A secretary, or administrative assistant, can be a pivotal person in an office. It is the secretary who keeps the office organized, makes sure the various appointments and meetings on the schedule are kept straight and manages the flow of visitors or employees who need to see the management staff. In addition to basic secretarial tasks, some secretaries also perform more advanced executive functions or specialize in areas such as health care or legal support.
The primary task of a secretary is to support the manager or managers in an organization. Each workplace differs -- some are complex or busy enough that each person on the management team has a personal secretary. In others, one secretary may support several senior managers while only the chief executive officer has a personal secretary. In smaller organizations, a single secretary may provide support for all managers. An executive secretary in a very large organization may also have a personal secretary. Some organizations prefer to use virtual assistants who perform secretarial functions using the Internet, faxes and similar equipment from a home office, and who may support several organizations.
All secretaries perform some similar tasks, many of which are related to information management. A secretary manages paper and electronic filing systems, handles and routes mail and operates a variety of office machines such as computers, telephones, fax machines and videoconferencing equipment. Some secretaries take dictation and create reports or letters, while others revise rough drafts written by the managers. Secretaries must have excellent spelling and grammar skills, must type quickly and accurately and be skilled in customer service. Many secretaries use a variety of computer software programs, such as databases, spreadsheets or graphics.
Although specific job duties vary from one organization and specialty to another, all secretaries must be able to perform tasks that help an organization run efficiently. Some secretaries may buy supplies, manage corporate libraries or create presentations, reports or documents. An executive secretary may perform research, negotiate with vendors or supervise other clerical staff. Legal secretaries may have specialized tasks such as preparing summonses, complaints, motions, responses and subpoenas. Medical secretaries may transcribe dictation about patient histories or medical complaints, arrange for patients to be hospitalized or interact with insurance companies.
Education and Wages
A high-school graduate may be able to obtain an entry-level secretarial position, although extra education is often regarded as a plus by employers. Vocational education programs, community colleges and vocational-technical schools offer many of the basic office, computer and English grammar skills a secretary needs. In some industries, fluency in a second language is desirable or required. Legal secretaries may need special training or certification, and secretaries who work in health care need knowledge of medical terminology or billing practices. Executive secretaries may need to have a baccalaureate degree. In 2011, average annual secretarial wages varied from $32,430 for medical secretaries to $48,120 for executive secretaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.