Administrators, Secretaries and PAs

  | James Innes

Administrator, Secretary and PA


Every industry sector requires a team of Administrators and Secretaries to ensure the effective and efficient management of their offices on a daily basis.  Many managers and senior executives also employ their own Personal Assistant (PA) to help them organise and handle their particularly heavy workloads.

In general, the roles of an Administrator or Secretary are very similar and require excellent computer skills with knowledge of word processors, spreadsheets, databases and, sometimes, presentation packages.  An Administrator/Secretary is usually required to prepare correspondence and documentation, produce invoices, maintain a petty cash system, order stationery supplies, manage computerised and manual filing systems, and produce statistical reports.  Diary management is also another common task which involves scheduling and booking appointments and, sometimes, organising travel and accommodation arrangements.  Their presence is frequently required in meetings to take minutes and ensure that these are typed up and distributed to interested parties. 

A PA undertakes similar duties to those of a Secretary or Administrator but the service they provide tends to be dedicated to one senior manager or executive in particular.  They are fully responsible for handling both personal and professional matters on behalf of their manager and are required to demonstrate an excellent understanding of the overall organisation.  Alongside the general administrative duties they will fulfil on a daily basis, a PA is also the representative of their manager in meetings with clients and colleagues, and often responds to formal correspondence and telephone enquiries on their behalf.  They can accompany their manager to meetings and on national and international assignments, and are expected to demonstrate discretion and professionalism when handling confidential and sensitive information.

Entry requirements

Administrators and Secretaries can enter their chosen profession with very few qualifications although proficiency in English, basic numeracy and computing are regarded as essential.  In order to progress further, there are a number of recognised qualifications including NVQs or SVQs and accredited courses through Pitman, OCR (RSA) and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Examinations Board (LCCIEB).  These range from basic qualifications in administration to specialised courses in audio-transcription, copy-typing, shorthand, keyboard skills and typewriting.  There is also no substitute for experience in this line of work and the more you are able to demonstrate your proficiency in the key skills required for the job, the better your chances of securing an interesting and challenging role.

Although there are no national minimum entry requirements for work as a PA, it is essential to be able to demonstrate an excellent command of the English language, both verbally and in writing, and experience in office administration is also imperative.  Many PAs now study for degrees in business-related subjects, or in subjects related to the specific industry in which they wish to specialise, thus giving themselves an advantage over other potential applicants. Due to the increasing number of businesses with overseas interests, PAs often benefit from knowledge of a foreign language.  Again, the LCCIEB offers useful qualifications, including the Private Secretary’s Diploma, and OCR and Pitman also offer valuable training in the skills required by PAs.

In general, Secretaries, Administrators and PAs should be competent in the use of the computers and experienced in the day-to-day functions of an office environment.  Excellent communication skills are invaluable as they are usually required to communicate with colleagues and clients both in person and over the telephone.  However, probably one of the most essential requirements is a strong command of the English language including spelling and grammar.  It is also important to be able to multi-task and to perform effectively and efficiently under pressure to ensure that deadlines are met.

Progression opportunities

A career in this line of work can be extremely rewarding as you are able to make a valuable contribution to the smooth running of the office in which you are based.  Once you have acquired the necessary skills and experience, you can choose to work in a range of industries within both the private or public sectors.  You can even decide to specialise as a medical secretary or a legal secretary, roles that require further specialist training and knowledge.

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