Gone are the days of the dizzy blonde secretary doing little more than making cups of tea and typing. Today’s secretary, and more so today’s personal assistant, handles far more responsibility and is expected to be more business-oriented.

Natalie Soiné, managing member of secretarial training company Papillon Training, says: “The secretary of the 21st century is seen as an assistant to management and is expected to help in the day-to-day business performance.”

Soiné, who was an executive personal assistant for 18 years, says today’s secretary is given “ownership of the job function. This is the major change for secretaries, that they are now held accountable for certain functions.”

The changing environment is not a local phenomenon. Soiné presents workshops around the world, allowing for an exchange of skills and knowledge.

For example, says Soiné, “They have gone from typing up a department’s budget and maybe making a few suggestions to managing and being accountable for the budget”.

When it comes to correspondence, managers no longer dictate what must be written. Instead, a secretary is expected to know what must go into the correspondence, type it up, edit it and simply present the finished document for signature.

Senior secretaries, says Soiné, are expected to attend meetings on behalf of their managers, share information on behalf of their bosses and take notes so that they can report back.

One reason for the increased responsibility is the growing need for effective time management. Secretaries have greater workloads, whether it be office administration or filtering a deluge of data.

Increased international business relationships now mean that a secretary must be able to communicate in the international business language: English.

Soiné says a top secretary must have very good verbal and non-verbal English skills.

Cell phones have created an easy communication channel and mean that people are instantly connected.

This changing role means that secretaries are partners and the “right hands” of their bosses.

Soiné says once a manager and secretary have built up a good working relationship, they will move up the ranks together, sometimes even to another company.

“It takes time to build new relationships and managers do not have the time. A good working relationship between a manager and a secretary is worth its weight in gold.”

There has, however, been one negative trade-off: Soiné says secretaries now have very high stress because of their increased levels of responsibility.

Written By: Sunday Times Business news; Sunday 28 Sep 2003