The warning about serving two masters is an apt caution for administrative professionals who, as companies reopen offices, may find themselves suddenly having two bosses.
Where once an executive assistant might stay with a single executive, the trend now is for all but the most senior leaders to share the services of a single admin. As a recent article from the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP) says, “managing the expectations of diverse personalities might prove frustrating at times.”
When that frustration results in missed deadlines or hurried work, it only makes the situation worse. Before you get caught in the middle of conflicting demands, the article says it’s up to you to work out the ground rules each time you’re assigned a new executive .
“Setting clear boundaries from the very beginning helps prevent future conflicts,” advises the ASAP. “Make sure they’re [the new addition] aware of the full scope of your role.”
Most executives will work with you, but, says the article, there will be times when a request comes in that you can’t handle either because someone else is responsible or you’re just jammed and won’t get to it in the time they want. That’s when you may need to diplomatically explain the situation, explaining when you will be able to deliver.
“Understand each executive’s priorities, so you can manage tasks related to them as urgently as possible whenever they recur,” the article suggests.
This is when having good communications with each executive you support is especially critical. Those boundaries you set should be translated into uniform procedures, sort of an operational plan that each person you support understands. “If everyone is on the same page, you’ll avoid inefficiencies associated with conflicting requests.”
It’s natural to gravitate toward the individuals with whom you work best. Playing favorites at the expense of another is the surest way to create a difficult work environment. So don’t, advises the ASAP. Be flexible.
“You need to give each executive equal treatment when performing assigned tasks. Even as you encourage uniform procedures, you must remember that each manager has a unique personality and needs. You might have to slightly tweak the approach you use to suit their preferred work style.”
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, there will be conflicts. When you get conflicting directives, says the ASAP, “The best solution is to inform them of the incompatibility and let them solve it among themselves… The executives will ultimately appreciate your neutral stance as you demonstrate that you sit above petty office politics.”
Supporting multiple people can be a challenge. But it also can help you grow as a professional, giving you the opportunity to take on different projects and demonstrate your ability to handle anything.