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Promotional Opportunities For Secretarial Personnel

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"Corporations that downsized, delayered, and re engineered themselves, have found they cannot run their businesses with a few executives at the top, the worker bees at the bottom, and nobody in between," according to the Washington Post, Monday, April 13,1998. The middle layers of business must now be rebuilt. This is an opportune time for today's secretaries and administrative professionals-who have acquired many managerial skills and knowledge after assuming responsibilities formerly held by managers before downsizing and middle management layoffs began- to be promoted into these middle levels-managerial and professional. Statistics show that the percentage of managers in the workforce is on the rise. However, the work they perform is of a different nature from what their counterparts did a decade ago. No longer will they transmit the boss's order; they will act as a coach, team leader, hand-holder, and overseer of projects. The Star Ledger stated that opportunities that will provide potential career paths available to secretaries and administrative support professionals are related to desktop publishing, the Internet, and customer service support functions of organizations.

About half of today's working women are college educated. Those in secretarial positions aren't satisfied remaining at lower-level jobs. They seek advancement into supervisory and managerial positions. Four factors over the next few decades that portend better opportunities for women are:
  1. Approximately one-half of the workforces will be comprised of women.

  2. The number of qualified males in the workforce is shrinking.

  3. Management style in forward-looking corporations is changing from a hierarchal mode to one with employee involvement.

  4. Women are more comfortable working in a participatory management environment than are their male counterparts.
Secretaries who perceive themselves as professionals are career-oriented individuals who have set specific goals for themselves. They do not perceive their position as a dead-end job. Rather, in their pursuit of achieving designated targets, they direct all activities, both in and out of the office, toward this effort. They continually strive to strengthen their personal and professional qualifications. These individuals differ from secretaries who are content to remain in their own little niche, performing the tasks typically assigned to them, no more and no less. Career-oriented individuals are intellectually active, innovative, and willing to do more than is required. They frequently strive for accreditation to improve in their profession and constantly seek ways to better them-selves.

Advancement happens when persons plan strategies that include the following: maximizing of all work experiences, enrollment in continuing education courses, participation in workshops and seminars, extensive reading of professional literature, memberships in professional and community organizations, leadership roles in associations, awareness of societal needs, and knowledge of economic trends.

Generally, supervisory and managerial personnel advanced to their promotion in one or more steps. Becoming a supervisor of secretaries and/or other office personnel is the first step in the career ladder that involves planning, organizing, leading, and control. It is a position of responsibility and authority, one that places emphasis on managing human resources. The special skills a supervisor needs to manage others include personal attributes, creativity, an understanding of the factors that affect trends in the labor force, a knowledge and familiarity with changing technology, and the ability to influence workers and to gain their full support in carrying out the goals of the organization.

In this chapter, you will become familiar with the personal qualities and competencies needed for secretarial advancement as well as the paths you can follow to achieve your goals.

Personal Qualities

Secretaries work in varied environments, probably no two exactly alike. They perform a multitude of tasks, some requiring much decision making.

Office automation has reduced the static nature of some secretarial jobs and has converted them into dynamic careers with unlimited pro-motional opportunities for forward-looking, ambitious, qualified individuals. In these environments, higher-level personal qualities are required for success and advancement. Within the context of the definitions of a secretary, as developed by the Professional Secretaries International and as used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, specific personal traits are desirable: namely, the exercise of initiative and judgment; the ability to interpret requests; the implementation of action-decisions; the ability to interact with executives, managers, staff, clients, and suppliers; and the capability of working independently. These characteristics indicate that a secretary is a highly qualified person who possesses not only a mastery of office skills but also personality requisites of the highest order. A further look at the help-wanted ads supports this concept of higher-order traits. Some frequently used adjectives and phrases to describe the kind of secretary needed are: articulate, personable, self-confident, dynamic, bright, hard-working, unflappable in deadline-paced office, and flexible team worker. The secretary who possesses the qualities just enumerated usually gets ahead and eventually occupies a position of influence and status.

Surveyed employers are looking for candidates who are mature and don't have a know-it-all attitude, are aggressive and not pushy, have self-confidence and are not arrogant. The ten personal characteristics employers want candidates to possess are listed in Table 18.1

These same employers are also looking for well-rounded employees who have good interpersonal skills, can act efficiently and effectively in the workplace, and can ask pertinent questions. Other skills employers want are ranked on a scale of one to five, with five being considered extremely important. See Table 19.

In addition to what employers are looking for, employees must be able to derive satisfaction from the job. The variety and level of tasks

A study by Steelcase, Inc., revealed that the prestigious corner office is no longer desirable. Only 17 percent of American office workers would choose it. Almost a majority of the respondents indicated they spend eight hours or more daily at their work space and are more interested in comfort and control over that space. More storage accounted for 27 percent of the responses; better technology support, 18 percent; more privacy, 18 percent; more comfortable chair, 17 percent; better lighting, 14 percent; more tack-able space, 11 percent; and more space for impromptu meetings, 10 percent.

One thousand employees were asked to rank ten possible motivational rewards. The same test was then given to the employers. Notice the difference in ranking. The employees ranked "interesting work" as the first element of importance, "full appreciation of work" as second, and "a feeling of being in on things" third. The supervisors rate the same elements much lower in value. In effect, the secretary really wants recognition and appreciation for the job being done. See the charts ranking motivational rewards below: 2 interactions among employees. These are also valuable qualities for harmonious working relationships in team projects. Frequently, when considering job mobility, many employers rank personal traits, congeniality, dependability, dedication, discretion, and self-assertiveness as important as skills and knowledge.


An important part of exploring secretarial careers is to investigate the functions of positions and the concomitant skills and knowledge needed to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the job. Also, be certain to identify the higher-level skills of supervisors and managers. This information can then be used to determine how you will develop those skills in which you are deficient. The individual who merely performs routine tasks that anyone with minimal skills can do is easily replaceable.

In numerous articles that appeared in The Secretary, the following traits were primarily those that contribute most to success on the job and to upward mobility to managerial positions:
  • computer technology skills

  • proficiency in latest software programs

  • expert problem-solving skills

  • high-level decision-making abilities

  • personnel management skills

  • project management abilities

  • budget management abilities

  • human relations skills

  • public speaking skills and writing skills

  • crisis management skills

  • organizational skills

  • language skills
To be considered an outstanding employee, you need to develop all of the above skills, accept challenges, have a positive attitude in life and work, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and continue learning by attending conventions, seminars, and workshops. Believe in yourself and strive to reach your goals.

To get ahead in the secretarial profession, individuals who have broad skills and knowledge in information processing and who have the necessary administrative ability will be most likely to reach higher levels of responsibility in either supervisory or managerial positions.

Paths To Professional Growth

Professional growth is the key to career satisfaction. As you become involved in activities that lead to self-improvement, you become not only more valuable to your employer but a potential candidate for promotion. To realize your maximum level of abilities, you should avail yourself of every opportunity that will further develop you personally as well as your skills and knowledge. Below are some suggestions for growing professionally:
  1. Join professional organizations whose membership consists of supervisory and managerial personnel, or some other business-related group such as data processing. This will be a broadening experience because of the contacts you make in fields of business other than secretarial. During organizational meetings or seminars, you will have opportunities to share ideas with other interested members.

  2. Become involved in organizational projects that develop leadership skills.

  3. Volunteer your services in your area of expertise.

  4. Assume jobs that will give you a high visibility.

  5. Find a mentor, a high-level manager or executive who can advise and guide you. In reaching your goals, this person may also recommend you to the "right" contacts.

  6. Listen attentively to what others are saying.

  7. Become a specialist in a particular area, such as personnel evaluation.

  8. Visit equipment exhibitors and attend seminars.

  9. Read professional literature, such as Working Woman, The Secretary, Today's Office, and  Datamation.

  10. Seek accreditation in a profession other than secretarial, such as Certified Administrative Manager (CAM).
Professional Organizations

Through memberships in organizations, you make important contacts. Companies frequently pay membership dues for employees who join professional organizations and reimburse them for costs incurred when attending meetings and conferences. Both company and employee benefit-the worker in terms of personal and professional growth, the company in terms of visibility and contribution to the educational process.

As an active member, you meet other individuals with similar or related interests. You also have opportunities to develop your communication and leadership skills by joining committees formed for specific tasks. From presenters at meetings who share some of their expertise with you, you broaden your horizons and learn a great deal.

You should join organizations other than secretarial for broadening experiences. You will not only add to your knowledge base but will also begin to gain visibility in the business community. From participation in seminars and conventions, you will also gain many ideas which in turn will help you become more creative. Your association with other professionals will enhance your professional growth in terms of knowledge, understanding of trends in business, and managerial concepts.

In Chapter 5, you learned about the International Association of Administrative Professionals, formerly known as Professional Secretaries International, and its certifying program, as well as about the specialized secretarial organizations, their activities and purposes. A few other professional associations that provide good opportunities for making contacts and growing professionally are as follows:
  • National Association of Legal Secretaries (NALS), a professional association for all legal support staff. It has 250 chapters nationwide and sponsors certification programs.

  • Association of Information Systems Professionals (AISP), an information management organization with local chapters throughout the United States. It sponsors an annual symposium and publishes valuable literature.

  • Administrative Management Society (AMS), with more than 140 chapters throughout the United States and Canada and dedicated to promoting the professional goals of persons in management. A valuable project it sponsors is the certification program for the man-ager, known as Certified Administrative Manager (CAM).

  • Data Processing Management Association (DPMA).

  • The Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA).
All of these organizations have local chapters that you ought to investigate for membership.

Company Training Programs

Society will continue to experience greater changes during this decade than it has in the past. New job categories will emerge, job requirements will change, the way in which work is performed will vary, and where work is done will change. Companies are beginning to realize that people have become the major asset of a business enterprise; therefore, training is a critical element in a firm's operations.

As automated systems are updated, it is necessary to train employees to operate the sophisticated equipment and to learn the new procedures. Educational training programs are not new in corporate training departments. Through the years, trainers have been designing and scheduling courses offered either during company hours or after working hours. Generally, these programs are established to:
  • orient employees to company procedures

  • train employees on new equipment

  • provide opportunities for additional learning relevant to company activities

  • provide employees with job enrichment as well as new jobs and responsibilities

  • develop basic and advanced skills in areas such as English, writing, and software programs

  • provide remediation for those who demonstrate a need

  • learn new skills and knowledge for upward mobility

  • prepare for career switching
Many companies offer structured training in the form of in-service programs, which consist of three basic types:
  1. On-the-job training, in which beginning workers are trained at their workstations under the supervision of an experienced worker.

  2. Vestibule training (usually conducted by larger firms), in which training is given away from the work area but usually during working hours. Instruction is provided with generally the same equipment, materials, and procedures as pertain to the actual job in an on-site classroom. The objectives of this training are to raise levels of employees' skills, to orient them to company procedures, and to teach advanced skills for promotional opportunities.

  3. After-hours or off-premises training, which is taken voluntarily by employees for personal development.
Tuition-Reimbursement Programs

Many companies with training plans allow employees to enroll in college or university courses. For example, in tuition-refund plans, personnel enroll in undergraduate or graduate courses in local colleges or in continuing education classes, which have been one of the fastest-growing educational areas. The adult segment of the population usually registers in continuing education courses to update skills, as a refresher, or for professional development.

Payment for education outside company programs falls under two general categories: partial or full reimbursement. Policies vary greatly from firm to firm, some requiring that the course be job-related and others that a grade of C or better be earned. Some companies reimburse employees based on actual grade received; others pay a stipulated amount for a course at a college and a lesser sum for a course at a non-accredited institution or professional school. Still other institutions share the tuition and registration expenses. Many companies, however, do reimburse employees for total course expenditures if completed successfully.

The bottom line of continuing education is professional growth with the potential for upward mobility. Company training programs are usually beneficial to both employee and employer in terms of productivity, loyalty, skills, and knowledge.


Traditionally, men automatically formed groups for the purpose of support and sharing information. Today, women are forming networks to combat isolation and to learn more about business tactics. Career women organize to get ahead in the business world by networking. They share ideas, exchange career information, and receive moral support in the pursuit of their careers. Women have formed special groups for the purpose of helping one another gain self-confidence, become assertive, acquire knowledge, earn more money, and develop clout. Members are linked as part of a communications network. In such a group, you gain the emotional support to pursue your goals. You also become more visible in the business community, sharing personal experiences with others. You realize that you are not alone. In effect, the network is the vehicle through which you will be exposed to contacts and information that will help you grow. Building personal and professional relationships is important. Don't let friends fade away. Instead, reestablish old friendships by making a phone call.

When you network, you are developing contacts with individuals who might be helpful in your career. There are numerous ways in all industries for employees to become acquainted. They may know of potential openings or may know of somebody else to whom they can introduce you. Research indicates that leads are one of the most effective ways of finding out about a job. In addition to being helpful in your job search, these individuals can lend emotional support. To benefit from such a group, you should abide by the following principles and strategies:
  • Join and become active in a professional association.

  • Become involved with a civic, social, or religious organization.

  • Keep organized records of contacts-names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

  • Be a good listener, ask questions, and show interest.

  • Give as well as receive information.

  • Lend someone a helping hand.

  • Make a point of talking to your supervisors and coworkers on a regular basis if you are a telecommuter.

  • Build confidence by assessing your strengths.

  • Show respect to others.

  • Be aware of what is happening in your firm and in the field.
Networking, according to the literature, should help you believe in yourself, which is the first step toward success. This technique has been adopted by numerous women in many occupations all over the country. Make certain that your contact network grows and does not shrink. Be optimistic, pleasant, and lively when with other people. These characteristics are attractive to others and help build relationships.
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