Perfecting the Gatekeeper Role

Beyond the typical administrative tasks, one of an executive assistant’s key responsibilities is to be the gatekeeper. An executive assistant must protect her or his executive’s time in order to ensure the most important projects stay on track. Understanding what a gatekeeper is, why the role is so important, and how to perform the role well will make you an even bigger asset to the executive you support. 

What is a gatekeeper? 

The gatekeeper role is what the name suggests – you protect your executive from the flood of people and their requests that can slowly eat away her or his time. Some executive assistants and administrative professionals sit at reception or outside of their executive’s office, incorporating a physical element to the role. Other EAs are digital gatekeepers. Whichever situation you’re in, you’re responsible for making sure that whatever calls, meetings, and requests that get through to your executive are the best use of her or his time. Taking on the gatekeeper role doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop someone from reaching the executive you support. It means that you intentionally filter requests, letting through what is important and politely declining what is not. 

Why is the gatekeeper role important?

Being the gatekeeper is arguably the most important role an executive assistant plays. Without assistance in prioritization, executives can easily become inundated with meetings they don’t need. As an EA, your primary goal is to help your executive be successful. The best way you can contribute to your executive’s success is by ensuring there is time in her or his calendar for the meetings and activities that really matter. Being an effective gatekeeper will play a huge part in giving your executive that time. 

How to be a great gatekeeper:

Know the goals and priorities of your executive

The number one tip to be a great gatekeeper is to make sure you are aligned with your executive and have a solid understanding of her or his priorities. Knowing what projects and initiatives are most important will help you make more informed decisions about who gets through to your executive.

Ask the right questions

A good gatekeeper will vet any requests before they get through to her or his executive. Ask follow-up questions to determine if the request is worth your executive’s time. Even if you determine the request is important, your questioning will help you decide where it should fall on her or his priority list. 

If you want to go above and beyond, consider doing additional research on the company or person requesting your executive’s time. This can give you further insight, as well as allow you to provide more context to your executive before she or he takes the meeting.  

Understand your executive’s schedule and preferences

As an executive assistant, you are likely scheduling meetings for the executive you support. Make sure that you have an understanding of how many meetings your executive would like to have every day, what time of day she or he is most productive in meetings, and so on. Understanding your executive’s preferences will help you effectively manage his or her calendar. 

Learn to say no

You are bound to get requests that are not worth your executive’s time. Don’t be afraid to say no. Your job is to protect your executive and sometimes that requires you to be persistent and unwavering. You have the authority to turn down meeting requests that don’t align with your executive’s goals or schedule. 

Always be respectful when telling a requestor no. You never know when you may run into the person again, or when your executive may develop a business relationship with that person down the road.

Pro-tip: There are hundreds of articles circulating the web that give sales teams advice on how to get past gatekeepers. Make sure to educate yourself on the various mechanisms salespeople use so that you can shut down their attempts.

The gatekeeper role is one of the most important roles you can play as an executive assistant. Protecting your executive’s time will help to ensure her or his success, thereby increasing your value and solidifying your position.

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About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.