What Does an Executive Assistant Do?

An Executive Assistant (EA) is a strategic, high-impact, tech-enabled thought partner who supports their Executive’s unique business needs.

They allow their Executive to focus on leading, achieving their goals, and increasing their impact. The Executive Assistant role is a healthy mix of detail-orientated work (calendar and inbox management, travel planning, note-taking, etc.) and the ability to problem solve, think proactively, work cross-functionally, and multitask like a pro! 

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What is the Executive Assistant job description?

Executive Assistant job descriptions vary from company to company and even from Executive to Executive based on needs, goals, and working style. While the Executive Assistant job description is not one size fits all, there are some skills and tasks that most EAs find themselves owning:

  • Calendar and Inbox Management
  • Travel planning
  • Event planning (meetings, webinars, etc)
  • Special projects management
  • Diplomacy and discretion with confidential information
  • Excellent communication skills – written and verbal
  • High attention to detail
  • Time management and quick deliverables
  • Expense management
  • Exceptional organizational skills
  • Strategic gatekeeping and diplomacy

You may wonder what an EA does to set themselves apart from similar roles, like an administrative assistant or an executive secretary. An Executive Assistant goes beyond completing recurring administrative tasks, elevating the impact of both their own work and their leader’s work.

For example, with an EA, the calendar becomes more than a simple scheduling tool. Executive Assistants use the calendar to protect an Executive’s time and boost their productivity. Proper planning of meetings doesn’t just confirm everyone can attend but also ensures that meeting is actually necessary, stays on track, and produces results.

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How an Executive Assistant impacts the whole organization 

An Executive Assistant’s impact is far-reaching, and affects things like staff morale and even company performance. Many C-level Executives are big picture thinkers, dreamers, and planners. These Executives set a strategic vision for their team, and know how to manage people and projects to achieve business goals.

In order for them to do this effectively, they need a strategic partner. As that strategic partner, an Executive Assistant works through all the details so that their leader is able to focus on the bigger picture. When an Executive is freed from the day-to-day details, they can focus on being a more effective leader, attending to the company’s vision, direction, and strategy to move the business forward.

EA strength: strategic gatekeeping and diplomacy

Two of the most influential and impactful aspects of the Executive Assistant job description are:

  1. Strategic gatekeeping
  2. Diplomacy

Strategic gatekeeping is more nuanced than simply accepting or declining meetings. Good strategic gatekeeping means your EA knows your work style, preferences, and priorities—in order to turn your ideal priorities and schedule into reality. This kind of gatekeeping often involves managing up, holding you (the leader) and your teams accountable, and planning your days to align with your core values and vision.

Many Executives new to the idea of an EA may ask, “What does an Executive Assistant do that is so special?” An Executive Assistant will have access to highly confidential information that ranges from salaries, HR decisions, acquisitions, private appointments, and more. EAs make important decisions with their Executive’s time and focus as the priority. A great way to build trust with your EA is to provide them with confidential information and allow them to demonstrate discretion and diplomacy around their work.

An example of strategic gatekeeping:

Picture this: An Executive has a team of five direct reports who are frequently requesting one-off meetings in addition to their standing weekly check-in meetings. These constant requests are hindering the Executive’s ability to focus on important tasks and are taking away precious work blocks.

Here’s how the Executive Assistant supports:

In this specific situation, the Executive Assistant simply points out to the leader how much time is being lost, and suggests that team members use a shared productivity tool (Asana, Monday, Basecamp, etc.) to update their weekly check-in items with questions.

This helps the staff streamline their project management process and “pause” to reflect on the question’s urgency instead of requesting an additional meeting. It also helps the Executive discern what is time-sensitive vs. what can wait, resulting in fewer meetings, and more productive weekly 1:1s.

Here, the leader’s Executive Assistant acts as a strategic gatekeeper. By taking time to reflect on the problem and providing a solution, the EA saves their Exec several hours each week and potentially hundreds of hours throughout the year! A proactive EA is always thinking two steps ahead and often foresees these issues (just like the example above) before they become a bigger problem for their leader.

What an Executive Assistant is not

Many people are not familiar with the Executive Assistant job description and often ask, “What does an Executive Assistant do anyway?” There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the EA role.

An Executive Assistant is not a secretary or administrative assistant. While there may be some overlap between the two roles, they are distinct in some key ways:

  • An Executive Assistant is privy to more confidential information, manages projects, and often has more interaction with the senior Executive and their team, instead of general management or staff. Traditionally, the secretary or administrative assistant is an important external-facing role, and helps with things like customer service, reception and phone answering, and general office management. An EA, on the other hand, is an internal-facing role that supports the senior leadership, collaborates with others, and sets a work pace for their Executive.
  • Another misconception is that Executive Assistants are the same personal assistants. There may be some overlap here, too, or personal requests made to an EA. However, the foundation of the EA role is professional partnership and support. Simply put, a personal assistant is often hired by an individual or family to help manage their private household, while an Executive Assistant is hired by a company and reports to a C-level Executive. 
  • Finally, while on paper the Executive Assistant job description may seem routine, the EA role is not! It’s fast-paced and each day is different.

Ready to find a great EA?

We’ve got you covered. With Base, you get better access to better assistants. Our custom matching process prioritizes options over interviews, so you’ll have more time to focus on your business. Flexible EA solutions to fit your needs is a click away — learn more about EA support from Base.

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Written by Nicole Horne

In Nicole’s role as an Account Executive, she helps busy executives embrace greatness by partnering with high caliber Executive Assistants.