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Managing the show

Financial responsibilities, including the signing-off of '40,000 or '50,000 cheques to suppliers, are effectively transforming many PAs and executive assistants into senior office managers with their own budgets and staff.

“If buying the office airline tickets or pot plants for the reception area were once the sum total of an office professional’s financial duties, today’s PA is increasingly expected to wield real monetary clout,” says Sophie Relf, head of marketing at Totaljobs Group. “Whether it is project-managing a major company award scheme or arranging hospitality for an important gala dinner for clients, it increasingly falls to the PA to organise the entire show, including selecting the venue and the caterers, arranging the entertainment and inviting the guests,” she explains.

“Critically for the growing status of the office professional role, it is often the PA who adds new preferred suppliers to the list, negotiates costs and pays out all the subsequent invoices, not to mention standing in for the chairman and greeting guests when he is indisposed.”

While the grafting of traditional office manager roles onto the ever-growing job spec of the PA has happened over time rather than overnight, says Simon Hempenstall, manager of the Knightsbridge branch of Manpower, the wielding of big-budget purse strings by PAs and EAs can only become more commonplace over time. “Project management, event management and financial management are now part and parcel of the job for many office professionals and, to ensure that this part of the role runs smoothly, many organisations are phasing out the office manager post altogether and handing over financial control to PAs and EAs,” he says.

“In our experience, it is quite usual nowadays for a highly regarded PA to have complete autonomy over his or her own managerial budget; and this will often stretch to tens of thousands of pounds for entertaining, for corporate events or for purchasing.

“Those who are further up the corporate ladder will not only have the financial autonomy to pay for a glittering event but will also have their own staff to call on when the project becomes ever more time-consuming, much as a chief executive would,” he adds.

Linda Kimberley is PA and events administrator at Reed Business Information, the magazine publishing house. One of her jobs is to organise the annual Personnel Today awards event, held in the Grosvenor House Hotel, London, for around 1,200 guests.

“In the 11 years that I have been here, my role has changed dramatically, from routine diary management and travel arranging to include all sorts of different projects, such as the magazine awards do and an HR Directors’ Club, for which I arrange six breakfasts a year plus workshops,” she says.

“I handle the awards night single-handedly ' everything from table booking and table planning to invoicing ' and although it is hard work, it has significantly raised my status and profile within the company.

“The PA’s role is about far more than sitting at a desk nowadays and this is a development that is to be welcomed,” she adds.

“The office manager function fits in perfectly with our organisational strengths, and I would say that an increasing number of us want the extra responsibility and scope it can bring to our job,” says Sophie Relf. “While few PAs are given official training in financial management or event organisation, the tradition of learning on the job works well in many offices “As long as a PA or EA has the right attitude, the right motivation and is willing to learn, it should be fairly easy for the finance department, say, to give them the necessary instruction in financial auditing or records procedure,” she says. “And when it comes to events or project management work, it is often a case of forging good working relationships with people inside and outside the organisation. The fact that the average PA or EA is usually close to key decision-makers in a firm tends to mean that he or she is able to move seamlessly into any new administrative or managerial role.”

Whether it is signing off large company cheques, negotiating with tough suppliers or meeting and greeting important guests, the role of the PA is evolving fast.

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