What is a PA?

The PA/EA ‘job description’

“Does that role still exist?” I was asked when I explained what I do. “I thought nobody needed PAs anymore…”.

After I’d metaphorically picked myself up from the floor, I said “yes, very much so”.

Technological innovations and changes in working practice have considerably altered the role of the PA, but it is a continually invaluable role and a truly effective manager will always need an Assistant. 

The secretarial role, now usually referred to as administrative, has also changed. Whereas 40 years ago every manager would have a secretary, even if occasionally shared, nowadays it is more common for organisations to have a pool of administrators working for a large number of executives. 


The PA role, however, involves so much more. The modern PA (or EA) has a management role. He or she (because many more men are now taking up these important positions) is very much involved in the business. It is no longer purely a task based role and is increasingly about building relationships.

The modern PA will have all the basic skills of shorthand or speedwriting, IT and organisational skills and they will also be fully business aware through attending meetings, networking and research.

They will be experts in building relationships, dealing with conflict and decision making. They are emotionally intelligent leaders, who are prepared to take risks and be creative. They must be willing to represent their manager, give presentations, attend meetings, give potential, viable solutions rather than problems and delegate.

Their main personal qualities are loyalty, reliability, flexibility and, of course, that vital sense of fun.

Most importantly they are committed to their manager, their organisation and their own development. They are prepared to invest time in training, being proactive, collaborating and grasping opportunities. An exceptional PA does not believe in luck; he/she makes their own luck.

Since writing this article some time ago, I am delighted to highlight the work of the World Administrators Alliance in creating the Global Skills Matrix. A globally recognised framework for administrators and HR teams that, irrespective of country, makes it possible to identify levels of work for a given role and career progression opportunities to realise the potential to an organisation of an effective administrator.