The Description of an Executive Secretary

An executive secretary does much more than type and answer the phone.
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An executive secretary does much more than type and answer the phone.

Executive secretaries -- also known as senior executive assistants or senior administrative assistants -- are the top dogs of the secretarial profession. Well-educated and highly skilled, these support professionals have come a long way from the receptionist or junior secretary position they may have taken as a young woman. Still an almost exclusively female profession, women make up 99 percent of the members in the International Association of Administrative Professionals and 95 percent of secretaries in the United States, according to an article on the AdminSecret website.

Additional Skills

Any secretary is expected to perform basic secretarial skills such as typing, screening calls or taking minutes. Executive secretaries, who support the chief executive or other senior executives, may supervise other staff, perform independent research and specialized reports for top management. They also have advanced computer skills. The executive secretary may also be responsible for training other secretarial staff, dealing with vendors or ordering office equipment.

Knowledge and Training

Executive secretaries often have not only a college degree but specialized training. In specialized areas such as law or health care, you’re more likely to land the job with training that focues on that industry. Depending on the organization, an executive secretary may also include paralegal skills in her repertoire, or may even be a notary public. She may create presentations or prepare proposals and must understand the technical vocabulary of the industry. An executive secretary also needs formal knowledge of records organization, corporate communications, human resources, office technology, bookkeeping and information systems.


If you want to boost your status and improve your chances of moving up the secretarial ladder, consider certification. The IAAP offers certification as professional secretary or an administrative professional. You must take continuing education classes in fields such as technology, business law, workplace violence and team skills to recertify, which is required every five years. Specialized certifications are also available, such as the accredited legal secretary from the National Association of Legal Secretaries, or the certified legal secretary specialist from Legal Secretaries International.

Personal Qualities

In addition to education and skills learned on the job, an executive secretary needs some specific personal qualities. She may be the first point of contact with an organization. Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to put people at ease are pretty much a requirement, but she may also need to run interference for her boss or discipline subordinates. Top-notch organization skills go with the job, as a disorganized office is not likely to be efficient. She must also write and speak professionally with good grammar and spelling.

Job Outlook and Salaries

With the exception of the health-care industry, which is growing rapidly, employment of secretaries and administrative assistants will grow by about 12 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate compares with an average growth rate of 14 percent for all U.S. occupations. Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants made an average annual salary of $48,120 in 2011, according to the BLS. However, location makes a difference. In New York, the average annual salary was $60,310, with the highest wages in the New York-White Plains-Wayne metropolitan area at $63,180.

2016 Salary Information for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Secretaries and administrative assistants earned a median annual salary of $38,730 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, secretaries and administrative assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,500, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $48,680, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 3,990,400 people were employed in the U.S. as secretaries and administrative assistants.

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