By Katie Driver
Katie is an Executive Assistant with four years’ experience in both the private and public sector. She started her career studying an Executive PA Diploma at Pitman’s Training College in Cambridge before taking on an internship at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, as the Executive Assistant to the Executive Director. She has just completed her first year as an EA in local government, working with the Director of Environment at Cambridge City Council.
Recently, I was fortunate enough be chosen to represent my council at the Local Authority Challenge East of England and East Midlands 2015. Whenever a training and development opportunity arises, I am always keen to grab this with both hands. One facet of my skills I really want to work on as a PA/EA is management experience.
The Local Authority Challenge is a simulation exercise in which delegates have a go at performing the role of a district council senior management team. As an executive assistant, the opportunity to be fully exposed to the organisational issues I assist with every day goes hand-in-hand with my working knowledge and corporate understanding of the authority I work for.
I was tasked with the role of Director of Environment, incredibly fitting and now an ongoing witticism in the office as I am in fact the EA to a Director of Environment. We had to regularly brief our leader, work with neighbouring councils, and deal with the media and co-ordinate with various agencies. At the end of the day, we provided a presentation to members and submitted a recovery plan for our council, which was all independently assessed. As a team we were commended for being energetic, enthusiastic and inspirational to watch.
On a personal level, I have noticed I have a tendency to seek approval for my upcoming decisions, before I actually make them, which I think is a trend PA/EAs starting out in their career can often fall into. I found myself with such responsibility for strategic issues which needed to be dealt with, I would look to the Chief Executive to approve my thought process, as opposed to putting my case forward for approval. My prioritisation and time management skills, which are critical in a management team, shone through, and the reactive essence of the day was taken in my stride.
So what did I learn during the day? Alongside picking up key management experience, the necessity to be assertive and decisive and the importance of team work, I also helped tackle a personal battle I have been experiencing since starting my career. I was very conscious I was the only member of the team without direct line management responsibilities. I used to wrestle with the feeling of not being as credible as other colleagues I work with, but this exercise has certainly shown me just how important I am and significantly boosted my confidence.
A Chief Executive, Leader and Director of a local authority rely heavily on senior managers for news, updates and advice, and as an EA/PA, we are relied heavily upon to proactively recognise this information alongside providing exceptional support.