand to deliver a well-considered solution. To that end…

2. Maintaining a calm and composed demeanor

Executive assistants are a reflection of who they assist. They’re often on the frontlines of customer service to both an internal and external audience. They’re the ones fielding calls, welcoming clients and collaborating with others in the organization when their executive makes an ask. If they make a good impression, that serves to further bolster an executive’s credibility and reputation. 

In moments of high stress, an executive assistant can be called upon to help their leader get someone on the line, make last-minute travel arrangements or make sense of that leader’s calendar. These individuals don’t add to the stress; rather, their efficiency and ability to get answers helps steady everyone’s nerves. Your demeanor is also a reflection of who you work for. It pays to keep that in mind throughout all your interactions, both internal and external.

3. Being an effective gatekeeper

As a function of being on the frontlines, executive assistants are often skilled gatekeepers of information. They are the ones who decide, for example, what email to reflag for their leader, which phone call is important enough to interrupt a meeting or when to simply take a message and pass it along later. To be empowered to make these often-critical decisions, the executive assistant must understand the goals of their executive and anticipate how the executive would handle a situation. In other words, executive assistants are akin to a ghostwriter of a speech. The writer must do their due diligence to ensure the speech reflects the speechmaker’s voice, preferences and how they might describe elements of the company. 

This begs the question: How can you be an effective gatekeeper for your manager? Are there things you can handle or take off their plate? When you’re developing a presentation or report, think about the questions your manager would ask and how they might put something together. Then include those thoughts and framework in your deliverable.

4. Good memory and superior organizational skills

Remember that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy Sachs, whispers the names of guests and pertinent details as the throngs approach Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly? Priestly is seamlessly able to shine and focus on building relationships because she has Sachs’ support.

A busy executive doesn’t have time for an executive assistant to rifle through emails or unearth that Post-it note from a stack of paper to find out who they’re meeting with that afternoon. A great executive assistant quality is being prepared to simply rattle off the executive’s schedule. And if an important client is visiting, they also might mention a personal detail they recall (i.e., Mrs. Jones just had her first grandchild. Mr. Sharp is taking a sabbatical next month). 

So yes, keep your inbox clean and your memory sharp. And before beginning and ending your day, it’s also a good idea to review what you and your team’s priorities are. That way you’re well versed in what you’re hoping to accomplish and how you fit into the overall process, whatever questions or requests come your way. Diligence and preparation, coupled with good memory and great organizational skills? You’re starting to behave like an invaluable executive assistant.

Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Jill McDonnell

Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.