Stay One Step Ahead (of Your Exec)

What makes a great assistant? Efficiency, organization, and experience are important, but staying one step ahead of your executive is the key to success. It may seem like mind-reading, but being able to see around corners and know what your executive needs before they ask for it will help you shine as an EA.

Before completing a project, ask yourself, “What’s the next step?”

Most projects require next steps after the original assignment is made. Sometimes these are steps you can handle, and other times you need information or action from team members. Rather than just completing your piece of the project, stop to think about what comes next. Once you have identified those steps, figure out what you can complete yourself, or how you can take action to keep this moving forward. Can you take care of the follow-ups? Could you coordinate the next action items and due dates with the team? Can you start taking action on the next stage of the project? 

Try listing out the questions you have for next steps and make sure you get those answered right away. Deliverables will often require action items or decisions from your executive. Have those action items and/or questions pre-listed with the deliverable to save your executive from having to find this information. 

“What’s next?” can also mean, “What happens if my plan falls through?” Being prepared with back-up steps or alternative options before they are needed will make all the difference when something doesn’t go as planned. 

Go the extra mile: find a way to take a step that isn’t required but will make your executive’s life easier, or even just give them a pleasant surprise. Think about ways that the project you are working on will be used once you have handed it off; can you make life easier for the next person? For example, create an SOP (standard operating procedure) with easy-to-use templates that will make it easy for anyone else to complete their portion of the project. Are you making travel plans for an upcoming conference? Once you’ve handled all of the necessary travel logistics, take some time to suggest some sight-seeing activities that fit into downtime, considering both activity length and location. 

Simply thinking about the next steps will give you the opportunity to stay ahead of your executive both in thoughts and actions, making both of your lives easier and saving loads of time. 

Approach all work with a critical eye

Asking good questions up front and throughout any process will allow you to find ways to save time and stay ahead of your executive. Thinking critically about all the work you do, from simple tasks to larger project management, will help you to identify holes before anyone else has found them—giving you the chance to patch them up and keep things moving smoothly forward. 

This can include ensuring you have access to the right accounts before jumping into a project and making sure you have the right contacts, even if that step is later on in the process. Get all the info and context you need to move a project forward the whole way through. 

Understand goals and priorities

Being a great assistant requires you to have a deep understanding of your executive’s and the organization’s goals and priorities. Having this understanding will also allow you to easily stay ahead of your executive. Knowing what is most important, and critically looking ahead on how to get there will allow you to both make suggestions and take actions before your executive even thinks about those steps. You can stay ahead of him/her on all the details, while she/he is free to focus on the big picture. 

The value you can provide to your executive by staying (at least) one step ahead of her/him is immeasurable. Use these strategic tips to start thinking ahead and improving the workflow for all of those around you.

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.