More Than a Secretary: Administrative Assistants Take on Expanded Roles as Technology Advances

Article excerpt

Gayleen Keeton, the secretary-stenographer of 21 years ago, couldn't have imagined the responsibilities and skills she has now.

"In 1986, I was typing letters that were handwritten or dictated," said the executive assistant to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. "I didn't draft any letters of my own to be signed by my executive. Now I have the information immediately on hand myself, in e-mail or the Internet.

"In matters that are very routine, once you learn what your executive's answer is, you're able to provide that yourself most of the time or have him sign off on it," she said. "After you work with somebody for so long, you learn their decisions."

Keeton's perspective is common; behind every great executive is an administrative assistant, a position still evolving far beyond the phone calls and filings a secretary once handled, staffing experts at OfficeTeam have found.

"With changing times, they've had to be the ones to flex and take on extra roles that executives themselves deal with," said Valerie Forsythe, division director of Robert Half International's OfficeTeam office in Oklahoma City. "Over the years, it seems people have increased their work, work, work. And when that happens, it gets pushed to everybody, from the top all the way down."

Oklahoma is seeing its strongest staffing demand for administrative assistants, OfficeTeam's 2007 Salary Guide survey found, as well as for receptionists and customer service representatives. The trend is being driven by quickly changing technology, Forsythe said.

Managing client relationships, budget tracking, event planning, database management, research and training, and computer support were all cited as areas in which administrative assistants' responsibilities have grown in just the past two years. About 86 percent of managers said that responsibilities of their administrative staff will continue to grow more complex, beyond traditional tasks such as filing, taking minutes and answering phones.

The OfficeTeam salary guide lists about 20 administrative titles, and the stand-alone position of "secretary" is not among them; everyone has moved into the niche of specialist, assistant or coordinator these days.

"Top executives are realizing, 'Hey, I've got to have someone good beside me,'" Forsythe said. And 85 percent of respondent executives said their administrative assistants play a major role in their success, the company reported. Forsythe said the position has also garnered more prestige as those employees work even more closely with the company's top bosses. …