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A secretary, administrative professional, administrative assistant, executive assistant, administrative officer, administrative support specialist, clerk, military assistant, management assistant, office secretary, or personal assistant is a white-collar worker person whose work consists of supporting management, including executives, using a variety of project management, communication, or organizational skills within the area of administration. There is a diverse array of work experiences attainable within the administrative support field, ranging between internship, entry-level, associate, junior, mid-senior, and senior level pay bands with positions in nearly every industry. However, this role should not be confused with the role of an executive secretary, cabinet secretary such as cabinet members who hold the title of "secretary," or company secretary, all which differ from an administrative assistant.

The functions of a personal assistant may be entirely carried out to assist one other employee or may be for the benefit of more than one. In other situations, a secretary is an officer of a society or organization who deals with correspondence, admits new members, and organizes official meetings and events. Some high-level secretaries, administrative assistants, or executive assistants in the associate, junior, mid-senior, and senior level pay bands or those in an entry-level position that requires specialized knowledge acquired through a bachelor's degree or even a master's degree in a field pertinent to the organization's industry are specialized secretaries who generally assist senior executives and/or actively participate in the work of the organization such has having a hands-on involvement on the production of deliverables. Some non-secretarial positions such as legislative assistants, paralegals, judicial law clerks, clerks of the court, medical assistants, and medical scribes that require bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees to practice, have at times taken up duties identical to that of specialized secretaries and vice versa where specialized secretaries have taken up the tedious and repetitive research and recordkeeping tasks of persons they assist.

Duties and functions

A secretary, also known as a personal assistant (PA) or administrative assistant, can have many administrative duties. The title "secretary" is not used as often as in decades past, and responsibilities have evolved in response to the technological age, requiring knowledge in software such as the Microsoft Office suite of applications. The duties may vary according to the nature and size of the company or organization, and might include managing budgets, bookkeeping, attending telephone calls, handling visitors, maintaining websites, travel arrangements, and preparing expense reports. Secretaries might also manage all the administrative details of running a high-level conference or meeting and be responsible for arranging the catering for a lunch meeting. Often executives will ask their assistant to take the minutes at meetings and prepare meeting documents for review. In addition to the minutes, the secretary may be responsible for keeping all of the official records of a company or organization. A secretary is also regarded as an "office manager".

Etymology

The term is derived from the Latin word secernere, "to distinguish" or "to set apart", the passive participle (secretum) meaning "having been set apart", with the eventual connotation of something private or confidential, as with the English word secret. A secretarius was a person, therefore, overseeing business confidentially, usually for a powerful individual (a king, pope, etc.). As the duties of a modern secretary often still include the handling of confidential information, the literal meaning of their title still holds true.

Origin

From the Renaissance until the late 19th century, men involved in the daily correspondence and the activities of the powerful had assumed the title of secretary.

With time, like many titles, the term was applied to more and varied functions, leading to compound titles to specify various secretarial work better, like general secretary or financial secretary. Just "secretary" remained in use either as an abbreviation when clear in the context or for relatively modest positions such as administrative assistant of the officer(s) in charge, either individually or as member of a secretariat. As such less influential posts became more feminine and common with the multiplication of bureaucracies in the public and private sectors, new words were also coined to describe them, such as personal assistant.

Modern developments

In the 1840s and 1850s, commercial schools were emerging to train male and female students the skills needed to work in a clerical position. In 1870, Sir Isaac Pitman founded a school where students could qualify as shorthand writers to "professional and commercial men". Originally, this school was only for male students. In 1871, there were more than 150 such schools operating in the United States, a number that grew to as many as 500 by the 1890s.

In the 1880s, with the invention of the typewriter, more women began to enter the field and during the upcoming years, especially since World War I, the role of secretary has been primarily associated with women. By the 1930s, fewer men were entering the field of secretaries.

In an effort to promote professionalism among United States secretaries, the National Secretaries Association was created in 1942. Today, this organization is known as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). The organization developed the first standardized test for office workers called the Certified Professional Secretaries Examination (CPS). It was first administered in 1951.

By the mid-20th century, the need for secretaries was great and offices and organizations featured large secretarial pools. In some cases the demand was great enough to spur secretaries being recruited from overseas; in particular, there was often a steady demand for young British women to come to the U.S. and fill temporary or permanent secretarial positions. Several organizations were created to assist secretaries from foreign lands, including the Society of International Secretaries and the Association of British Secretaries in America.

In 1952, Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Association, C. King Woodbridge, president of Dictaphone Corporation, and American businessman Harry F. Klemfuss created a special Secretary's Day holiday, to recognize the hard work of the staff in the office. The holiday caught on, and during the fourth week of April is now celebrated in offices all over the world. It has been renamed "Administrative Professional's Week" to highlight the increased responsibility of today's secretary and other administrative workers, and to avoid embarrassment to those who believe that "secretary" refers only to women or to unskilled workers.

Contemporary employment

In a business, many job descriptions overlap. However, while administrative assistant is a generic term, not necessarily implying directly working for a superior, a secretary is usually the key person for all administrative tasks, and often referred to as the "gate keeper". Other titles describing jobs similar to or overlapping those of the traditional secretary are Office Coordinator, Executive Assistant, Office Manager and Administrative Professional.

  • At the most basic level a secretary is usually an audio typist with a small number of administrative roles. A good command of the prevailing office language and the ability to type is essential. At higher grades and with more experience they begin to take on additional roles and spend more of their time maintaining physical and electronic files, dealing with the post, photocopying, emailing clients, ordering stationery and answering telephones.
  • A more skilled executive assistant may be required to type at high speeds using technical or foreign languages, organize diaries, itineraries and meetings and carry out administrative duties which may include accountancy or financial accounting. A secretary / executive assistant may also control access to a manager, thus becoming an influential and trusted aide. Executive assistants are available for contact during off hours by new electronic communication methods for consultations. Specialized secretaries at higher levels also include Medical Secretaries, Legal Secretaries, and Personal Assistants that often require higher post-secondary education or even post-graduate education.
    • In certain situations, non-secretary positions such as legislative assistants, paralegals, judicial law clerks, clerks of the court, medical assistants, and medical scribes, that require bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees to practice have taken up duties identical to that of specialized secretaries.
  • The largest difference between a generalized secretary and skilled executive assistants is that the executive assistant is required to be able to interact extensively with the general public, vendors, customers, and any other person or group that the executive is responsible to interact with. As the level that the executive interacts with increases so does the level of skill required in the executive assistant that works with the executive. Those executive assistants that work with corporate officers must be capable of emulating the style, corporate philosophy, and corporate persona of the executive for which they work. In the modern workplace the advancement of the executive assistants is codependent on the success of the executive and the ability of both to make the job performance of the team seamless whereas the job place evaluation is reflective of each other's performance executive secretary for now.

This should be distinguished from the Company secretary, a senior role within a company responsible for compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.

Education and Training

In the United States, a variety of skills and adaptability to new situations is necessary. As such, a four-year bachelor's degree is often preferred and a two-year associate degree is usually a requirement, in any field of study unless specified by employer to comply with education requirements within their given industry, although work experience can substitute education if the position does not require specialized knowledge in a specific fields of study pertinent to the employer's industry or division's role within the organization. Another option taken with or without higher education is to get a professional certification from a national association that self-regulates the secretarial and administrative assistance industry, in which a professional certification may substitute higher education if the person does not have a bachelor's degree or an associate degree, or in order to substitute work experience for a person with a higher education degree but with limited experience in an administrative support position.

Executive assistant

Civilian

The work of an executive assistant (sometimes called a management assistant) differs a great deal from that of an administrative assistant. In many organizations, an executive assistant is a high-ranking position in the administrative hierarchy. Executive assistants work for a company officer or executive (at both private and public institutions), and possess the authority to make crucial decisions affecting the direction of such organizations. As such, executive assistants play a role in decision-making and policy setting. The executive assistant performs the usual roles of managing correspondence, preparing research, and communication, often with one or more administrative assistants or scheduling assistants who report to him or her. The executive assistant also acts as the "gatekeeper", understanding in varying degree the requirements of the executive, and with an ability through this understanding to decide which scheduled events, meetings, teleconferences, or e-mails are most appropriate for allocation of the executive's time.

An executive assistant may, from time to time, act as proxy for the executives, representing him/her/them in meetings or communications and project managing the production of reports or other deliverables in the absence of the executive. An executive assistant differs from an administrative assistant (a job which is often part of the career path of an executive assistant) in that they are expected to possess a higher degree of business acumen, be able to manage projects, as well as have the ability to influence others on behalf of the executive. In the past, executive assistants were required to have a high school diploma only, but increasingly jobs are requiring a bachelor's degree of any field of study or when compiling with educational requirements within their given industry, may require specialized knowledge in a specific fields of study through a bachelor's degree pertinent to the employer's industry or division's role within the organization.

Military

In the U.S. Department of Defense, the title of military assistant (MA) or executive assistant (EA) is typically held by Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps colonels, lieutenant colonels, and senior majors and Navy captains, commanders and senior lieutenant commanders who are in direct support of the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense and other civilian defense officials down to the level of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, as well as general officers or flag officers.

The Secretary of Defense also has a lieutenant general or vice admiral as his/her senior military assistant.

Like their civilian counterparts, EAs are also a resource in decision-making, policy setting, and will have leadership oversight of the entire military and civilian staff supporting the civilian official, general officer, or flag officer. EAs are often interchangeable with other senior military officers of equivalent rank holding the title of chief of staff in other service organizations headed by a flag officer or general officer. In the case of unified combatant commands and service major commands, the Chief of Staff is often a general officer or flag officer himself/herself, typically at the 1-star or 2-star level, but he or she should not be confused with the 4-star officers holding the title of Chief of Staff of the Army or Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

See also

  • Clerk
  • Legal secretary
  • Cabinet secretary or Department secretary
  • Office lady
  • Personal assistant
  • Receptionist
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