If you’re an executive assistant, you have a tough job. You’re often expected to be a jack of all trades as well as a bridge of communication between your boss and the rest of the organization or clients.
In this article, we’ll look at the value executive assistants bring to the workplace and the hard and soft skills needed for success.
What is an Executive Assistant?
An executive assistant plays a key role in the success of an executive leader or group of leaders of an organization. They are typically the first line of communication (sometimes defense) for their boss or the executive suite for internal and external staff, clients, or vendors. Their role involves both hard and soft skills to ultimately build and maintain organization and support that empowers leadership to succeed at their potential.
In some cases, an executive assistant may manage the daily operations of their boss’s life as well, which could extend beyond assignments at the company. These tasks may include scheduling personal appointments like doctor’s visits. Overall, an executive assistant tends to hold a great deal of influence1https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-most-powerful-person-in-the-office-1383089416 on the success of a leader and the company.
Let’s dive into the skills needed for success!
30 Key Executive Assistant Skills
There are two categories of skills that make up a great executive assistant, which include a mix of both soft skills and hard skills in areas such as relational intelligence and attention to detail.
Executive Assistant Soft Skills
Soft skills will make or break your success as an executive assistant. You might know the ins and outs of calendar management and CRMs. Still, if you don’t have the relational intelligence or attention to detail to stay on top of critical initiatives, both you and your boss may find yourself struggling to succeed.
Here are the soft skills you need to stay on top of your game as an executive assistant.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is the ability to focus on information to identify what needs to be done, corrected, or brought to light. People with this skill are great at zeroing in from the big picture to the activities, tasks, or minute details that will make the big picture a reality. They can easily notice what’s wrong, missing, or confused in a piece of communication, in a relational interaction, or on a spreadsheet.
How to develop attention to detail: Building this skill involves clearing your mind and physical space from distraction, creating routines, and focusing on one thing at a time.
For example, if your boss gives you a document and asks you to read it and provide feedback and edits, you might take these next steps:
- Get in the right headspace. Set a block of time for yourself to focus on the project. Turn off notifications for a few minutes.
- Follow a checklist. If you’re editing a document, follow a pre-built checklist to ensure you catch each important item: spelling, correct names, punctuation, etc.
Pro Tip: Create checklists for each important project where attention to detail is essential. Use checklists for email correspondence, budgets, presentations, travel arrangements, or any other regular project that tends to repeat similar checks and balances.
Organization skills include the ability to categorize complexity, create functionality, and understand time constraints while managing expectations. People with this skill are great at recognizing patterns and forming systems around tasks, objects, or ideas.
How to develop organization: Building this skill involves identifying patterns, removing what does not serve your goals, and building systems and functionality to accomplish your goals.
For example, let’s say there are a number of tasks your boss wants to complete before the end of the month. Some tasks may range in urgency or importance, and others may involve collaboration or require additional feedback. Perhaps you take this approach to organize priorities:
- Categorize the tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix2https://www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/: urgent (people want it now), important (it’s imperative but could be put off if needed), and important/urgent (this is critical now). If there are tasks you recognize can be put off to next month, mark them as such.
- Identify which of those tasks will require buy-in from others and which can be done on their own.
- Based on collaboration touchpoints and the time needed for each task, list the tasks by the time commitment.
- Prioritize tasks in the critical/urgent category with more time needed at the top, and move down the list, plotting each task on the calendar.
Discretion & Confidentiality
Discretion and confidentiality involve how you handle private or sensitive information. While discretion is the ability to understand what information can and cannot be shared with others, confidentiality is the ability to hold private information in confidence.
How to develop discretion and confidentiality: Building this skill involves taking steps to check your communication patterns as well as your security setup. As an executive assistant, discretion and confidentiality are expected. Since the executive assistant is often seen as an extension of the leader, or even their right hand, their information handling is considered equal to how one would expect the leader to handle it.
- Check your communication patterns. Outside discussion with friends or colleagues about your boss’s private meetings or business decisions may be frowned upon, especially with matters that may affect the company’s success. One way to check yourself is to imagine what you say in the next day’s news headlines. If it would cause an issue for you, your boss, a client, a staff member, or the company, be careful about who you choose to discuss it with and err on the side of privacy.
- Secure your technology and files. As an executive assistant, you likely have a lot of access to sensitive information in your company and potentially with clients. Do your due diligence and be sure to check your password protections on files, devices, accounts, etc.
Time management is the ability to organize your time to accomplish various goals. People with this skill are great at setting boundaries and recognizing their own limitations while simultaneously establishing the right expectation for themselves and others on how long various projects or tasks will take to complete.
How to develop time management: Building this skill involves recognizing work rhythms and becoming a master at time-blocking.
- Recognize work rhythms. You may find you’re most productive in the morning, while you notice your boss is most effective in the afternoon and prefers meetings and phone calls in the morning.
- Master time-blocking. Once you recognize work rhythms, plan accordingly. For example, you might schedule your boss’s meetings in the morning according to their rhythms while you block your time in the morning to work on travel arrangements.
These are two of many quick time management tips you can try. Check out our article on time-management strategies to discover even more!
Emotional & Relational Intelligence
Emotional and relational intelligence skills involve awareness of how you show up with others and interact with empathy, thoughtfulness, and consideration. People with these skills are great at recognizing people’s needs and connecting in such a way that makes them feel valued.
How to develop emotional and relational intelligence: To excel in emotional and relational intelligence, work on self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy.
For example, as an executive assistant, your role likely involves a keen awareness of office politics and company culture. As you interact with your boss and others, you may find that people often feel more comfortable talking to you about issues they might feel uncomfortable bringing up to leadership.
It’s essential to recognize that your reactions may reflect the leadership suite, depending on the context. Take a moment to pause and filter what you hear before you engage. It’s ok to empathize with others, but in some cases, it may be best to delegate the conversation appropriately.
Communication is about connecting with others through listening, observation, and sharing ideas, emotions, or information. People with this skill are great at providing clarity, empathizing with others, and generating buy-in to move things forward.
How to develop communication: As an executive assistant, not only are you showing up with your own ideas, but you’re also often speaking on behalf of someone else. People rely on you to be an extension of the eyes, ears, and voice of your boss. This requires both warmth and competence. Two of the most helpful skills you can develop to improve your communication as an executive assistant include listening well and building charisma.
- Don’t assume! Being a great listener involves asking questions to gain clarity and then confirming others’ answers by restating what you understand.
- Build your charisma. Charisma is a mix of warmth and competence. Warm people are seen as friendly and approachable. Competent people are seen as confident and capable. With more charisma (a combination of warmth and competence), you can gain greater influence and move things forward faster.
Action Step: Take our charisma diagnostic test to see where you land on the charisma scale!
Anticipation is the ability to foresee potential issues or needs before they occur, partly due to past experience but also to keen observation and consideration for what might happen in any given situation. People with this skill are great at planning ahead, learning people’s preferences, and thinking through the details of worst and best-case scenarios.
How to develop anticipation: To excel at anticipation, ask questions to plan for future needs and take notes on what you observe in various scenarios and interactions.
Here are some categories to help you anticipate future needs:
- Food: Favorite and least favorite, preferred restaurants for meetings, best times to eat, etc.
- Travel: Preferred airline, seat location, car rental preferences, time to travel, etc.
- Productivity: Preferred time to connect with certain people, most productive time of day, etc.
Giving sound advice is the ability to discern the best course of action in a given situation and communicate effectively and with empathy when asked for feedback or support. People with this skill are great at seeing a situation from various perspectives and understanding the heart and motives behind the person seeking a solution.
How to develop giving advice: Excelling at giving advice or counsel first involves deep understanding. If you want to be heard, listen well first to understand where someone is coming from. Sometimes, it may be best to provide counsel through questions.
For example, your boss may come to you and say, “I don’t know what to do about John. He seemed really upset on the phone about the proposal I sent him. Why did he react that way? What should I do?” You could then respond with questions to help your boss gain clarity: “What did he say? How did you respond? Does he have anything else going on today? What might have been confusing about the proposal?”
Research is the ability to find, identify, and evaluate information in order to address an issue or clarify a solution. People with this skill are great at identifying patterns in data and recognizing relevant details that drive clarity.
How to develop research skills: To excel at research, learn to take excellent notes and organize them into categories that serve your decision-making. As an executive assistant, research may involve various scenarios, from choosing the best restaurant for a client meeting to looking into the history of a potential prospect. From your notes and data organization, you can then analyze and identify the best next steps or decisions.
To get started, you might organize your notes and data in various ways, including:
- Pros and cons list
- Benefits and features
- Cost and value
Pro Tip: Google search shortcuts can be extra helpful to zero in on specific information.
Decision-making is the ability to evaluate the pros, cons, and various perspectives around an issue and take informed steps toward a solution. People with this skill are great at considering context, maintaining an objective point of view, and listening to others while weighing all their options.
How to develop decision-making: To excel at making decisions, it’s important to learn how to pause and evaluate before moving forward. Making good decisions starts with identifying the problem you’re trying to solve or the goal you’re trying to achieve, weighing your options, and narrowing down to the best choice.
Pro Tip: Consider reducing your choices to help you make better decisions. In our article on overcoming choice paralysis, Vanessa Van Edwards shares that when you reduce your choices, you ultimately make better decisions. There is such a thing as too many options!
People skills refer to the ability to connect with others in an effective way and involve a combination of skills, including communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence. People with these skills are great at making others feel comfortable, working in collaboration, and bringing out the best in others.
How to develop people skills: To excel at people skills, work on your presence and conversation skills. As an executive assistant, you are often the first person someone interacts with before connecting with your boss. How you present yourself and connect with others in conversation sets up interaction with your boss well.
- Presence is about how you show up. And showing up well involves self-awareness and confidence. To improve your self-awareness and confidence, try meditation and setting boundaries.
- The art of conversation is about learning to dance (sort of). Keep a set of go-to questions handy to engage with people and get to know them. Your interest in others helps make them feel interested and valued by you. Also, consider the positive things you can connect on—exciting projects, family, weather, holidays, travel, weekend plans, etc.
Want to improve your ability to identify the meaning behind specific behavioral cues and get better at reading people? Check out this helpful resource!
Unlock the Secrets of Charisma
Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.
Resourcefulness is the ability to problem-solve and find solutions under various limitations. People with this skill are great at seeing the glass half-full and identifying possibilities and opportunities that may be right under their noses.
How to develop resourcefulness: To excel at resourcefulness, practice producing something from limited resources to train your brain to see possibility. As an executive assistant, resourcefulness can ultimately help your company save time and money in the long run.
Try training your brain to be resourceful with these creative exercises:
- Challenge yourself to make a gourmet dinner with only the things in your pantry today (no grocery shopping!).
- Challenge yourself to write a poem prompted by the words from your last text message.
- Challenge yourself to plan a lunch party with $20 and all the creativity you can develop from what you have on hand.
Adaptability is the ability to be flexible in the face of change. People with this skill are great at seeking understanding, learning new skills, and trying new ways of doing things, even if they initially feel uncomfortable.
How to develop adaptability: Building this skill involves opening your mind to possibilities and can start with the simple act of exposing yourself to new ideas and ways of doing things. To build your adaptability muscle, try some of these activities:
- Read books by authors both in and outside your industry.
- Go to movies that you don’t normally gravitate towards.
- Attend conferences or workshops to explore new ways of doing things.
- Listen to podcasts on topics you want to learn more about.
- Network with people in other industries and learn how they might do your job differently.
Customer service is the ability to empathize with customers or clients, understand their needs, and address them with relevant solutions. People with this skill are great at being patient, asking questions, listening to understand, and putting people at ease with the support they’re looking for, even if it is just to be heard.
How to develop customer service skills: Building this skill starts with building your patience and empathy muscles. To do this, one of the best things you can do is approach people with curiosity, even when they might be frustrating.
For example, let’s say someone is upset that they haven’t been able to contact your boss. They are angry and may even be taking it out on you. You feel yourself getting flushed with frustration and want to get off the phone as soon as possible, but what if you tried to get curious instead? “I can see that connecting with X is really important to you. I know I can’t go back in time and shorten the delay, but can you tell me about your project? I’m curious to learn more about it myself!”
Initiative is the ability to self-manage and take steps to meet anticipated needs or solve problems without being asked. People with this skill are self-aware and understand how their strengths can support big-picture goals.
How to develop initiative: A good executive assistant does what’s asked of them. A great executive assistant knows what needs to be done before being asked. To build this skill, take steps to build self-awareness and self-motivation. Additionally, refer to the skill of anticipation and take note of observations about what is needed to accomplish goals.
- Build self-awareness and self-motivation by celebrating your wins, speaking to yourself positively, and tracking progress toward your goals in a journal.
- Pay attention to what you observe and the needs of yourself and others. For example, how long does your boss like to review board notes? Which leaders are more persuasive than others? Write down your observations in a place you can reference later for conversations or decisions you need to make.
Work-life balance is developing clear boundaries between work and personal life. People with this skill have a good sense of self-awareness and are great at understanding their limitations and knowing when to say no.
How to develop work-life balance: Building a work-life balance is essential to avoid burnout. As an executive assistant, it’s important to maintain and communicate your boundaries so you don’t become overworked and overstressed.
To do this, know your limitations and priorities, recognizing that a yes to one thing might mean a no to something else. In your unique role, your boundaries are not just about your limitations; they’re also about your boss too. If you say yes to one thing, you’re not just saying no to something else on your plate. You’re likely saying no to something on theirs.
When you encounter situations like this, it’s best to communicate your collective priorities to determine what needs to be left undone and what can be delegated. You’ll both be better off for it!
Executive Assistant Hard Skills
The great thing about hard skills is that they can be learned. Some of them require soft skills to master, but generally speaking, hard skills for executive assistants can be developed over time. Let’s look at some of the top hard skills companies look for in an executive assistant.
Phone and email correspondence
Phone and email correspondence skills include the ability to communicate with clarity, professionalism, and charisma effectively. People with this skill are great at setting clear expectations, exhibiting warmth and competence, and helping people feel confident and at ease.
On the technical side, they understand that professional communication also involves an informed use of grammar and structure, minimal use of sarcasm, and language that avoids exaggeration, vagueness, or filler words.
How to excel at phone and email correspondence: To excel at phone and email correspondence, you’ll need soft skills in empathy, understanding, and confidence paired with excellent grammar and enunciation. If people can’t understand what you’re communicating to them, you’ll have a hard time with correspondence.
- Practice speaking with one of these six recommended speaking apps.
- Utilize spellcheck or programs like Grammarly to ensure your emails sound grammatically correct.
PowerPoint (and Other Presentation Software)
PowerPoint involves creating effective, visually pleasing presentations that inform or persuade others. People with this skill are great at understanding the nuances of an effective presentation, including layout, data graphics, fonts, effects, transitions, fonts, display modes, etc.
How to excel at PowerPoint: The best way to build your presentation creation skills is to get in there and play around with it simply. Of course, there are plenty of free courses online you can try to learn some tips and tricks too. If you want to go the extra mile, you might want to dabble in free design software like Canva, which also offers design templates for beautiful presentations.
Data entry skills include the ability to comprehend detailed information with focused attention and translate it into a system or clear format to be understood well by others. People with this skill are usually high-focused, organized individuals with acute attention to detail and technical knowledge in CRM systems, databases, word processors, Excel, etc.
How to excel at data entry: There are online courses you can take in data entry, but this skill primarily comes from developing your attention to detail paired with your ability to stay focused and type with accuracy and speed.
However, your knowledge of the program you’re entering data into will likely carry more weight. Consider courses in Excel, word processors, or the system your company or the company you want to work for uses. Some of the most popular databases include Oracle, MySQL, and SQL Server.
Time Management Technology
Time management skills include the ability to organize and prioritize goals, relationships, and expectations. On the technical side, time management skills may include knowledge of various calendar scheduling and project management systems.
How to excel at calendar and time management: Building your time-management skills will require trial and error to find something that works best for you. Additionally, time management is one of those skills that could easily fall into the soft skill category and should consider other skills like goal-setting and managing expectations. Programs you’ll want to become familiar with include Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, or whatever calendar program is used at your company.
For inspiration, there are plenty of free and paid online courses and articles you can check out to find out how others manage time, including some of our own!
Travel Support & Itinerary Management
Travel support and itinerary management skills include the ability to anticipate needs, manage time, juggle expectations, communicate clearly, and negotiate. People with this skill usually have a great understanding of the travel industry, including the nuances between various travel vendors (hotels, airlines, car rentals, etc.). Additionally, they are great troubleshooters and tend to anticipate plan B or C options as needed.
How to excel at travel support and itinerary management: Building your skills in this area includes a mix of experience through trial, error and exposure. It includes researching and familiarizing yourself with travel trends, vendor features, and options. Keep notes on preferences and perks along the way, and you will become a go-to resource for travel support.
As you plan travel itineraries, it’s also beneficial to come up with “what if” scenarios when things don’t go to plan. Travel can be unpredictable due to weather and other unforeseen factors, so it’s best to anticipate these scenarios and be prepared.
Budgeting & Bookkeeping
Budgeting and bookkeeping skills involve the ability to process financial information, stay organized, and keep clean records. People with these skills are typically great with numbers and attention to detail.
How to excel at budgeting and bookkeeping: If you don’t have an accounting degree, no fear. Budgeting and bookkeeping are skills that can be learned without pre-knowledge of accounting. There are plenty of free and paid online courses to help you discover how to budget. Additionally, there are also free and paid online courses in bookkeeping.
Project management skills involve the ability to organize and see a project through to completion from start to finish. People with this skill are great at time management, collaboration, planning budgets, anticipating needs, and communication.
How to excel at project management: This is a highly sought-after skill, and fortunately, there are many free and paid online courses you can take in project management. Additionally, it is recommended to familiarize yourself with some of the most popular project management software, including programs like Monday, Smartsheet, Jira, Wrike, and Asana.
Financial reporting skills involve the ability to take financial information and put it into a format that communicates a clear picture of what the numbers indicate. People with this skill are great at identifying patterns in numbers, creating graphs, and understanding the language of finance and accounting.
How to excel at financial reporting: Building this skill will require an understanding of accounting and finance as it involves identifying and analyzing financial data for the purpose of presenting it to leaders and stakeholders, and there are several courses you can take to acquire this skill.
Note this skill is a perk on a resume for an executive assistant and may not be a requirement. Generally, financial reporting is the responsibility of the accounting department, but it may be helpful for executive assistants to have some knowledge and background in it.
Meeting minutes skills involve the ability to listen carefully, focus on context, comprehend key decisions and action items, and communicate them clearly in written form. People with this skill are great at making keen observations, attention to detail, remaining objective and unbiased, and asking clarifying questions.
How to excel at meeting minutes: To build this skill, it’s important to have the soft skill of attention to detail and focus. This is an active role that requires full attention. There are online courses you can take to master this skill, but the basics to take effective meeting minutes include noting:
- Meeting participants
- Date and time
- Meeting purpose
- Decisions made
- Actions to take
- Follow-up items
- Agreed-upon responsibilities
Event planning skills involve managing time, expectations, and relationships while communicating plans and changes, often on the fly. People with this skill are great at juggling various demands at once, whether from vendors, stakeholders, or guests, and knowing how to delegate, negotiate, and stay calm under pressure.
How to excel at event planning: Since this skill requires juggling multiple demands at once, often under pressure, you might try building this skill by putting yourself in smaller stakes as well as high-pressure situations and building up over time. For example, a kid’s birthday party might be a good start. Then you can work your way up to more high-stakes events like board meetings or fundraising dinners.
- Develop a mood board or theme
- Collect ideas and inspiration
- Establish your goals, priorities, budget, and to-dos
- Determine who will be responsible for what
- Communicate and request actions from necessary parties
- Keep diligent notes on all action items and tasks
- Follow up, follow up, follow up
- Remain on-call to troubleshoot any issues
Attention: Event planning is considered one of the top ten most stressful jobs. To set yourself up well, there are also a number of courses available online to give you tips and tricks of the trade to plan successful events.
Remote & In-Person Meeting Technology
Remote and in-person meeting technology skills include knowledge of various systems to conduct an effective meeting, including sound, camera, lighting, internet connection, microphones, screens, etc. People with these skills are great at understanding the nuances behind how various systems work and how to troubleshoot when issues arise.
How to excel at remote and in-person meeting technology: As an executive assistant, when something goes wrong in a meeting, you are likely going to be the first person your boss turns to. Having a background in how everything works is key to troubleshooting under pressure.
Building your technology skills is a matter of exposing yourself to various forms of technology needed to conduct a successful meeting and learning how it works through trial, error and training. In some cases, you may be able to connect with your IT department to gain on-the-job training. Otherwise, there are courses you can take on various pieces of equipment that may be helpful.
Pro Tip: Develop good connections with your IT or technology department at your company. They might need to help you save the day at some point!
Office Equipment Technology
Office equipment skills involve knowledge of how various office equipment functions, including printers, scanners, cameras, microphones, phones, internet modems, computers, etc. People with these skills are great at understanding the nuances behind how the equipment works and how to troubleshoot when issues arise.
How to excel at office equipment technology: Building your technology savvy on office equipment involves exposure, trial and error, and training. In many cases, office equipment training is made available by the company it was purchased from. Be sure to request training. If it’s unavailable, seek out online courses or YouTube tutorials on the equipment in your office. Of course, you may be able to also seek training from your IT or technology department.
Social Media Management
Social media management involves understanding the best way to communicate content on various platforms, how to read analytics and performance, and when and how to engage with others. People with these skills stay current on the latest trends and understand how to make a message land well in various contexts.
How to excel at social media management: It doesn’t happen all the time, but many executive assistants are responsible for their boss’s social media presence. So having some background in social media management is helpful. To build this skill, there are free and paid online courses you can take.
You can also get started by creating a social media presence with these simple tips:
- Write a bio that highlights success
- Build a digital presence with great content that adds value to people
- Pay attention to social media trends
- Network with others online (like and engage in comments)
Digital File Management
File management and digital file management skills involve organizing information in a clear system that supports easily locating the information later when needed. It also involves keeping files clean and removing unneeded files that no longer serve a goal. People with these skills are great at detecting patterns, categorizing, and anticipating the needs of others who need to locate the files.
How to excel at file management: Building this skill combines a combination of soft organizational skills in categorization and hard skills in understanding filing systems. The primary way to succeed in file management is to adopt consistency in how you categorize and name your files. It should be a system that is understood and adopted by everyone who uses it so that people aren’t frustrated when they can’t locate something.
Executive Assistant FAQs
The most important function of an executive assistant is their ability to support an executive leader to stay organized, on task, and freed up to manage important relationships and leadership decisions that drive success.
Executive assistants are important because of their ability to take on often tedious yet valuable administrative and organizational assignments that allow leaders to focus their minds on major decisions, build relationships, and think creatively about solutions to problems.
Assistant-to-leader relationships are often complementary in nature due to the balance of strengths they bring to the table. For example, a leader may be visionary, creative, and highly relational, and their assistant may be more detail-oriented and structured.
The primary duties of an executive assistant include supporting a leader or executive suite with scheduling, travel management, executive communication (internal and external), presentation preparation, budget and expense tracking, and project management.
Executive assistants work in a variety of industries and for organizations, both large and small. With the rise of remote and hybrid work, executive assistants can be seen working not only on-site but also remotely as virtual assistants.
The best personality traits for an executive assistant will differ for each leader they are assisting and will depend more on the best complementary mix. That said, there are some common traits among successful executive assistants that are worth nothing.
These traits include discretion due to often dealing with sensitive or private information, a knack for detail and organization, and emotionally intelligent communication that exhibits the professional nature of the executive suite.
Executive Assistant Essential Skills Takeaways
In summary, take note of these tips to become a successful executive assistant:
- Build your soft skills, including attention to detail, organization, emotional and relational intelligence, decision-making, discretion and confidentiality, time management, anticipation, adaptability, initiative, communication, wise counsel, research, customer service, resourcefulness, people skills, and work-life balance.
- Build your hard skills, including correspondence, PowerPoint, data entry, time management technology, travel support, meeting minutes, budgeting and bookkeeping, event planning, project management, financial reporting, meeting technology, office equipment technology, social media management, and digital file management.
For more ideas on making the most of your career, check out our article How to Have Fun at Work.
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