A good EA will keep their executive informed and can handle any day to day tasks thrown at them. A great EA can do all of this and take a more strategic role with their exec. By knowing your executive’s priorities, strengths, goals, and business, you can manage up and help her to stay on track and reach those goals.
Managing up means being proactive, consultative, strategic, and confident. It’s the skill that will take your role and support to the next level.
Here is a high-level look at the most important components of managing up:
Imagine your executive has been sitting on a project to find a new vendor. It’s important to the business, but it hasn’t become an urgent issue yet. Carve out time in your day to do the groundwork on vetting potential vendors. Put together a document of your research showing details, references, and recommendations. You have now taken a big project for your executive and moved it forward to the next step, without being asked.
Anticipating needs and taking action will build trust with your executive, show initiative, and even encourage proactivity throughout the organization. Lead by example.
As an assistant to your executive, you are very involved in the business. You know it well. Being intimately involved in an organization gives you the expertise to know what needs to be done and whether or not a decision is a good one. A great assistant will manage up by consulting.
Take our earlier example—you have done the research on vetting a new vendor. You can give your executive a researched list of vendors, but to really manage up, include a recommendation of which vendor you think is the best fit, why you’ve chosen them, and the next steps for your exec. Taking this extra consultative step will save your executive time and move this project forward more efficiently.
Another example is consulting with your executive on the use of her time. As an EA, you are a gatekeeper, and you likely manage your executive’s calendar. If you see that your executive is spending all of her time in meetings that don’t align with her priorities, you are in the perfect role to bring that to her attention. Show her how her time is being spent and recommend some changes to refocus on her priorities.
(Use tools like Base to create reports from your executive’s calendar, giving data and visuals to aid these consultative conversations.)
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of handling day-to-day tasks. This type of work is valuable for you to handle, but be sure to also take a step back to be strategic. Look at the business and your role from a high level. How can your time give your executive an edge?
To start taking this approach, assess what skills you already have and how those skills can benefit the business. Once you have a list of these skills, it is your job to make sure your executive knows what you can do and how to best utilize your expertise. Are you a great interviewer? Can you make and maintain a mean Excel spreadsheet? Do you have experience making beautiful graphics? Don’t wait for your executive to give you a project; tell her how to best leverage you. Taking a high-level, strategic look at where you can add value will elevate your position, improve the business, and help your executive.
This template can help you to assess your skills to share with your executive.
Possibly the hardest and most important component to managing up is having confidence. Executives can be intimidating…but so can a great EA! Don’t forget how smart and resourceful you are. You know the business, you get things done, and you are a true asset to your executive. Trusting yourself and having the confidence to be proactive, consultative, and strategic is what will give you the ability to manage up to your executive.
Executive Assistants are the ultimate servant leaders, the ones that stand behind the scenes ensuring that executives and their businesses are moving forward. Manage up to really solidify your value and help your executive succeed.