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The high powered PA

The high powered PA Secretaries of old merely had to be good at shorthand and typing. Today's PA can handle a rigorous global travel schedule, speak a few languages and have great general knowledge.

In the USA, an executive personal assistant earns around $120 000 (R900 000) a year. In SA, a high powered PA can earn around R80 000 a month and have hair, clothing and travel allowances.

Dawn Pretorius who is a trainer for Johannesburg based training company, AstroTech with their course on High Performance PA's says that "personal assistants are a strategic part of any business, they are very often the most knowledgeable person in an organisation, they are privy to sensitive information and some have very special skills."

Wayne Ford, a co-presenter of High Performance PA's for AstroTech, gives an idea of why, "The modern PA has to know a lot about technology, email, voice mail... the high performance PA is really an assistant manager with a career path into management."

"He or she is a person the manager can delegate a chunk of his proposals to – if he has three reports to complete he may give her one to do and he will take two."

US employment agency, Katie Facey say that a "seasoned PA will always been one-step ahead of their employer," he or she will usually be expected to schedule all appointments for their employer, make travel arrangements, handle events and social planning, conduct media and public relations, handle all correspondence, manage account maintenance, maintain personal and business files, ensure the contact database is up to date, coordinate business meetings and business conferences, write thank-you notes, invitations and greeting cards, and be in charge of computer and office supply maintenance.

A recent ad in a South African newspaper for a PA for two management consultants promised a salary of R500K plus and asked for someone who could do "complex travel coordination both domestic and international, email management, coordinating conference and teleconferences, document production and generating reports, producing PowerPoint presentations and general administrative support."

A great PA is also able to anticipate her boss's needs and dress and behave appropriately with some very important people. Eureka Smith, PA to Tokyo Sexwale, has been with him for years and meets and greets everyone from Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates to former US president, Bill Clinton. Imagine the diary, Zelda la Grange, Nelson Mandela's PA must have, think of the people she has met, the places she has been...

Pretorius says "Being a PA is for many men and women a way to get an insiders view, from the top, of how an organization or industry works. They then use that knowledge as a lever to move into management themselves."

Ford also teaches PA's how to manage stress. He advises: "Understand how your body reacts physiologically when you are under stress and its impact on diet, hormones and fitness. Learn how your body reacts so that you can take control of body, you may need simple breathing exercises or to organise yourself better."

Today’s personal assistant is a corporate executive who controls strategic information and is truly the power behind the chair at the top of the boardroom table.