An Exploration of the Skills and Traits Required of a Effective Personal Assistant

 In this article, we'll explore many of the skills and personality traits of successful personal assistants.

While technology can be a great help to a busy PA, all the amazing apps in the world won't guarantee your success. In fact, successful personal assistants typically share certain innate skills and personality traits.

Personality Traits and Innate Skills of a Personal Assistant

Listed below are some of the skills and personality traits one needs to possess in order to be an effective PA. In no particular order, this list includes:

  • Workplace Flexibility – A PA needs to have the ability to drop what they're doing should their boss need something immediately. You must be able to switch tasks effectively. Sometimes, these "emergencies" may seem silly or unnecessary to a PA, but if it matters to the boss, the PA needs to make it their priority. It's also easy to become distracted, so you must be able to return to previous tasks easily. (Don't try doing two things at once, though – switching tasks differs from "multi-tasking". 

  • You must be able to be discreet and keep confidences. According to the Oxford Dictionary online, the origin of the word "secretary" is, "Middle English (originally in the sense ‘person entrusted with a secret'): from late Latin secretarius ‘confidential officer,' from Latin secretum ‘secret'. . ." So keeping things on the "DL" is an essential part of being an effective PA. If you can't keep from gossiping or snooping around where you don't belong, this is not the career for you.

  • Confidence and emotional stability: If you're unable to stand up for yourself or are easily hurt or overly sensitive, being a personal assistant is not for you. Your employer is human; if you work that closely with someone, you'll see them on bad days as well as good, so it helps to have a thick skin and the ability to manage your emotions. In other words, if you can't keep a stiff upper lip until you're in the privacy of your own home or bedroom, and instead burst into tears any time your feelings are trampled upon, you should probably consider another career path. Also, remember that if you're working with celebrities, they are typically out of touch with reality (fame does that to a person!), so sometimes their requests may seem unreasonable or extreme.

  • Have career goals. – Identify your own goals for your PA career and beyond. While some people enjoy being a personal assistant, others may have aspirations of more public careers. Know what it is you ultimately want to accomplish in your own career.

  • Understand you come second. - Do you become ill frequently? Are there big problems at home? Do your children call you at work constantly? The last thing an employer wants – or needs – is an assistant who has constant drama! Trust us, anyone who needs a professional personal assistant neither cares about, nor has time for, your drama. If your life is a roller coaster ride, you aren't going to make it as a PA. In addition, you must also bring everything you personally need to get through your day (food, water, notepads, pens, etc.). Chances are, you will not have time to stop at a convenience store for water, or go through the fast food drive-through during your workday. You must also keep track of your own hours and any expenses you need to be reimbursed for.

  • Your personal life must be organized.If your home, finances, or responsibilities outside of work are a mess, you will be unable to be an effective personal assistant. Even if you believe you have it "under control," any issues with personal organization will eventually show through in your work.

  • The ability to handle extreme stress and long hours – You either have this ability, or you don't.

  • Be comfortable "wearing many hats." – You may be asked to pick up the dog from the groomer's, pick up food, or make a doctor's appointment for your boss. Your job is to take care of all the little day-to-day tasks so your boss can concentrate on their own career.

  • Good personal presentation – Yes, grooming does matter, especially in the professional world. It's one thing if the long-haired rock star you work for looks a mess in public, but a PA must look professional. Personal hygiene is a must, and clothing should be modest and appropriate. You must also be personable and able to interact with individuals of all temperaments and levels of importance. Good personal presentation includes not only outward dress and grooming, but language skills and ability to converse intelligently. 

  • Keep up with technology. – Technology is a vital part of being an effective personal assistant. Often, an employer will have no time to research and/or learn new programs or technological devices, so it's important a good PA keep up with new advances. Additionally, there are a large number of technological tools which help make the modern personal assistant's job easier.

  • In the case of very high-profile celebrities, you may be one of several personal assistants. You may be assigned specific duties (it is rumored one notable celebrity travels with eight personal assistants, one whose job is solely to carry water!), or you may be part of a team who coordinates events.

  • Realize the career of a personal assistant has a time limit, so plan for your future accordingly. Even the most organized, resilient person gets to a point where the stress, derision, and lack of free time are just too much to handle. The typical PA career lasts about 20 years.

    Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Personal Assistant course?

Other Useful Skills

A personal assistant needs a wide variety of social skills – you almost need to be a jack of all trades, and a master of all! While expertise in every area isn't a realistic requirement, there are several social situations where a PA will be expected to have a reasonable amount of experience or skill.

Since social events are usually a big part of wealthy people's lives, most employers will expect their PA to have good social and party-planning familiarity. Having experience with charity events or formal affairs can be a real bonus here. Did you help plan your wealthy cousin's débutante party one spring, host a charity sports event, or plan a fund-raising fashion show in high school? These types of experiences can be very helpful in the PA world.


Believe it or not, party planning is indeed a skill. Chances are, your wealthy employer is not holding a "kegger!" A personal assistant needs to consider every aspect of a social event and plan accordingly.

Party planning involves several considerations, beginning with what type of event your boss wishes to hold. It could be anything from a casual affair with close friends, to a large formal charity event. Perhaps one of the best ways to handle planning such affairs is to have an arsenal of resources at your disposal.


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines etiquette as, "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life." This definition implies that different social groups often have variations on proper etiquette. Anyone who's spent time in a variety of social groups can attest to the truth of this! What may be considered appropriate behavior in one circumstance, may be completely inappropriate in another. However, most of us can agree there is a basic code of behavior members of polite/professional society understand and follow.

For employers, etiquette is a vital component of any personal assistant's capabilities. At the very minimum, a good personal assistant is skilled in these basic areas. Despite your employer's ability to be forgiven for a faux pas or two at a social event, a PA's response to any situation must always be flawless. It is your job as the personal assistant to display the exemplary behavior your boss wishes to project. After all, you are essentially a physical representation of them in a very real way. What you do and say reflects back on them, in a very personal way.


Diplomacy is defined as, "skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility (tact);" or "the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations." Even though being a diplomatic personal assistant may seem more in line with the latter definition, it is the former a PA is concerned with.

During your daily interactions, you will encounter all manner of people, some pleasant and respectful, others who are -- let's say, not as pleasant. Despite your personal opinions or feelings, you are not you when you're at work; you're the individual you represent; therefore, you must behave with tact in all situations. (If you encounter a situation where things are getting out of hand – for instance, inappropriate or hostile physical contact – do not hesitate to put your own safety first! Remain tactful to avoid aggravating the individual further, remove yourself from the situation as quickly and calmly as possible, and report it to your employer immediately.)

 If (or when) your boss commits said faux pas mentioned above, it is up to you, the personal assistant, to use your skills of diplomacy and rectify the situation -- preferably as quickly and quietly as possible.

A Typical Day at Work for a Busy Celebrity PA

As you've likely guessed by now, a "typical" day for a personal assistant is never typical! Some days may run smoothly, while other days are utter chaos. Some of the requests and incidents cited by actual celebrity assistants include:

  • Being called in early to find your boss's favorite bathrobe, because he didn't want to get out of bed and look for it himself;

  • Approaching attractive people on behalf of the celebrity;

  • Getting between the celebrity and the paparazzi;

  • Opening and processing fan mail;

  • Driving to a bar to "rescue" your boss, who became extremely drunk;

  • Cleaning up messes after your boss's drunken night;

  • Causing a distraction so your boss can leave an event unnoticed;

  • Doing a load of laundry;

  • Picking up children from school;

  • Running lines with a celebrity for several hours;

  • Cleaning up broken glass after your celebrity boss had a temper tantrum in the living room;

  • Running to the grocery store or pharmacy in the middle of the night.

If you enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary, high-energy career, you may be a perfect fit for a celebrity assistant career.