Celebrating the Administrative Professional

Did you know that last week was the annual observance of Administrative Professionals Week?  Sorry to say that this observance got past me this year. Usually I’ll hear mention of it on radio or television, or see in in fine print on a calendar, but this year I heard and saw nothing.  And it’s shame too, because the administrative professionals of this world keep business moving forward and deserve far more recognition than they usually receive.
Originated by the head of the National Secretaries Association, Mary Barrett and the president of the Dictaphone Corporation, C.K. Woodbridge, to promote the need for skilled office labor, the idea floated around and appealed to the executives at the Young & Rubican advertising agency for a National Secretaries Week back in the early ‘50’s.  The first official observance was in 1952.  Secretaries Day was usually observed on a Wednesday of National Secretaries Week.
Much has changed in the last 62 years.  For one, we hardly use the word “secretary” any more. Daily functions once performed by secretaries are no longer a requisite for an administrative position.  Today, a boss dictating a letter or memo to someone using shorthand to capture the content is very rare.  “Taking dictation” has mostly been replaced by digital recorders with variable speed playback and speech recognition software for ease of transcription into formal documents.  And, back in the ‘50’s it was mostly women who performed secretarial work.  Today, millions of men fill administrative roles.
But among the things that have remained consistent in the evolution of the administrative assistant position, is the need to excel in organization.  Whether as a personal admin assistant or as a general admin, the need to retain information, know where things are in both the physical and digital realm, and providing clarity amidst chaos, are traits that continue to provide value to the position, and to the staff and management they assist.  The best admins are almost intuitive, having information, resources and tools at the ready before being asked.  They perform myriad tasks in the background – routine and extraordinary – to help their bosses shine.  There isn’t an executive out there who would accomplish as much in their day without the aid of their administrative assistants.
And administrative assistants put up with a lot of B.S.  Aside from working for the occasional task-master who wants everything done yesterday or has other unreasonable demands and expectations and demonstrates no gratitude, admins are frequently called upon to be gate keepers.  They are expected to provide a shield between the executives and everyone else.  Screening calls and taking messages is only a small part of the gig.  Admins are often asked to buffer their superiors from distractions and interruptions.  They also filter out the wheat from the chaff, providing necessary detail, prioritizing messages and activities, and omitting the mundane and irrelevant.   And the volume of tasks they regularly perform could never be fully outlined in a job description.
While positions in administration don’t always seem the most glamorous, productive or creative, some admins do get to do business with high profile professionals and celebrities.  And admins who excel in their roles are often in a good position to move up the corporate ladder.  Having access to, observing and learning from top executives, gives the admin a chance to be a sponge, to absorb information, methodologies and protocols that aren’t taught, but can only be acquired through observation and participation. And admins who work for good bosses are encouraged to learn, stretch out beyond their comfort zones and prove their mettle, tackling assignments and tasks that demonstrate their growth, the knowledge and skills they have acquired and their ability to exceed others’ expectations.  Admins who build a track record of success and maintain a good network will become the ones who move forward and eventually have others working for them.
Admins deserve encouragement and recognition to grow.  And while not everyone is cut out to be a leader or executive, many office workers have discovered through their admin positions, abilities and passions that they didn’t know they had until they were encouraged to move forward, to reach a bit higher, to learn and try new things, and to use their skills in new and different ways, building confidence and new opportunities.
So if you’re a boss, be the one who encourages your admins to move forward, to try things differently, to create and accomplish, and do so by giving credit where credit is due.  And if you’re an administrative assistant, strive for growth in every way you can.  Be assertive without being unnecessarily aggressive; be thorough and thoughtful, and reach beyond the role you’re in now and prove your worthiness for something better.  Because the executives of tomorrow are the admins of today!  Let’s keep celebrating the administrative professionals.
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