In the fast-paced world we live in, managing multiple tasks can be overwhelming. For C-suite employees, including Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), and managing directors, and even politicians, their plates are full.
They need to be in meetings, supervise projects, travel for business, and do much more in an organised and orderly manner.
But they are only human and therefore cannot juggle everything simultaneously, hence the need for personal assistants (PAs).
These organisation wizards schedule appointments, organise calendars, handle emails, and research information. They are the secret weapon for unlocking the power of efficiency.
But what exactly does their role entail, and what are the dos and don’ts?
Elkana Jacob, a media consultant and security analyst, worked as PA for a former county governor between 2017 to 2022.
The work and duties of a PA, he says, vary depending on the relationship with the boss.
However, generally, a PA helps his or her boss perform administrative work by carrying out the secretariat and the corresponding duties like answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, and making travel arrangements.
“There are basic qualifications, including good education standards, communication, and basic ICT skills. Having administration skills, emotional intelligence, and the ability to work well with people of different backgrounds are also crucial,” he explains.
Additionally, Mr Jacob notes that a PA should be proactive and flexible, which often means being at the beck and call of their boss, even on their off days.
While most PAs have a previous relationship with their bosses, trust cultivated before their hiring plays a vital part in earning the job and retaining it.
The dos and don’ts
Mohammed Ahmed, the corporate communications manager of GulfCap Real Estate, says that he tendered his resignation in 2021 to work for a Coastal region-based political aspirant during the last General Election.
Though his entry was as the head of communication, Mr Ahmed was then an additional role as a PA.
He surmises a PA’s role as adding value to their boss. He expounds that it’s like a romantic relationship where both parties have certain boxes that their lovers tick.
“As a PA, you are there because they [bosses] also tick your boxes on ideologies, principles, and beliefs, as this makes it easy to do what is required of you,” he adds.
Mr Jacob shares that to be in a position to protect their boss, a PA should be in sync with the status of the working and interpersonal relationships.
“Remember this person has entrusted you with their ‘life’; hence you should be like a carbon copy and always be by their side and learn to protect them.”
While having a close relationship with your boss can blur the lines, Mr Jacob notes that one should keep off their personal life and maintain professionalism.
“Don’t ask your boss easy and predictable questions, and don’t be the person who wants to disclose everything about them,” he advises.
Doing what is expected is a rule of thumb for avoiding conflicts.
Since these bosses are human, sometimes their mandates and duties can be overwhelming, triggering mood swings. The best remedy to salvage the situation is to give them space to cool down and blow off steam.
Mr Ahmed also shares that with a multitude of tasks expected to be performed by a PA, it is easy for some to be entirely forgotten, which can be a source of conflict with the boss.
“The best thing is having someone who understands you and knows you are not acting out of malice.”
Mr Jacob says that the buck stops with the PA, who carries the blame for all the wrongs of your boss.
“You mostly work with your boss’s schedule, which means you have little time for yourself,” he adds.
While conflicts are inevitable, Mr Ahmed shares that conflict resolution is dependent on the relationship one has with their boss and adds that no particular rule is cast in stone.
However, not sweeping the issues under the carpet is at the core of ensuring a smooth working relationship.
“When I have an issue with him, I will pick up my phone and call him, and we will talk about it,” he says, adding that the goal is to share ideas and consult.
For Mr Jacob, the timings for resolving the conflict are crucial, so knowing when to approach and when not is beneficial.
“You let your boss understand when he goes wrong.”
In Kenya, PAs rights are defended by the Kenya Association of Secretaries and Personal Assistants.