Successful secretary

Being a secretary is often described as being the backbone of an executive. This right-hand person keeps things running smoothly.

As a secretary, you're not just managing day-to-day administrative tasks; you become the "eyes and ears" of the company, gaining unique insights into its culture, performance, and future direction. It can be a promising and exciting career path for any professional.

But what does it take to be a successful secretary? It's essential to understand the full scope of your role and go above and beyond expectations. Continuous upskilling is vital, keeping yourself updated with the latest software and technology.

Related: How to answer secretary job interview questions (with example answers)

Qualities that make a good secretary

A good secretary has various qualities – both hard and soft skills that help them succeed in a role. These qualities can be learned and developed with a little bit of dedication. These are just a few of them:

  • Organisational skills: a strong ability to be organised, keep a clear head and keep track of everything from deadlines to essential files.
  • Professional communication skills: clear and friendly communication, along with a personable phone manner. Think of yourself as a master communicator, engaging in conversations that create strong connections and build relationships.
  • Initiative and drive: the ability to take the initiative, work independently and seek out new opportunities.
  • IT literacy: knowledge of software such as Microsoft Office Suite, Outlook, and Adobe Programs, and typing skills are required. Plus, knowing about other software that could help with the day-to-day work.
  • Honesty and discretion: A secretary often handles expenses, petty cash and other sensitive topics; it’s important that employers can trust a secretary fully.
  • Time-management skills: Working on several projects means a lot of multitasking. This requires the ability to manage your own time and ensure that you can deliver on timelines.
  • Being a team player: better if you have a flair for championing a teamwork ethic and fostering teamwork within a team.
  • Remaining calm under pressure: an ability to cope with stress, deadlines and multitasking, often dealing with several stakeholders at once.
  • Professionalism: a skill needed for dealing with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Project management skills: skilled at managing all the moving parts of any given project.

Besides these soft skills, most employers expect a secretary to be educated to at least a matriculation level, followed by secretarial training. Typing speed is an important skill for many employers.

If you can touch-type, your speed will improve the more typing you do – you’ll need to be able to type anywhere from 55 to 80 words per minute, and faster is always better.

Related: How to stand out during interviews for secretarial positions

What are the characteristics of a good secretary?

Learn to anticipate needs

The most successful secretaries work towards helping others when they ask for it, and then anticipate what might be needed for the future. Be proactive and search out ways to anticipate requests and needs from others. Paying attention to detail on assigned tasks can help you anticipate what will be needed in the future. 

Be meticulously organised

This one is important both for yourself while juggling multiple tasks and for others that you are working on. Come up with various systems to stay organised, whether handwritten or using organisational technology. Being organised is especially helpful if part of your job includes making travel arrangements, managing people’s schedules, or organising multiple events. 

Keep detailed notes

In meetings or on phone calls,  keep detailed notes on what is said and requested for later reference. Keeping these notes for reference will mean that you have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on - and will be seen as the go-to person to get the details that others may have overlooked or forgotten. 

Focus on clear communication. 

Work on your communication skills to communicate directly, clearly and with intent to any stakeholders you interact with. Being able to write a concise email and speak well both internally and externally will be a huge advantage, given that a large part of your job is about communicating effectively.

Related: How to use the STAR technique to excel in job interviews

What does a secretary do?

Secretarial and business support work is demanding and requires someone who can wear multiple hats and multitask well. There will always be different elements to each secretary’s job description. However, generally speaking, a secretary is responsible for supporting various aspects of the business, often taking care of administrative tasks, such as:

1. Answering and directing phone calls: Secretaries are often responsible for answering office phone lines, handling client calls, and taking messages. They need to direct each call to the appropriate individual and differentiate between urgent and less important communication.

2. Organising and distributing messages: Secretaries organise and distribute memos, notes, messages, and other written communications within the organisation. They ensure efficient communication by passing along urgent messages promptly.

3. Maintaining company schedules: Secretaries manage the schedules and agendas of professionals within the organisation. They set appointments with clients, vendors, and shareholders, and they may also send reminders and alerts for upcoming conferences or meetings.

4. Organising documents and files: Secretaries play a crucial role in keeping documents, records, and files organised. They maintain filing systems, both physical and digital, ensuring easy retrieval of important documents. This task may involve using computer databases and other filing systems.

5. Greeting business clients and guests: Secretaries often take on receptionist duties, greeting clients and guests who arrive for meetings or conferences. They help visitors get settled, offer refreshments, take notes during meetings, and maintain a professional and welcoming environment.

6. Documenting financial information: Secretaries may be responsible for documenting expenses, earnings, and other financial information. They track revenue, sales numbers, expenses, and costs of operation. They may also prepare financial reports for analysis by higher-level personnel.

7. Maintaining and ordering office supplies: Secretaries handle inventory management and ensure an adequate supply of office materials. They maintain records of supplies, track inventory levels, and place orders for items that are running low.

8. Organising and conducting meetings: In addition to scheduling meetings, secretaries may take on the responsibility of organising and conducting them. They coordinate the logistics, invite participants, and ensure the meeting runs smoothly. They may also take notes during the meeting for reference and follow-up.

9. Assisting executives with project tasks: Secretaries can provide valuable assistance to their supervisors by helping with small tasks within larger projects. This could involve organising reports, printing documents, preparing presentations, or any other support required to facilitate the completion of projects.

10. Supervising staff and new employees: Secretaries often act as mentors and provide guidance to staff members, particularly when implementing procedures or training new employees. They share their knowledge and experience, help develop skills, and ensure adherence to company protocols.

The specific responsibilities may vary depending on the industry, organization, and the nature of the secretary's role within the company. Given that broad job description, one of the most valuable assets a secretary or business support professional can have is the ability to think on their feet.

Related: The role of technology in modern secretary careers: Adaptation and advancement

What does the career path for a secretary look like?

An ambitious secretary can refresh their career every couple of years once they have mastered and developed the latest role. This is the perfect time to take on more responsibility, developing the project management and supervisory aspects of a role. 

Entry-level secretarial jobs generally have much room for growth, and a secretary can evolve into an administrative assistant, executive assistant, office manager, administrative coordinator or other senior administrative roles. With specialised knowledge of a department, industry or company, effective secretaries should see themselves moving up an exciting career path. 

The alternative is to make a lateral move within an organisation to other departments or look to new pastures for the following external challenge. Project management and human resources are two sectors that many secretaries find themselves well-prepared for with transferable skill sets.

Related: 5 things you need to know about starting a career in HR

Focus on commitment and resilience

Employers look for stability on a secretary’s CV. This demonstrates highly prized attributes like resilience, the ability to make considered choices, commitment and reliability. 

Choosing a career path as a secretary can be fulfilling, and successful secretaries often become essential parts of the organisation.

Ready for your next career step? Check out these current job openings or submit your CV now.

Read more:
3 important transferable skills for your career
How you can be highly effective in a role from day 1
8 questions to ask your recruiter before your job interview

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