Types of Administrative Support
As with every job, you might find different titles for the role of a secretary, and with good reason. Because different companies need different kinds of administrative support, the staff is named accordingly.
Some of the most common administrative titles include:
- general secretary;
- administrative assistant;
- clerical support staff;
- executive assistant;
- legal assistant;
- legal secretary.
These roles might have similar job duties associated with them, as well as more market-specific duties; i.e., medical record filing for those who are in a health care-related field.
The key differences in the roles above include the idea that the executive assistant can also be a manager of sorts in the office. This assistant might have supervisory tasks to complete, but this can also be possible for any other titles.
In addition, the legal secretary and assistant will be focused on legal tasks, such as going to court or traveling to find certain documents or evidence for lawyers.
When you are hired in as a general secretary, it can help to get a complete list of the tasks you will complete, as this will determine the type of role you might have in your company.
Where General Secretaries Are Valuable
Indeed, it is no surprise to people that a general secretary is someone who can add value to a company. Because the upper management and other key members of the company may have more tasks to accomplish, they need someone else to handle the basic tasks.
In covering the secretary tasks:
- Secretaries can interact with customers. Because others in the company might need to focus on other tasks in their work, they may not have time to interact with customers in a meaningful way. This can make customers feel distanced, while the secretary can speak to the customers directly and help to bridge any real or perceived gap in communication.
- Secretaries can focus on details. While others might be tasked with larger projects, the secretary can handle the details that support the possibility of these projects being productive. For example, while it might not seem important to order coffee, an office that runs out in the middle of a project may not be as effective.
- The secretary can set up appointments and control schedules. The control of a calendar may not seem like a mighty task, until you try to manage your own when you are busy. Instead, a secretary can be taught the rules of the calendar and then follow those rules in order to ensure the calendar is smooth.
- Administrative personnel can help others make the most of their time. Without the need to focus on minor details and tasks, those who have to manage largely creative tasks and projects will be able to keep their focus in the proper direction.
There are a number of industries in which a general secretary will find himself or herself valuable.
- Health care;
- Legal firms;
- Non-profit organizations;
- Real estate offices.
Of course, this is a small sampling of places where secretaries can find work that allows them to be helpful and supportive in ways the company might not be able to handle on its own.
Indeed, it can be said that most companies could and do make use of secretaries in one way or another, no matter what title they give them.
That said, you might be concerned about the idea that a person might be "only" a secretary when she or he starts in that role and then becomes skilled in the role.
This is certainly not the only route a person with administrative skills and experience can take.
Instead, a general secretary might become an office manager, taking on more responsibility in an organization, or this person can also become a team leader.
When you are in the general secretary role, you are getting the experience of managing resources, while also being able to help out those who are in bigger roles that might need further assistance in the future.
That need may come with a shiny new job title.
In many companies, the general secretary role is the entry-level role, certainly, but it is also the foot in the door that outsiders may not be privy to.
The general secretary is highly valuable in today's market, even with the various kinds of titles that can be used.
By learning a bit more about the types of secretaries that are often seen, you can begin to see where you might fit in best or where you would like to find yourself eventually during the course of your career.
What Secretary Are You?
The definitions below are general, and they are certainly not going to hold true for every organization at which you might find yourself. Therefore, if you are looking for hard and fast rules, you will find those only in the titles that the same company uses in its departments.
Here are the general types that we talked about earlier:
- General secretary: This is a person that will fulfil any number of secretary duties, most of which will be covered during the course of this training. They are in charge of being the main point of contact in the organization, while also being a person who is going to handle duties that other leaders in the organization might not be able to handle on their own or that they need help with. The general secretary is often the administrative support for an entire company, as opposed to just one person.
- Administrative assistant: On the other hand, the administrative assistant is generally someone who focuses his or her energies and talents on supporting just one person or one department. This allows that person to be more helpful to those in the department, while also being able to learn the specific needs of his or her charge.
- Clerical support staff: Most like the general secretary is the clerical staff. Because this group might include everyone from a member of the typing pool to someone that just helps out with travel arrangements, this is a more nebulous term for the secretary work that is done.
- Executive assistant: In a higher role of authority and responsibility is the executive assistant. As the title indicates, this is a person that is going to manage the needs of an executive, often helping that person with special and confidential projects. This is a person who is highly trained and has had years of experience in other administrative roles, which makes for a more knowledgable and efficient job performance.
- Legal assistant: Like the secretary, the legal assistant works closely with a lawyer or a team of lawyers to help them have the support needed in the practice. In some cases, the legal assistant might not focus on any secretarial work, but rather she or he might help with research.
- Legal secretary: The secretary at a legal firm will be able to focus her or his efforts on everything from typing to communication and other basic administrative skills. While a background in legal studies may be helpful, it is not necessary, as a strong set of secretary skills is what will matter most in this role.
No matter what type of secretary might call to you, you will find that you can easily take the skills and apply them to any position.
There are certain skills that are universally needed by those in organizations that have limited time resources.
What Should You Do?
The question might be what should you do when you are in the secretary role in which you find yourself? This is a fair question. Instead of thinking about the definitions above, it can help to focus your efforts by asking these questions:
- Who needs support? Think about the person or the department that you are supporting at the present moment. Ask yourself who needs your support right now.
- What kind of support is helpful? While this question is best answered in time and as you get to know the people with whom you are working, you need to ask if certain types of support are more helpful; i.e., answering e-mails might be a better priority than ordering supplies.
- What might need to be done? In this present moment, ask yourself what might need to be done, as well as what might need to be accomplished before the next day.
- What needs to be communicated? Because you generally will be the person communicating for the company or for a certain person in the company, think about what e-mails or letters you need to send.
- How can I make this company more efficient? In everything you do, you should find ways to make things easier and more efficient. The goal is, after all, to speed up the processes so you are helping the company get better.
- How can I help make the day-to-day operations easier? With everything you do, the goal is to make things easier for the people you support, as well as for yourself in the long run.
When you stop to think about your role in relation to these questions, you can see that there are many possible answers.
These answers can be addressed in the course of your work as a general secretary.
At some point, you may find that you want to become another type of secretary, outside of a general secretary. The best way to go about this is to:
- Get training. Whenever you want to become better at something, it never hurts to seek out additional training. You also can look for training from others who might already be in the position you want to have.
- Focus on improving your skills. Each day of your general secretary work, you should look for ways in which you can improve your skills and become better at what you already do.
- Seek out more responsibility. If you are in a role right now, the way to get noticed and show that you are ready for more than what you are doing is to actively seek out more work. Ask for things to do, ask for more responsibility, and be sure that everyone knows you are not just settling into your work but that you are ready to move beyond it.
- Talk to your boss. Your boss may want to know what you are interested in doing, as opposed to just seeing what you are capable of right now. In talking to your boss, you can let him or her know what your strengths are and then work actively with your boss to develop these strengths.
When you are ready to take on more responsibility, you need to show it, in addition to training to fulfil these new responsibilities.
Combining these two ways of improving yourself will allow you the chance to grow into a role of greater responsibility that uses your creative and technical skills to help support an organization's growth.
By learning more about the different types of secretaries that exist, you can begin to see how you might fit into the roles, as well as how you might move into other roles in the future.
Typical Difficult Situations
As a secretary, there are a variety of difficult situations in which you might find yourself. While no day may seem typical to you, there are a few situations that are common to your workplace.
- Angry customers or clients: You might be the first one to handle the calls that come into your company, so it is possible that you will get to hear from angry customers before anyone else does.
- Misplaced documents or products: Other times, you will find out about orders that did not work out or documents that went missing en route.
- Miscommunication: Sometimes, you will hear from others about a lack of communication from another department or from a manager.
- Problems with technology: At other times, you might be the one who fields calls about technical problems.
Problem-solving for Secretaries
Problem-solving for secretaries might seem to be the same as it is for everyone else, but when you stop to think about it, it is a little different.
Because you are considered the gateway to the rest of the office, you need to find ways in which you can handle as many problems as possible on your own, rather than looking to others to handle each issue.
Here are some simple ways to handle problems:
- Use a calm voice. Whenever you begin to have an issue with a person or a situation, make sure to keep your voice low and calm. This does not actually solve a problem, but it can help to remind everyone that cool heads will prevail.
- Determine the issue. When you are talking to someone about a problem, identify the issue first. Ask the person what he or she believes the problem to be and continue to ask questions until you fully understand.
- Repeat what you have heard. Once you feel you understand the problem, repeat what you think you have heard, allowing the person complaining to correct you if you are misunderstanding.
- Offer solutions. When the issue is identified, then you can offer solutions that might work to help out.
- Ask what solutions they might suggest: If the solutions you offer are not feasible to the person or you are not sure what to suggest, it can help to ask the person who is complaining what solutions would be satisfactory.
- Resolve the issue. Once the solution is found, then solve the problem and thank the person for calling it to your attention.
What you may want to remember in these situations is that problems do happen and they are bound to happen in any company. The way that you solve a problem will leave the right impression in the mind of the customer or client.
When a Difficult Situation is Too Difficult
There are times, however, when despite your best efforts, you may not be able to find a solution or you might not be able to appease someone.
Here are some signs you need to talk to a manager about what to do next:
- The customer becomes combative.
- The customer begins to swear or shout.
- The customer says he or she will take a complaint to _________.
Once you begin to see these warning signs, here is what you will do.
- State that the person is upset. Just naming the idea that the person is upset will allow her or him to calm down because the person sees that you understand the frustration involved.
- Agree with the customer's reaction. Let the customer know that you appreciate his or her reaction and that you want to help.
- Offer to give the person to someone who might be able to help more. Offer to turn the customer over to someone who might be able to help more than you have been able.
- Apologize for not helping more. Always apologize for not being able to satisfy the needs of the customer or client.
- Stay with the customer until he or she connects with this person. Stay on the phone or with an unhappy caller until the manager comes to speak with the person.
- Update the manager. Once the customer or client is connected to the manager, repeat the story to the manager so the customer does not have to repeat the complaint.
While these sorts of situations are less frequent, knowing how to solve them will help you create the best possible result.
Problem-solving is a part of the job description of a secretary, and knowing how to solve problems big and small will allow you to enhance the reputation of the company.