We spoke to Natalie Kennefick the winner of the Up & Coming PA of the Year 2018 at the Executive PA Awards. Natalie is the EA to the Head of Mass Market Retail Channels and Acting Head of Regional Sales & Execution at Optus. We asked Natalie for her insights on being an efficient EA and what tips and tricks that she has up her sleeves for budding EA’s:
What are the key leadership skills that are needed to succeed in your job?
Leadership skills for me is being able to command a room. EA’s usually don’t have a team under them to lead in the traditional sense, so you need to lead in other ways. You need to be able to lead other people in your team even though you may not be their manager. You are a representative of your manager.
Leadership is just not telling people what to do or how to do it, it goes across a few different things. Maintaining and building relationships with key stakeholders at different levels is one example. If you can successfully do this, others see you as a leader and that you can be trusted to take charge of tasks or projects. People will be more willing to follow you and follow your ways if you are more confident in what you do it also helps to build good relationships with people around you.
What are some tips that you would like to give other EA’s on their career journey?
Just to be an EA, you need to be able to adapt to change, whether that be technological changes in the workplace or changing your boss’s diary. CHANGE is going to be a big one that EA’s need to focus on especially with the digital age, the skill sets that we used to have and the tasks that we used to look after are drastically changing and I think you need to be able to adapt to those changes. When other people see you adapting quite well then they are more likely follow your lead and it avoids causing mass panic.
I would recommend up and coming EA’s to learn to be adaptable and approachable. I can’t stress enough how important it is for an EA to be approachable. Some EA’s get bogged down with work or in some cases who their managers are and people feel like they can’t be approached. It is important to focus on approachability because the more the people are willing to speak and interact with you, the more successful you will become and the better your reputation within the business becomes, and this is always a direct reflection on your manager.
Another key skill that an EA should possess is to have the ability to constantly pass knowledge onto others and Learning. An EA should never stop learning. Learn new skills that may not directly relate to administration. Learn different aspects of your industry, learn new computer systems, undertake EQ or stress management training.
You should never stop learning, as the more knowledge and skills you have, the more valuable you become to an organisation, and by not upskilling, you are limiting your own progress.
If you can get these few things right, your job as an EA will be much easier and you will have a more rewarding career.
What was your highlights from your journey as an EA?
I’m only relatively new to the EA role, about 2½ years now. My journey is a very traditional admin background, I was a receptionist then an admin assistant, office manager, admin manager and then moved to being an EA. I have worked across different industries, which in my opinion is a really great way to progress. You need to move and take on new challenges, that plays a key role in learning adaptability as a skill set.
You learn so much more with different companies. For me I have worked in the Printing, events, engineering, tourism, real estate and now telecommunications industries to name a few. Working in engineering and with trades is much different to working for a Telco in a corporate office. I have always wanted to try new things and learn different skill-sets from different industries. Working with people from different backgrounds, different industry experience and age ranges allowed me to learn from people with decades of experience to helping apprentices get their start in their careers. These experiences have helped me gain valuable work experience, but more importantly life experiences and skills and help me when I need to interact with people of all levels within the business.
My biggest highlight however was being named the Up and Coming PA of the year last year.
How did you come to be the Up & Coming PA of the year 2018?
I nominated myself for the Up & Coming PA of the Year 2018, Executive PA Awards. That’s something I would love other EA’s to do. Have confidence and back yourself. You don’t need to wait for someone else to nominate you for awards or accolades. A lot of the time EA’s are underestimated or taken for granted. People often just say, ‘It’s an EA’s job’ so people wouldn’t think to nominate them. I nominated myself for this one and another award as well which I was a shortlisted finalist for because I felt that I deserved to be nominated.
To be nominated, I had to fill in a questionnaire explaining why I was nominating myself, as well as giving examples of my work highlights. I was then shortlisted and underwent phone interviews, and when I was made a finalist, I attended a panel interview on the day of the awards.
The nominations were a good thing for my career, it has opened doors to amazing opportunities and has given me recognition at work. I had several EA’s in my own company contact me and ask how I managed to get nominated and every one of them commented that they would never have thought to nominate themselves. If you can’t recognise your own worth and achievements, how can anyone else?
What are effective stakeholder management strategies that you use on a day to day?
The number one response that an EA will automatically say I would guess is Time Management, but while that is a key component to management strategies, it doesn’t encompass what I think is the foundation to stakeholder management. I believe it comes down to understanding what every person needs and what you can offer.
I look after two managers and I have roughly 122 people over both of my teams that I need to assist in addition to my two managers. For me the key role is managing expectations of the parties involved.
Teaching is a big part of my day to day work life. People will always contact me and ask me to do things for them – book me a room or set up this meeting – Doesn’t sound like it would take much time but times that by 124 people! So, it is a matter of teaching them how to book rooms for themselves or teaching them how to check multiple calendars and the like to save them time and saves me having to get involved in the process.
Managing my bosses is more about understanding what they expect from my role and their understanding of what an EA is and figuring out what kind of working relationship we would have that way. My bosses are very different personalities, so it is obviously about understanding their needs and their personalities and temperaments and working with them to meet their expectations and for them to meet mine. It’s about figuring out how they work and how I work and just mesh it together.
As is the case with most people, my managers have managers higher up in the business or equivalents in other departments that they need to deal with. You need to build strong relationships with those peoples EA’s as well to get things done.
The EA’s in my organisation meet regularly, once a month for lunch or coffee to check in on how we are all doing, changes happening and to build relationships with one another.
Building relationships with people from all levels of the business is extremely important. Even if is just a friendly hello in the hallway, just getting your face there and building that relationship is so valuable.
I can’t tell you how many people see our CEO walking around or in the lifts and they put their head down or stare at the floor in silence, and then the strange looks they give me when I say hello to him. Don’t be afraid to interact with senior managers, it may benefit you in your career someday, and when others see you having the confidence to do something so small and natural, your leadership and influence grows.
Don’t Miss Natalie Kennefick presenting on ‘How to develop leadership & mentoring skills to grow your career’ at the 10th Annual EAPA Convention on the 30th April and 1st May 2019, Sydney.
These are the key topics that Natalie will be covering in her session:
- Build the confidence to think strategically about your role
- How to develop successful mentor relationships with the new generation of EAs
- Learn to create opportunities and take on new responsibilities to further progress in your role