Mandy Herbert, Personal Assistant to Jonathan Rigby at law firm Mourant, talks about the value of attending our recent EA/PA Masterclass with the renowned Adam Fidler and how PA’s provide much more than just admin support

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 I was lucky enough to attend the Adam Fidler training day at the Radisson Blu recently organised by the PA Network Jersey.  Whilst I’ve read many of Adam’s highly acclaimed articles on the role of today’s EA/PA, I have never had the pleasure of meeting him until now.

A former EA to senior management himself, Adam has an abundance of experience in our field and an equal measure of passion and enthusiasm which kept us riveted for the entire day.   

The Adam Fidler Academy offers a range of masterclasses specifically designed for both new and experienced EA’s and our  topic for the day was ‘Business Acumen’ focusing on the 5 key drivers within business; cash, assets, people, growth and profit.  We touched on each area individually; pin-pointing how they align both strategically and operationally in our role and why being commercially aware of these factors is paramount in providing a truly high level executive support service.

Alongside this, we discussed the demanding role of a busy EA and how it encompasses so much more than the daily transactional support function.  We talked about the contribution we make to our firm and our executive and the skills we need to practice commercial and emotional judgement quickly and effectively, and this part of the day really got me thinking about my own role and the complexity of my job description.

I have been fortune to support the same boss for the last eight years.  Like most of us, I probably spend more time with him than my actual partner and I honestly think it would be difficult to work with anyone else.  We have a damn good relationship, I feel valued and supported and no two days are ever the same.  I also love the responsibility of supporting a senior executive who gives me the autonomy to work alongside him, rather than for him, and above all else I enjoy working for a firm who has a clear vision and strategy for the future.

However, on the odd day when I’m queueing to get out of the car park, hoping I’ve taken something out of the freezer for dinner, I sometimes think “what have I actually achieved today”.   Particularly when it comes to performance review time, I often ponder at just how hard it is to quantify my role on paper with any meaningful integrity. 

Don’t get me wrong, the daily transactional tasks of diary management (which on some days can be like trying to accomplish the most complex jigsaw), travel planning, itineraries, board packs etc. are pretty standard functions we can all do standing on our head.  Even the meaty projects I am lucky enough to work on are easily justifiable.  I’m talking about the real contribution we make on an emotional and strategic level.   The gap we bridge between our executive and the rest of the firm and the stuff that comes from ‘who we are’ and not ‘what we do’.

I have fairly good self-awareness and I know I am pretty damn good at what I do, but spending the day with Adam and an amazing group of fellow PA’s helped to validate my role with greater clarity and endorsed the more complex and emotional areas of the role that I can sometimes reflect upon.  

Managing the increasing demands of a busy executive requires much more than first class organisational skills.  We are masters of multi-discipline; diplomats, confidantes and gatekeepers.  We are critical and strategic thinkers who are commercially aware of our business and our competitors.  But above all else, we are representatives of our executive and fundamental to how well they perform in their role.  For me, all of these skills come from who we are and how we think and is the clear difference between ‘what we do’ and ‘how well we do it’.

Like everything, it’s all about balance, and I believe if you can juggle the operational, strategic and emotional skills that a good EA/PA requires then you can’t go far wrong.  Just how all of this fits into my performance review form is still a bit of a mystery but thankfully my boss agrees entirely!

Finally, as Adam’s inspiring EA manifesto testifies `we are not optional extras – our role is mandatory to the success of our executive’ and I for one could not agree more!