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Challenges of an Executive Secretary

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An executive secretary can make or break the high-level executive who depends on her. Her ability to manage the workload and accomplish goals are important not only to the daily functions in the office, but also to the performance of the organization. It’s a challenging role that requires education, experience and skill.

A Big Load

Managing the workload might be one of the biggest challenges you face as an executive secretary, particularly if you support more than one executive. Conflicting priorities among executives can make you feel fragmented, especially when last-minute changes occur. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that organizational skills are one of the top four qualities needed by executive secretaries. Your ability to ensure that reports, files and other data are properly filed, readily available and secure makes the work of your superiors much easier.

People Issues

No executive secretary works in a vacuum. You are the person to whom other managers, employees, vendors, customers, board members and visitors are most likely to come when they need something. In some cases, you must deal with people who are difficult, or those who see you as a subordinate whom they can bully. An executive secretary must be able to assess difficult situations, then communicate assertively and clearly -- while maintaining confidentiality and good working relationships.

Time, Time, Time

Time management is another major challenge for the executive secretary. You typically manage not only your own time, but the business schedules for those you support. Frequent interruptions often occur for a variety of reasons. You might be responsible for coordinating meetings, making appointments, arranging travel and scheduling other activities. Executive secretaries sometimes struggle with work-life balance. Many executives work long hours -- and may expect their executive secretary to do the same. In addition, you may struggle to find the time to communicate with your bosses during their busy schedules.

Supervision and Project Management

Additional duties may be complex and time-consuming, but the executive secretary must accomplish them in addition to her other work. An executive secretary might also be a supervisor and have management responsibilities. In a large office, you may have one or more junior secretaries reporting to you. You must assign and monitor their work, provide training and complete performance evaluations. Some executive secretaries have major projects of their own as well. They might be assigned to perform research on a large project, collect statistical information and manage databases, run reports for meetings or develop budgets.

Preparation, Salary and Outlook

To meet these challenges, an executive secretary typically needs an associate degree or some college, and several years of work-related experience, according to the BLS. In some organizations, a bachelor’s degree might be required. Most executive secretaries need considerable knowledge of the specific business or industry in which they work. Certification is available and can be an indication of knowledge and competence. The median salary for this occupation was $35,330 a year in 2012, and the BLS projects average job growth of 12 percent from 2012 to 2022.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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