Working with an Assistant

Today’s Time Management for Leaders Series post is about how leaders can work collaboratively with an assistant*. This is something I work on with new leaders who have come from a classroom teacher position, having never had an assistant before. This is an important transition for new leaders and if it’s done well, it can save you significant time.

*For the sake of continuity, I’m going to use the word assistant throughout this post. I recognize that different organizations may use other terms such as clerical staff, secretary, office assistant, or other terms appropriate to positions.

Everything shared here is predicated on the fact that a leader begins his or her new job by building positive relationships with staff members, getting to know individuals, their strengths, and their job descriptions and responsibilities. Once that work has begun, here are some tips for working with your secretary/assistant/ support staff to better manage your time as a leader. I must thank my current assistant who contributed her ideas for this post as well. I took time to ask her what advice she would give a new administrator to build a successful working relationship with his/her assistant.

  • Communicate expectations clearly: The foundation of a positive working relationship between a leader and an assistant is clear expectations. This means that you need to sit down with your assistant and review how you will, as a team, handle the following:
    • Walk-in parents who want to speak to you
    • Scheduling of appointments
    • What constitutes an emergency, when to interrupt any meeting, call me on the radio/ phone immediately, etc.
    • Maintaining your calendar (see Calendar 911 for additional tips)
    • Work load – what tasks does your assistant do daily, weekly, monthly, annually? What is the protocol if he/she is overwhelmed? What is the protocol if he/she has time for additional tasks?
    • Your signature (I always ask my assistant to keep all documents that need my signature in a folder and hand it to me at the end of each day. I sign items once a day, not any time someone randomly needs a signature.)
    • Comp time and days off – different offices handle comp time differently, so you want to make sure you are on the same page with requirements. Many assistants like to request days off the same time as their leader; be clear about your expectations with regard to time off and planning leave ahead of time
  • Regular meetings: Be sure to schedule regular meetings between you and your assistant so that you can:
    • Continue to maintain open lines of communication
    • Check in on upcoming tasks
    • Review work load and ensure that deadlines will be met
    • Explain any new tasks you need his/her help with
    • Review the budgets you oversee
    • Provide feedback on previously completed tasks
    • Support his/her professional growth
  • Basic tasks: New administrators are often unsure of what tasks are appropriate to ask of an assistant. Here are a few examples that my assistant shared with me.
    • Mail correspondence – open and distribute mail as needed
    • Memos/ Bulletins/ Letters – an assistant can prepare a rough draft to review with you in a regular meeting and he/she can finalize a draft for your review based on your feedback
    • Evaluations – prepare necessary paperwork and schedule reminders for staff as needed
    • Payroll/ Attendance – many assistants handle this directly
    • Travel requests – assistants can support you with travel plans and reconciling your travel reimbursement/ receipt review as required
    • Meeting preparation – assistants can schedule your meetings in specific locations, prepare sign-in sheets, agendas, name plates, copies for
  • Customer Service: Your assistant is the first impression people will get of you, your office, and your work. You want to ensure that your assistant is professional and welcoming and competent to represent you when you are not present.

What other advice would you give a new leader learning to work with an assistant? 


Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share


About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
This entry was posted in Reflection and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Working with an Assistant

  1. Pingback: Taking Time to Build or Strengthen Relationships | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  2. Pingback: Good Leaders Don’t Do It All Alone | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

  3. Pingback: The Value of Reflection | Reflections on Leadership and Learning

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