Why Interpersonal Savvy Is the New Must-Have Skill

Strategic work is on the rise for administrative professionals. Take the time now to hone your skills and learn about the tools that can help you provide the right strategic skills to your role.

Ask an administrative professional what’s changed most in the role and you’ll hear a common theme: more strategic work.

“Admins are being asked to weigh in on HR-related decisions or provide recommendations for how to spend a budget,” says Melissa Mahoney, chief operating office of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). “In the past, their role may have been more to report on that information.”

Adapting to these responsibilities and ensuring you get the recognition you deserve requires a mastery of skills outside the traditional admin domain. Mahoney shares what it takes to thrive.

1. Sharpen Your Soft Skills

In an IAAP survey of its members a few years ago, technology topped the list of skills that admins considered most important. This year’s survey revealed that administrative professionals are far more focused on soft skills like leadership, emotional intelligence and working across generations — traits that help in working constructively with a changing workforce and managing higher-profile projects.

“Admins have already integrated technology into their daily tasks, so it’s no longer top of mind in terms of new skills to learn,” Mahoney says. Instead, “they’re looking for skills that will help them communicate more effectively, manage expectations and outcomes, and support departments with different priorities.”

Honing skills like emotional intelligence can also help admins better understand themselves and the value they bring to their organization, Mahoney adds. That, in turn, can help them to become more confident and assertive.

2. Befriend AI

As administrative professionals take on more strategic responsibilities, some are turning to virtual assistant tools and chatbot software to keep up with more mundane tasks.

“A few years ago, there was a fear that artificial intelligence would be a job killer for administrative professionals,” Mahoney says. “Instead, admins are finding that there are some awesome ways AI can augment their work by automating certain aspects of their job.”

For example, some are using programs that let them build virtual assistants without needing programming experience. These tools can answer some of colleagues’ routine questions, even when the admin is out of the office. “Admins can create a list of common questions and answers — similar to an FAQ document — and upload it to the system,” Mahoney explains. “If someone has a question such as ‘Where is the copy paper?’ the program would respond.”

AI tools are also available that automate specific administrative duties, such as scheduling meetings, writing job descriptions and recording and transcribing meetings. Textio and AI Sense are a couple of examples. The popular workplace collaboration tool Slack also offers add-ons that streamline office management duties.

3. Continuously Reboot Your Knowledge

Employers are increasingly looking for new hires who keep their skills fresh, Mahoney says. Periodic training and certification is one important way to do this. Many administrative professionals are making this a priority: In a recent Staples InsidersNetwork poll, one in five said they plan to pursue certification in the new year.

“Everyone has a college degree today,” Mahoney says. “Having a certification and keeping it up to date shows that you’re committed to staying on top of changes in the field.” Getting certified may also help you understand your market value, earn a promotion or negotiate a pay raise.

Credentials such as IAAP’s Certified Administrative Professional designation and the American Society of Administrative Professional’s PACE certification help demonstrate expertise in oral and written communication, event and project management, and other domains. More narrowly focused certifications also exist, such as designations from the Society for Human Resource Management and the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification.

Administrative professionals need to become comfortable advocating for themselves, Mahoney says, because “they are not getting the recognition or pay that would typically accompany the level of responsibilities that many now have.” Learning how to call attention to one’s contributions is perhaps among the most valuable skills you can learn.