Workplace superheroes: administrative staff embracing new roles

Companies may not realize they have a secret weapon to assist them in bouncing back from the recession: their support staff. New research shows administrative professionals are moving beyond their traditional roles to take on responsibilities in areas such as cost control, technology and the use of social media, hiring, and corporate social responsibility.

The study,  developed by OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP),  includes responses from 4,415 administrative professionals and 502 managers in Canada and the United States. The full survey results are featured in Your Secret to Success: Today's Super Admin, a research guide available at

Key study findings include:

  • Half of managers indicated that support staff play a role in helping their firms reduce spending.
  • Nearly one-third (32 per cent) of supervisors said they have turned to administrative personnel for help with technology.
  • Forty-four per cent of support staff use social media for professional reasons, but only 22 per cent promote their companies' products or services with these tools.
  • Sixty-three per cent of administrative professionals have assisted in hiring other support staff at their firms.
  • A majority (55 per cent) of administrative professionals have managed volunteer activities for their employers, and 47 per cent have coordinated fundraisers for nonprofit organizations at work. In addition, 30 per cent have been tapped to assist with environmental initiatives.

The study also highlighted the importance of providing employees with professional development opportunities to prepare them for additional responsibilities. More than eight in 10 (83 per cent) administrative team members said they've taken courses in accounting, budgeting, purchasing and negotiation when offered; 94 per cent reported that these classes have helped them be more cost-effective at work. Although about half (51 per cent) of support professionals said their employers do not provide leadership training to administrative staff, nearly all of them (96 per cent) said they would find these courses valuable if available.

"Staff training doesn't only benefit employees. Companies that offer educational opportunities to their workers cultivate teams that are better equipped to manage a wider variety of assignments," says Susan Shamali, IAAP's 2009-10 international president, who holds the Certified Professional Secretary and Certified Administrative Professional designations. "Offering mentoring programs, on-site seminars and reimbursement for tuition or professional association dues are easy and effective ways to prepare your administrative staff."

Controlling Costs
Administrative professionals are frequently involved in identifying costly inefficiencies, streamlining procedures and negotiating with vendors. As companies focus on recovering from the economic downturn, they are turning to support staff for continued assistance in keeping spending in check. Half of managers said that administrative personnel are helping to control costs at their organizations.

Technology and Social Media
Nearly one-third (32 per cent) of managers indicated that administrative professionals have provided assistance with office technology. Support staff are often the first to try new hardware and software, train others on it, and answer common technical questions. And while many (44 per cent) administrative personnel use social networking tools, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs, for professional reasons, only 22 per cent utilize these sites to promote their firms' products or services. This presents an opportunity for employers to better leverage these team members in helping to manage the company's online presence.

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of support staff have been involved in the hiring process when their firms have added administrative personnel. Of those, 42 per cent have interviewed job candidates, 38 per cent wrote or updated job descriptions, 38 per cent screened resumes and 23 per cent posted employment ads.

Social Responsibility
As companies place greater emphasis on giving back to the community and being environmentally conscious, administrative professionals are playing a role in implementing corporate social responsibility activities. More than half (55 per cent) of support staff have managed volunteer activities and 47 per cent have coordinated fundraisers to support nonprofits for their employers. Thirty per cent have helped with green initiatives such as group beach cleanups or recycling programs.

Hosking notes, "While managers should present support staff with opportunities to apply their abilities in new ways, administrative professionals must also proactively increase their workplace involvement. Doing so can boost their visibility and help them advance their careers."

OfficeTeam is a leading staffing service specializing in the temporary placement of highly skilled office and administrative support professionals. The company has more than 325 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at For career and workplace advice, follow OfficeTeam at

The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is the world's largest association for administrative support staff, with more than 550 chapters and approximately 28,000 members worldwide. For more information, visit

Both surveys were developed by OfficeTeam and IAAP. The views of support staff are based on an online survey of 4,415 administrative professionals in Canada and the United States. The manager survey was conducted online by an independent research firm and includes responses from 502 individuals in the United States and Canada who directly or indirectly manage an administrative professional.