The secretary has one of the most important roles in any business and can have a surprisingly high impact on how successful a company is. Secretaries are usually given a real variety of different roles to complete and play an important part in defining the culture of the organisation, ensuring that it runs smoothly behind the scenes.

Individuals in these roles often have to engage with a variety of external parties and internal staff members, meaning their attitude and outlook can rub off on a lot of people. For this reason, secretaries need to be positive, organised and friendly in order to be most successful. This article will explain the role of the secretary in more detail for individuals who are interested in a position in this area.

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Key skills

Key skills required by secretaries include the following:
  • Organisation – though other people may make the decisions, secretaries are responsible for passing them on, managing schedules and keeping everything coordinated.
  • Administration – handling the bulk of office paperwork, organising mail collection and sending, scanning, photocopying, form filling and record keeping.
  • Communication – a good telephone manner, good formal writing skills and an ability to interact in an efficient and friendly manner with everyone in the business.
  • I.T. – managing established systems and adapting quickly to new ones, plus having the ability to train new and junior employees to use them effectively.

Because they are at the heart of the office structure, secretaries also need to be personable and upbeat, because they can contribute a great deal to morale. As everybody needs to speak to the secretary sometimes, the secretary can become key to the social structure of the business, helping staff to feel that they are really part of a team.

Day to day tasks
On a day-to-day basis, secretaries are usually responsible for answering phones, dealing with customer requests and visits, and a wide selection of other admin work. Secretaries are also usually responsible for tasks such as arranging meetings and following up the arrangements to ensure that everyone can attend and has the relevant information. 

Tasks such as monitoring and updating records relating to staff punctuality are also often included in the individual's daily workload, along with other responsibilities such as data entry work and finance assignments such as budgeting duties. Secretaries need to be confident handling machines like printers, scanners and photocopiers, and it’s useful if they also know how to fix them when simple problems occur.
Secretaries are also the default go-to people when employees – or even bosses – run into trouble with their schedules or don’t know how to perform particular tasks and who to ask about them. They need to be able to keep cool and solve problems under pressure. Doing this well can quickly make them seem indispensible.

The different types of roles
Secretarial jobs can vary hugely depending on which company is hiring. A typical office secretary job will see an individual tasked with ensuring that all employees are paid on time and that documents are filed correctly. An executive secretary, on the other hand, is likely to spend more time working directly with a high-level individual or management group. 

As a result, their tasks are likely to be focused on drafting letters and communications from individuals and on diary management responsibilities. In addition, institutions such as schools, hospitals and libraries usually employ secretaries, and these individuals need to have specific skills relevant to these working environments.

Salary and perks
Starting salaries for secretaries are in the region of £11,000 to £14,000 per annum, but income can grow swiftly with experience, up to around £20,000. Secretaries with specialist skill sets (which often need to be backed by qualifications) can earn as much as £25,000 – for instance, when working for legal or finance companies where it’s necessary for them to understand complex issues or use very precise language.

Although it’s less common now as the Internet makes it easier to work remotely, some secretarial roles still offer the opportunity for travel, including foreign travel, as secretaries accompany senior staff on business trips.

Most secretarial jobs are nine to five but there are a number of other options available, as some businesses run 24-hour offices. In a nine to five position, it’s not uncommon to be asked to come in early or leave a little late in order to deal with urgent paperwork, but it’s rare to be asked to take work home.

There are a good number of part time secretarial jobs available, as well as agency temping jobs. Experienced secretaries also have the option of taking on outsourced work, usually through agencies. All in all, this means this is a flexible career path that’s easy to fit around other activities in life.

Responsible companies understand the benefits of having highly-trained and developed secretaries on their staff, and are often willing to invest in training and development throughout the individual's career to help them to progress. 

Secretaries can often take responsibility for specialist tasks such as complex budgeting – if they are trained correctly – and acquiring these extra skills can be very rewarding and increase the individual's worth to their company. 

In addition, secretaries can earn extra qualifications on their own and undertake tasks such as training to become chartered through organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. This can help individuals to progress to more coveted positions and earn higher salaries by honing their skills.

Secretaries usually receive higher salaries at larger companies where there is more to organise, meaning that many individuals start out with a small company before progressing to larger opportunities in order to further their careers. Secretaries also benefit from attaining a great deal of experience and understanding about the nuts and bolts of a business and how it operates and functions, and often gain the confidence to start their own businesses as a result of their work. The wide range of skills involved in the job make it a fantastic position from which to learn business inside out.

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