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The untapped potential of Executive Assistants

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They say that ‘behind every successful women is herself’. While that may be true, it’s also likely there’s an Executive Assistant (EA).

There are few careers more greatly underestimated. Often thought of as a ‘stepping stone’ position, EAs actually have a profound influence on the ability of executives to do their job well. And in these days of overflowing inboxes and myriad channels of communication, the role has never been more important —nor as demanding.

While EAs seek to navigate a constantly shifting professional landscape, specific training for EAs tailored by an executive team in both private and public sectors is scarce. As Executive coach Kim Vella explains, Executive Assistants are sometimes overlooked for training due to the support-based nature of their position.

“It’s because EAs are always thinking about others’ needs before their own,” explains Kim. “EAs are in a support role that’s more than often a one-on-two or a one-on-one service provision arrangement so they’re doing that support work and not thinking as much about their own professional development.”

After finding a lack of EA-specific training courses, designed specifically by EAs for EAs, Kim and Ursula Kohler decided to develop their own. The result is the EA Insights Program — a specialised one-day training program.

“Unfortunately there are some very traditional, old world views in the hierarchy about what training EAs should have access to, and we’re trying to break that down,” says Kim.

Kim was an SES level public servant so she knows what it’s like to have her time managed by an assistant; while Ursula has over 20 years experience as a high-level EA. Kim now runs her own professional development and coaching business, Kim Vella Coaching, while Ursula is behind the recently-launched Capital EA, which pairs everyone from working professionals to former Secretaries with their own virtual EA.

“Generally, the executives of the public service or private sector are looking for an EA who will ensure everything is taken care of in a personalised business sense,” explains Ursula. “EAs should actually be looking at their skill set like their own small business.”

“They should be in a position where they can take that skill set to any other C-Suite level private executive or SES level public servant and know that they are developing their small business, so to speak.”

Ursula and Kim want to encourage EAs to think beyond their current employment and to see each executive they’re paired with as an opportunity to further expand their skill set.

“That’s ideally what we try to embed in the training – that you need to think laterally about your future instead of thinking ‘well I’m hooked onto the one boss for the foreseeable future,” says Ursula.

“For EAs to have a successful career as a high level executive assistant they need to start thinking in a business sense – with those skills they can do anything.”

The EA Insights course seeks to help participants gain a deeper understanding of the capacity of an EA, and covers topics like: strengthening capacity to achieve goals and identifying unique leadership strengths; as well as tricky subjects like translating the critical transitions from APS4 to APS6, and communicating effectively.

Kim and Ursula say they hope their combined experience will mean participants gain a 360-degree understanding of the potential of an EA, and that executives will see this course as a great way to empower and up-skill their staff.

“We feel like it’s really important for EAs – especially those who want to work toward a senior role – to really understand what they need to do consistently with other people in the APS to get from the APS four level, to five, to six,” explains Kim. “So that they have a really well rounded and broad but deep experience in their role.”

The next EA Insights session is being held on Wednesday 27 July.

the essentials

What: EA Insights
When: 9am Wednesday 27 July 2016
Where: Forrest Hotel & Apartments, 30 National Circuit, Forrest
Find out more: and

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