The 9 Key Responsibilities of an Executive Assistant and What They Actually Mean
What are the key responsibilities of an Executive Assistant (EA)? Sure, you could say “assisting executives,” but most people would love just a little more detail, especially people considering an EA career.
What’s wrong with saying that Executive Assistants assist executives? Just consider the limitless responsibilities that could qualify as assisting an executive. Does assisting an executive mean that you clean her house or that you manage her schedule?
To confuse matters even more, some job descriptions list responsibilities that also don’t clarify what a candidate will actually spend a majority of time doing. For example, does “Communicating with team members as needed” simply mean that the EA will likely talk to people every day or that the EA will likely have to draft emails or other communications on a daily basis?
To create a comprehensive—and descriptive—Executive Assistant responsibilities list, we went straight to the experts: practicing EAs. Our list includes all the standard Executive Assistant responsibilities…and the ones only the insiders know about.
Many of these responsibilities came straight from our Facebook group of Executive Assistants! See what nuggets of wisdom our community has to offer and jump into the conversation. Join the group here.
Straight-Talk Executive Assistant Responsibilities
Heading up a variety of miscellaneous groups and committees.
Some Executive Assistants may be asked to take the lead on a committee dedicated to office fun and social events. Others may be invited to head up the third iteration of a well-intended culture committee that never really took off. Whatever the enviable opportunity may be, the results are more or less the same: Executive Assistants often end up responsible for the success of brand-new committees, groups, and ideas that no one else necessarily feels like taking charge of.
- What the job description says: Taking the lead on strategic initiatives important for company culture and company success.
- What it really means: Taking the lead on miscellaneous initiatives that don’t fall under anyone else’s role.
- The ask: “I think we need to start a cross-discipline committee focused on office goodwill. I’m not sure who should be on it or what the goals should be, but I think you would be the best person to head it up.”
Finding fun things for executives to do while they’re traveling. (And not just scheduling their travel plans.)
Many executives count on their EAs to figure out how they will have fun on business trips—even after the EA has planned and scheduled the dates. This might be because Executive Assistants already handle all the logistical aspects of an executive’s travel…or because executives feel they can trust their assistants with planning activities they really want to do.
- What the job description says: Planning executives’ priority business trips.
- What it really means: Planning absolutely every aspect of executives’ business trips. (Yes—packing checklists are definitely on the table.)
- The ask: “I’ve got some free time during my upcoming trip. Will you help me make the most of it?”
Cleaning up and organizing the office AND cleaning up after everyone in the office.
This responsibility sometimes goes to the Office Manager, but very often, it might fall into an Executive Assistant’s lap.
- What the job description says: Maintain an office setup that optimizes workflow.
- What it really means: Cleaning the refrigerator, organizing files, and knowing where every item belongs and putting things back when people move them.
- The ask: “I just walked past the kitchen and there’s definitely something…wrong…in the fridge. It’s distracting people! Can you help?”
Sending office-wide emails that make everyone roll their eyes.
Many executives have important office-wide messages they forget to tell the Communications Manager about. When they need to get information out fast, executives often look to their trusted seconds-in-commend (EAs) to take charge and make sure everyone is informed.
- What the job description says: Handling office communication.
- What it really means: Sending out announcements and requests that no one else wants to take on.
- The ask: “I’m worried that people don’t know for sure that the office is open on New Year’s Eve. Will you send out an email to make sure everyone knows they have to come in?”
Being an executive’s unofficial therapist.
Executives look to their assistants for support in all matters great and small. As the relationship (and the trust) grows, many executives begin confiding in their assistants on matters that go beyond how to make a powerful keynote address at the upcoming conference. Executives will inevitably notice that their assistants provide sound advice on all business matters and even start confiding about non-business matters as well.
- What the job description says: Provide support as needed.
- What it really means: Provide support not simply as needed in a business capacity, but also in a personal capacity.
- The ask: “The other day my daughter mentioned that she might like to change her name. You have a daughter; what do you think about this?”
Executives count on their assistants to provide strategic counsel, especially if the EA has been providing sound support for several years. Depending on the executive and the Executive Assistant, this “providing of strategic counsel” might veer toward “being the sole decision maker” over time. A huge part of an EA job involves organizing information and creating reports, so when it comes time to make decision, EAs may just be the most informed person for the job.
- What the job description says: Provide strategic counsel on major company decisions.
- What it really means: Provide all the information necessary to make decisions and sometimes actually make the decision.
- The ask: “Public Relations asked me if it might be a good idea to start a strategic media outreach campaign with me as a figurehead. I know you have a strong sense of our media presence; can you help me decide if this is a good idea?”
Being the unofficial source of all knowledge.
Executive Assistants work on tons of different projects with tons of different people across the company. As a result, they usually know things before almost anyone else even hears rumors. They attend lots of meetings, keep important secrets, and start planning initiatives before even the earliest communications go out. It doesn’t take long before everyone learns that EAs know everything, and it takes less time for everyone to start trying to see what information and hints they can get by asking EAs the right questions.
- What the job description says: Assist with a variety of office projects and processes.
- What it really means: Get the inside scoop on all key goings on around the office.
- The ask: “We need you to get started planning the logistics for our big office move, but we don’t want to tell anyone we’re moving for at least another year. So please be discrete.”
Once Executive Assistants prove they can solve problems, people will inevitably start believing EAs can also solve any problem, correct any mishap, or figure out any puzzle. (In truth, most EAs probably can. After all, they’ve had to make impossible travel arrangements and find impossible-to-find tickets that their executives demand.) Once the word gets out that an EA can do anything however, people may start asking him to do everything.
- What the job description says: Resolving issues and troubleshooting a variety of situations.
- What it really means: Solving all problems great and small.
- The ask: “It was incredible how you were able to resolve that miscommunication between Human Resources and Finance last month. Alicia is having similar problems with a few teams here; do you think you could work your magic on that issue as well?”
Being a one-person office spirit committee.
Executive Assistants work with a lot of people around the company. Somewhere between sitting in on weekly Marketing status meetings and helping Finance with their reports, Executive Assistants become everyone’s best friend. Plus, since Executive Assistants spend so much time with people in other departments—people they don’t work with on a day-to-day basis—they can become a safe “shoulder to cry on” or even just a welcome smile. The advice, encouragement, and assistance EAs provide can make lives better all across the company.
- What the job description says: Liaise with teams across the office.
- What it really means: Make sure everyone around the office has everything they need, from information to positive reinforcement.
- The ask: “The Information Technology department invited me to their monthly lunch. I can’t make it, but I’m hoping you can go and make sure the team knows I think they’re doing a great job.”
Standard Executive Assistant Responsibilities
The list below covers many of an Executive Assistant’s core duties; these responsibilities will likely appear on many EA job descriptions in one form or another. (Plus, most Executive Assistants end up actually doing these responsibilities as well.)
- IT troubleshooting
- Providing strategic counsel
- Managing perks
- Implementing processes
- Managing payroll
- Designing office layouts
- Handling communications
- Coordinating travel
- Planning events
We know we probably missed some key responsibilities of an executive assistant. Let us know if you do anything on the job that you weren’t quite expecting to do.