Top Executive Assistant skills in 2022
As an Executive Assistant, your high-powered role requires a unique combination of soft and hard skills that can only be developed through time, experience and determination. Whether you’re a new EA eager to learn the skills that will accelerate your success, or you’re an experienced EA looking to sharpen up, we’ve got you covered. Here are 20 top skills we look for at Base, where we train and connect world-class EAs with Executives around the world.
20 essential Executive Assistant skills in 2022
These are just some of the hard and soft skills Executives (especially CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.) look for when hiring Executive Assistants.
Executive Assistant Hard Skills
1. The Ability to Manage Up ↗️
“Managing up” means protecting an Executive’s time and focus. In today’s fast-paced work environment, there are many things competing for a business leader’s attention. An Executive Assistant adept at managing up will know how to strategically coordinate schedules, projects, meetings, and act as a time gatekeeper – ensuring their Executive can focus on their highest leverage work. Managing up can also mean empowering your Exec to be your best supporter.
A good Executive Assistant will do their research and present their Executive with several choices. A great Executive Assistant will know their Exec’s preferences and will have made those choices ahead of time, ensuring the Executive’s lift is as minimal as possible (Base’s Decision Stream feature is a tool that can help you make those choices quickly).
With managing up, email, meeting and calendar management can boost productivity past simply checking things off the to-do list!
2. Email Management 📧
Great email management skills are a small part of a much larger job, and maintaining your Executive’s inbox quickly so you don’t waste time yourself can be a surprisingly difficult task. It’s a must-have skill for Executive Assistants, and your Exec will appreciate you saving them dozens of hours per month simply by keeping their inbox tidy. Of course, hitting daily inbox zero can be daunting, especially if your Exec receives emails almost every second of the day – here’s a great guide on how to get started with email management.
3. Calendar Management 🗓
With your Executive’s busy schedule, maintaining a well-functioning calendar can be like playing Tetris – never-ending! We get it. That’s why we created a Calendar Management 101 Ebook exclusively for Executive Assistants. It will take you through creating a system that is beneficial for both you and your Exec, establishing an ideal week framework, and learning how to stay in control when the tasks, meetings, and appointments pile on.
4. Travel Management ✈️
When your Executive is planning to travel, oftentimes it’s the Executive Assistant who takes on the role of an entire travel agency, booking flights, hotels, rental cars and more (this is an area where managing up comes in clutch). It’s easy to simply hand your business leader a list of flights and hotels for them to choose from, but an Executive Assistant with travel management skills will take it to the next level by learning their Exec’s preferences and proactively recommending a complete itinerary – from the moment they leave to the moment they return. If you want to sharpen your travel management skills, try out this Travel Itinerary template from Base. It includes a daily schedule breakdown so you’ll never have to start from scratch again.
5. Meeting Management 🤝
Another important hard skill for Executive Assistants is being able to properly plan and manage meetings. So many unnecessary meetings happen in the workplace that it’s become a meme.
As an EA, you can effectively gatekeep against meetings that end up feeling pointless. This is another way to protect your Executive’s time. Not sure where to start with meeting planning? Take a look at this blog post on the importance of pre-work to plan a successful meeting!
Our best tips for successful meeting management:
- Ensure every meeting has a clear purpose, and all attendees are aware of the ideal meeting outcome.
- Attending the meeting for your Exec, then sharing the highlights with them after (instead of vice versa).
- With the exception of brainstorming, meetings should have clear agendas and a clear owner who will ensure all topics get covered.
- Meetings should always start and end on time.
If an attendee is taking up more talk time than they should, great EAs know how to corral the conversation back and tee up quieter contributors into the discussion.
6. Project Management 📊
Executive Assistants are often already experts at project management, even if they don’t know it yet. That’s because at its core, project management is simply breaking larger, complex goals down into smaller ones, and ensuring that everything (and everyone) stays organized and on track to meet the goals—and most EAs already do this every day!
Pro tip: If you want to excel at project management, start with streamlining both the tactical work and the communication of the teams involved. This will cut back on the amount of time an Executive would normally spend answering questions, tidying up loose ends, and going over the details themselves.
EAs, read this blog post for how to get started on project management at your workplace.
7. CRM Management 💻
Most companies use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool like Salesforce, Zoho, and HubSpot to manage their customer relationships. These tools are extremely useful and managing them is important work, so they can often be a large timesink for business leaders.
Because of this, many top Executive Assistants are familiar with these systems, even going as far as to become certified in their use. The good news is that these databases and tools are often very similar to one another, so if you’re familiar with one it greatly speeds up the time it takes to become familiar with a new CRM system.
If managing professional relationships and networking is a big pain point for your Executive, consider familiarizing yourself with the company’s CRM to discover if it can be leveraged to help your Executive recall key contacts and their info.
8. Systems and Process Management 🧑💻
Highly-skilled Executive Assistants are great at creating SOPs and managing various systems and processes. But what does that really mean?
An SOP is a Standard Operating Procedure. It helps teams and companies consistently deliver high quality results in areas that recur often, like invoicing, customer service conversations, reimbursements, and more. You can create an SOP for nearly anything, from creating a post on social media to writing blogs, or even managing an entire project. Process management is the overall ability to align these SOPs with an organization’s strategic goals, measure them, and find areas where they could be tightened up to save time.
Experienced Executive Assistants have likely seen a large number of various systems and processes, so they’re familiar with the areas that could be improved upon and the best digital tools that can help save time.
9. Event Planning 📅
As an EA, it’s highly likely that you will be asked to plan an event. Whether it’s a small board meeting or a larger company retreat, event planning is an essential Executive Assistant skill and can be one of the more enjoyable assignments for an EA…if you know how to do it well!
Many companies simply don’t have the resources to hire a full time event planner, and in this case, an experienced Executive Assistant can prove invaluable to executing a great event. Just like other planning processes, the best assistants know it’s the details that will determine how smoothly an event goes. Check out our guide to Event Planning to brush up on your event planning skills and run your next event like a pro.
10. Written Communication ✍️
Great Executive Assistants know the right way to write, and it’s a skill that definitely takes time to develop! A big majority of your work as an EA work is written – travel itineraries, agendas, event programs, email replies, ghost-writing as your Exec – so having top-notch writing skills is an absolute must. Consider these best practices to improve your written communication:
- Always double check your deliverables. If it’s something really important (like a board report), consider printing it out and checking it by hand, instead of on a computer.
- Read your work out loud. We’ve found this helps us catch errors we wouldn’t normally see when scanning the text.
- Have someone else check your work. If you’re trying to review a longer piece, have a trusted coworker scan it as well.
Use a tool like Grammarly to help check for errors.
Executive Assistant Soft Skills
11. Emotional Intelligence 🧠
Kicking off our soft skills for assistants is emotional intelligence. This is a huge area for an EA, as it’s important to understand and intuit how your Executive is feeling during certain situations. Paying attention to your Executive’s needs is crucial for understanding how you can make their work easier—and more effective.
Often, the business leader themself won’t notice how much something bothers them. For instance, a dedicated EA with high emotional intelligence might notice that an Executive is always in a foul mood when they need to take a meeting after lunch. That is a prime example of a nonverbal cue the EA should note, and try to give their Exec some breathing room after lunch before they have another meeting.
Emotional intelligence isn’t all about paying attention to your Executive though; it also means being able to effectively communicate with them (and others) as well. A large part of an EA’s job is to ensure that their Executive is staying on-task—and there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to encourage your Exec to stay focused!
Likewise, when managing teams or outgoing communication from an Executive, emotional intelligence is also key in making sure everyone feels understood and heard. It’s a leadership skill that EAs must sharpen on a daily basis. Here are three strategies to build leadership skills as an assistant – take a look!
12. Strategic Thinking 🤔
Strategic thinking is a skill that is much harder to teach than others, but comes in incredibly handy as an Executive Assistant. Proactively considering how a decision or process will affect the whole organization is an absolute necessity when working as an EA.
A seasoned Executive Assistant will be able to understand intuitively how to analyze critical factors that will influence the long-term success of an organization. Like so much else as an EA, the key to strategic thinking is in the details and how those details relate to the bigger picture.
This blog shares exactly how to start building the roadmap toward strategic impact within your organization.
13. Being Proactive and Anticipating Needs 💡
Being proactive and anticipating your Executive’s needs is a key skill in becoming an effective Executive Assistant. Whether it’s sending your Exec lunch when they’re working from home or noting local hospitals that take their insurance before a big business trip, thinking proactively and anticipating their needs makes their life and work easier. We created a two-part series to help assistants stay proactive; check them out below!
- Staying Proactive As An Executive Assistant Part 1: Fight Fires Efficiently
- Staying Proactive As An Executive Assistant Part 2: Proactivity Basics
14. Keeping Composure Under Pressure 😅
The deadline for a major project is in a few hours and one team is coming up short. Someone just accidentally deleted 5,000 contacts in the company CRM. Your Exec is running late for a big meeting and you’re presenting together.
Quick — what do you do?
Situations like these happen to EAs on a daily basis, and working well under pressure is an essential skill of the Executive Assistant. Thankfully, this is where many EAs shine!
It’s during those chaotic times where EAs are able to take a deep breath and take action, handling the issue and putting out the fire. Sometimes, no one even knows there was an issue to begin with because the EA kept their composure under the pressure. Hats off to the EAs who keep calm and carry on!
If you support a high-profile leader, you may experience these pressures more often. Learn how you can support a high-profile leader with tips from the experts.
15. Tech Savvy 🖱
Being technologically fluent is a major part of being an EA. So much of what an Executive Assistant does is made easier through the use of technology, and there’s always another new app or tool to make the work even easier (check out 7 EA tools here).
In addition, most of the platforms used to manage business today are digital, whether it’s a calendar, email or project. Being able to troubleshoot the technical side of things is and will always be an important skill for Executive Assistants. We recommend befriending your company’s IT department and establishing a good relationship. This will give you an ally if software fails or your Exec needs a tool to work creatively.
If you’re ready to take your EA role to the tech level, try out Base, a software platform made for Executive Assistants. Get a free demo today!
16. Organization Skills 📝
Color-coded calendars. Tidy email folders. Pristine spreadsheets. These are a few of our favorite things!
Seriously, no EA can function well without a great innate sense of organization. It trickles down into many different realms of EA work, and is absolutely an essential skill – especially when working with multiple Executives.
The good news is that there are now tech solutions for Executive Assistants to help keep things organized for you! Base is a fantastic software our Executive Assistants use, and was specifically built for EAs. Base’s Dossier functionality is especially handy when it comes to organizing multiple clients. Give it a try; we think you’ll really like it!
17. Professional Discretion 🔒
When working so closely with an Executive, you’re bound to come across confidential information. Whether it’s personal information of employees or trade secrets, professional discretion is an absolute must-have skill for assistants. There really isn’t much room for gossip or office politics as an EA. When you practice discretion both within your company and externally, trust us; you’ll build trust with your Executive for the long haul.
Need more tips? Read For Your Eyes Only: Confidentiality Tips for Executive Assistants
18. Smart Multitasking ☑️
As an Executive Assistant, you know that there are always irons in the fire. The ability to quickly prioritize which one needs the most attention first will not only help you be more efficient in your work, but will also make the work easier for you, too. It’s also worth noting that while multitasking is important, sometimes it’s not the best way to approach a bundle of duties. What’s helpful is to focus on your highest priority task first, then one-by-one, tackle the list as you prioritize throughout the day.
Take your efficiency up a notch with Task Efficiency for Executive Assistants: Time & Calendar Management
19. Gatekeeping and Negotiation Skills 👥
Many times, your job as an EA involves finding creative ways to get what your Executive needs done, in the most efficient way possible. EAs are miracle workers in this regard, but it can take strong negotiating and diplomacy skills to make it happen.
For example: You help manage the project management board for your Executive’s leadership team, including assigning individual pieces of a long-term project to its corresponding contributors. A Director strongly disagrees with the direction of the project, but after much discussion, your Exec is sticking to the original plan. It’s your job to help make sure this Director stays on schedule and delivers his team’s contribution so that the project succeeds.
Enter you, with a heap of diplomacy and kindness! It’s this kind of approach that will make all the difference in getting the Director on board and ensuring his team reaches the finish line.
Another strong component of being an EA is gatekeeping your Exec’s time. After all, saving Executives’ time is why the profession exists! Being able to effectively protect their schedule—sometimes from the Executive themselves—is a fine art and must-have skill for Executive Assistants. Read this post on how to perfect the gatekeeper role as an assistant.
20. General Resourcefulness 🧩
As we reach the end of the top Executive Assistant skills, we have perhaps the most broad but important skill: Resourcefulness.
Chances are if you’re an Executive Assistant and you have even half of the skills listed here, you’re very resourceful. And that’s a good thing, because the best EAs absolutely excel at resourcefulness.
The best EAs bring the “I can do this” mentality to their work, and are confident in their ability to make it happen. And if they can’t, they proactively recommend an alternative solution that still results in success for themselves, and their Executive.
If you need a confidence boost, here are 5 ways to bring a more confident you to work!
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