Executive Secretary vs. Administrative Assistant

Secretary on the phone taking notes
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Both executive secretaries and administrative assistants provide advanced administrative support for one or two executives or managers. What separates these office positions from other more clerical and routine office jobs is the level of responsibility and confidentiality associated with them.

Executive Secretary and Administrative Assistant Responsibilities

In addition to basic office functions, the executive secretary or administrative assistant is also responsible for writing or preparing reports, organizing and scheduling meetings, reviewing incoming messages to determine their significance, preparing agendas for board meetings, making travel arrangements, compiling meeting minutes, conducting research, preparing correspondence, and supervising and training junior level office staff. These roles may require different levels of experience and have any of these similar job titles:

  • Entry-level Administrative Assistant
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Senior Administrative Assistant
  • Executive Secretary
  • Senior Executive Secretary
  • Office Manager
  • Senior Office Manager

Role Differences

The roles of executive secretaries and administrative assistants have considerable overlap, and the differences in the roles can vary by organization. In most cases, the executive secretary focuses on more administrative duties in service to a specific, small group of managers or executives, such as meeting scheduling, travel planning, handling written communications and even bookkeeping.

An administrative assistant, meanwhile, may focus more on business operations tasks and take on more of an office leadership role in some capacities, creating agendas for meetings or conferences, managing budgets, and handling vendor billing. Administrative assistants may be required to have more specialized education in some cases where managing business operations is critical.

Core Job Skills

Both executive secretaries and administrative assistants have a core set of job skills essential to their respective roles. These include exceptional organizational skills, excellent written and oral communication abilities, as well as strong attention to detail and professionalism. They must possess technical proficiency with software included in the Microsoft Office 365 suite such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as bookkeeping tools such as QuickBooks

Duties in a Small Office, Medium, and Large Office

In a small office, the responsibilities of an executive secretary or administrative assistant are usually carried out by a variety of office staff. Some work may be done by the executives of the company themselves, and the administrative assistant or executive secretary roles may encompass a greater variety of responsibilities as needed in the smaller organization.

As the size of a company increases, the need for a highly organized person who can perform a wide variety of tasks increases. This is especially true for executives in a medium office running companies requiring high levels of confidentiality and integrity for the business being conducted.

It is common for a large office to have several executive secretaries and/or administrative assistants. At this company size, it is usually necessary to have an office manager to coordinate the staff serving the executives of the company. In some cases, an administrative assistant will accompany the executive on business trips to assist with meeting arrangements, scheduling, and other important organizational tasks.