Strengthening the relationship with your boss
It's often said that the relationship between a PA and a boss is very much like a marriage, since the two of you work long hours together towards a common vision. The right chemistry between the two of you is key in ensuring a successful partnership. The two of you need to be able to work hand-in-hand, and you need to be able to think well ahead of your boss, practically finishing sentences for him. In one office I worked for, three PAs admitted to calling their bosses 'darling' by mistake, so close has the relationship between the PA and the boss become.
Key things to grapple with early on in your relationship are:
- What makes him tick?
- What are his interests? What is he passionate about?
- What stresses him out?
- How much support can you expect from him?
- What key two things will he want from you in terms of your qualities? Loyalty? Confidentiality? Firmness?
- How do you know when he's annoyed? How does his face and tone change?
- What makes him laugh?
- How does he work? In organised chaos, a state of total organisation where there's hardly a piece of paper on his desk, or...he likes his desk to be covered with paper in case the Chairman walks past.
- What two things are truly important to him that you do?
- What annoys him? Which mistakes are definitely ones to avoid? (We all make some. But for the boss, there will be absolute no-nos.)
- Whether he likes people to know that he's on vacation or 'travelling'.
- That he tells you where he's going at all times and how you can contact him.
Knowing who is important in his life
There are two aspects here. From a business point of view, you have his clients. These are both internal (from his immediate boss to the company Chairman) and indeed anyone else who needs his help; and external - the ones which bring the money in, but also the press, and any other professionals the boss needs to talk to. If you're working in the public sector, these may include politicians. Get your boss to introduce you to his clients so that you feel more at home handling them by email.
The second group of people who are important are his family and friends. In terms of friends, I include his allies at work - the people he may go and grab a sandwich with, or have drinks with on a Friday - as well as those outside it. Be welcoming and helpful on the phone - your approach will almost certainly be fed back to your boss. It's helpful to have a list of emergency numbers, like the family doctor, schools, nanny, dentist, vet?because you never know.
Earning his respect and trust
Maintain high professional standards; always deliver on time; always be assertive and pleasant. Check your work thoroughly, so there are no errors. Bosses work in all sorts of different ways. Some are very secretive and it takes a while to open them up to thoughts and suggestions. Others are very absent minded and will lose a piece of paper the minute it arrives on their desk.
Think ahead of him, and take ownership of problems. If you come across a problem, try to come with two or three solutions; and then decide which is the best one for that particular problem. Bosses hate hearing about difficulties - they have enough on their plate. They love hearing about solutions to problems - it shows you care and that you're thinking.
Think of your boss as a human being
Remember, he'll have his on and off days. We all do. As you develop a close working relationship with him, you'll soon spot them the moment you speak to him in the morning or see him walk in through the door. Be firm and assertive with him. Ask which comes first, this or that - it never hurts to put the ball back in his court for a moment. If your boss has a tantrum, behave calmly and professionally, keeping a cool head. If he has one regularly, the chances are he always found they were a good way to bully people into getting them to come round to his way of thinking. If he gets very over-heated, tell him that you'll only discuss the matter when he's calmer, i.e. later on.
If you don't know what's going on - Find Out!
Many PAs complain that their bosses don't tell them what's going on. If we knew what he was doing, we might be in a better position to help more! Here are a couple of suggestions of actions you can take to improve things.
- How often do the two of you meet up or talk through things which need to be done, or are happening? Over time, you'll develop a system to do this, depending on how your boss likes to work and how much you want to know. Short, punchy meetings or conversations will give you a sense of control over your own workload. Most people settle for the start of the day, or close to it after emails have been gone through and voice mails attended to. Keep these sessions short and for business matters only. If you want to discuss something that's directly of concern to you, ask for a separate half hour and book a meeting room away from everybody else.
- Ask your boss what the outcome of meetings were and what happens next. You can then be ready for any eventualities - a meeting to be planned on the other side of the world; a call to be waiting for; a news outbreak affecting the stock market. If you don't understand something, ask. Too many PAs aren't pro-active enough in asking and finding out information; bosses, thinking that their assistants aren't interested, don't bother telling them. Of course, we all know that you have the boss who won't tell you anything but expects you to mind read. Pick them up on it in your annual review. Give concrete examples to explain why this behaviour doesn't help you in supporting them and the organisation.
Reduce his work load
Part of managing your career involves managing your boss, and ensuring he gives you the time and opportunity you need to develop your career. Will the boss allocate you new projects, new responsibilities? Can you take on any more (while doing the job well?) Find out if you can take anything off him to do. It's a great way to expand your role and take on more responsibility, and you could try to wrangle an office assistant for you to give your more routine stuff to. (Why not suggest you share one with other assistants?) Give your boss a list of things you can make decisions on. Once you've proved your ability to cope with an area, enhance the decision you're able to take. If you can take on extra responsibilities from your boss, you'll certainly know what's going on, because you'll be in control of them.
And finally, bosses don't need to know everything that's happening in the office; the best PA will disseminate information for their bosses and give him the vital bits. They take away the trivia in their bosses lives, leaving the boss to focus on the key bits: bringing in new business and making money.
Remember, he has his world, you have yours.
Learn from each other.