Key Leadership Qualities For Every Administrative Professional

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Administrative professionals tend to know the ins and outs of their organizations better than anyone else in the company and juggle multiple roles throughout the day. IAAP’s most recent Benchmarking Survey found that administrative workers are typically responsible for supporting at least three executives, researching office purchases, and corresponding on their supervisors’ behalf, among many other tasks. More than half of all administrative professionals lead corporate social responsibility efforts such as volunteering, fundraising drives, and environmental initiatives. Two-thirds plan office events or conferences, according to an OfficeTeam survey. In other words, administrative professionals are leaders in the office.

Unfortunately, administrative professionals often miss out on opportunities to demonstrate their business knowledge and leadership qualities. Without a managerial title, it can be hard to find opportunities to show your leadership potential, which can make it more difficult to get promoted within your organization or find a new career.

If you’re ready to show your potential, here are some leadership qualities you can and should develop even if you have no official authority at work.

Build positive relationships with your colleagues and customers

“Support staff might not have authority in most offices, but they certainly have influence,” said Joanne Cleaver, president of Wilson-Taylor Associates, a strategic communications consulting firm in Wisconsin. But how can office professionals like you make the most of their influence to advance themselves and to evolve workplace culture?

One way to do that is to focus on providing superior service when dealing with clients or customers. “Not only does this grow your reputation in all directions, but it can open the way for a promotion, or can establish relationships with vendors and suppliers that might lead to a new job or career,” says Cleaver.

Developing your interpersonal relationships in the office is essential, too. You can strengthen bonds with co-workers and supervisors by being generous with praise for their work. Helping others look good will help you win influence with those individuals, and they may be more likely to do unsolicited favors for you or acknowledge your work in turn.

“When others are trying to get out key messages, and are frustrated that they are not being heard, you can amplify their messages by mentioning them, reinforcing them, and by reflecting positively on the intent and results of those who are sending the messages,” Cleaver said.

Look for leadership possibilities beyond your official role

Even if you don’t have any managerial responsibilities in your official job, you can demonstrate your leadership potential by volunteering for new initiatives that don’t fall within any particular department.

For example, you may be able to volunteer to organize corporate events, such as a conference or company picnic, says Abby Kohut, a job coach based in New York City. Additionally, “come up with ideas to make the company better,” such as implementing a new recycling program, “and you’ll probably be allowed to spearhead the idea’s execution,” she adds.

That was the case for Sarah Steele, a marketing manager in Ohio who previously worked as an executive assistant. “I was always recommending areas where I thought the company could improve upon, and executed on them if it was an idea they wanted to move forward with,” she says. “I think that if you have those innate leadership skills, it comes naturally. Take on extra projects that you have a particular interest in, and knock them out of the park.”

Ask for what you want

If you’re eager to take on additional responsibilities at the workplace, don’t just sit there waiting for it to happen on its own — ask.

“A lot of managers don’t know when employees want to step up and take on new responsibilities,” says Kohut. “It’s important to speak up and tell your manager.”

If you consistently make it clear when you want more responsibility, and show what you are capable of, you’re more likely to receive what you want. That goes for pay as well as job responsibilities: A study by researchers from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and George Mason University found that employees who behaved assertively with their managers earned an average of $600,000 over a 40-year career than those who didn’t.

Manage up

Even if you don’t have any direct reports, you can focus on “managing up” by focusing on doing whatever you can to make your supervisor’s job easier. “As an administrative professional, so much of what you’re doing is focused on getting others to respond to you,” says Nan Russell, author of The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You're Not in Charge. Make everything you do personal and focused around the people you report to. This can be as simple as sending a text message instead of an e-mail if that’s how your boss wants to communicate.

When you’re working for a manager, be proactive about what he or she will need as well. By memorizing what your boss will need for his Monday morning meeting, and making sure that he has those materials on his desk half an hour early, you can demonstrate your leadership skills to your boss and enhance your chances of moving up in the ranks.

“If you show people what you’re capable of, they’ll tap you on shoulder and help you to take on a more senior-level role,” says Kohut. “If you love being an admin, it’s a great career, but if you want to be manager or coordinator, demonstrate that you have the skills for it and you’ll be given an opportunity.”

(This post originally appeared as an article in the November/December 2012 issue of OfficePro magazine. Kathryn Hawkins is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She has written for publications including BNET.com, GOOD Magazine and Wildlife Conservation; is owner and editor-in-chief of Gimundo.com, and is a principal at the content marketing agency Eucalypt Media.)

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