Stay ahead in a changing workplace

By Susan Fenner, Ph.D.

The office workplace is changing rapidly. Administrative professionals have greater responsibilities than ever before. What can administrative professionals do to adapt to these changes and to maximize their value to their employers? The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) offers seven tips:

  1. Become a software expert. Demonstrate your mastery of business productivity software programs, which typically include word-processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation, and scheduling programs. Learn to navigate the Internet and gather information on the World Wide Web to further your organization's goals and to serve customers' needs. Become a webmaster or a Web content provider for your employer.
  2. Actively pursue continuing education. Attend business-related workshops and seminars, or pursue a college degree. Polish your written and oral communications skills.
  3. Learn how to plan conferences and meetings. Make the meetings well organized and user-friendly by having good room and site selections, meeting arrangements, and audiovisuals. Understand audio conferencing and videoconferencing. Become adept at using presentation software such as Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003.
  4. Be a good teacher and leader. Many administrative professionals are training and supervising other staff members. IAAP offers many opportunities to practice organizational leadership roles.
  5. Become a communications hub for your workplace. Clients and vendors often judge the character of a business by the quality and efficiency of its administrative support staff. Customer service skills are critically important. Interpersonal skills (tact, diplomacy, negotiation) are also essential.
  6. Be an adept organizer and information manager. Use computerized data as well as paper office records to provide information needed by managers. Today's administrative staff members increasingly conduct research and help manage projects from conception to completion.
  7. Get involved in selecting and maintaining office equipment. Stay abreast of the types of available office equipment, and know what is most suited to your organization. Seek out appropriate vendors. Learn to oversee equipment purchases, evaluate office supply needs, and schedule equipment maintenance.

Tips for filling competency gaps

Here are some suggestions to follow and some questions to answer so that you can identify the skills that you need to improve and identify the right development and educational opportunities for your career.

  • Analyze your skill set     Are there tasks you can't do now because demands have increased or because tasks have become automated or computerized? Did your manager point out some skills that you need to improve in your last review? Are others in the company getting recognition for skills that you don't have? Analyzing your skills is where to start.
  • Where do you want to go with your career?     Do you want to remain in the administrative field? Do you want to move into management? Would you like to specialize — such as by focusing on HR or working exclusively with desktop publishing programs? Answering these questions will help you decide whether you need to focus your skill development on a new area.
  • What are you good at?     What do you enjoy? It's best if you can build on the talents you have, not force yourself to learn or do things you aren't naturally good at or like. (Ask yourself whether "I had the choice …," and then remember that you do!)
  • How much are you willing to invest in your future?     If you move into a technical area, you'll constantly have to learn new skills and upgrade old ones. You'll never feel totally secure with your skill base because technology will continue to change at a rapid pace and you'll have to keep up or lose out. You'll also be working with (and taking instructions from) younger people. Ask yourself, "Is that a problem?"
  • How much responsibility do you want?     If you want to move up to management, you're almost guaranteed to work more hours and be on the firing line more often. At that level, you're held responsible for the mistakes of everyone who reports to you. Is that a problem?
  • What's your time frame for developing needed skills?     Do you need them this month or can you add to them gradually, over the year? Some skills and positions require a long-term commitment (like a college degree or college courses of a semester or more). Other skills can be learned in a one-day seminar with determination to apply the skills on the job. Some skills can be learned on your own time by taking Internet courses, which require lots of discipline (many people start these courses but never finish them).
  • How do you learn best?     Some people like face-to-face classes where they can interact with an instructor and other learners. Some people can purchase a user manual or how-to book, sit down and wade through it — and like doing it all by themselves.
  • Do you like immediate feedback and individualization?     If so, an online training program or CD-ROM tutorial might be suitable. Or do you learn best by watching someone and then trying the task yourself?
  • Is there anyone on site at your company who can teach you what you need to learn?     Is there a training department? Are there mentors? What about clubs or informal networks (for example, for users of a particular software program)?
  • Ask other people how they got the skills that you need     They might be able to recommend a person, a tutorial, or a class that would work well.
  • Sign up for the mailing list at your local community college or vocational/technical school     For each course period, see what's being offered and select the courses that you could benefit from the most. Then sign up! Also sign up for the mailing list of public seminar companies to find out which skills are most valued by today's employers.
  • Read your local newspaper and free local newsletters     Look for user groups (to keep up your computer skills), support groups, and library discussion groups. It's a great way to meet new people whose interests are similar to your own. You may feel more freedom talking about professional ambitions with people outside your company. That said, do not make negative remarks about your employer, which can backfire on you.
  • Keep abreast of everything that IAAP can offer you     The IAAP Web site ( can provide you with educational events, seminars, and products that we've reviewed and developed especially for those in administrative positions. Some offerings may have a cost, but acquiring skills is a good investment, and your employer may reimburse you.
  • Look at certification programs     The Certified Professional Secretary (CPS) and Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) exams will give you an excellent foundation in management and administrative skills. In addition, the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification program will verify what you can do (and at what level of proficiency) with Microsoft Office System programs. In many cases, certifications are as good as degrees and are better than seminar certificates.
  • Actively participate in a professional network like IAAP     There are other good professional networks too. You'll be on top of the skills that you need to get ahead, and you'll have a caring support system to see you reach your goals.
  • Read OfficePRO magazine and other publications that can keep you up on the latest news and developments     These publications put you in the driver's seat, more in charge of your own career.

These suggestions and resources will point you in the direction of identifying your goals and will provide you with the tools you need to stay ahead in a changing workplace.

About the author     Susan Fenner, Ph.D., is the Manager of Education and Professional Development at the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), the world's largest association for administrative support staff.

Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003