Transactional or strategic executive assistant? Which is best?

12 March 2020 Anastasia Kelly

Transactional Or Strategic Ea Sydney Ea Recruiter

Is your EA candidate a strategic partner or a transactional implementor? 

This is an important distinction to clarify when you’re an HR Manager recruiting an EA for the CEO or c-suite executive. 


Increasingly, EAs are becoming more strategic in their level of support

Due to the advancement of technology and project management tools, jobs that took hours now take minutes. This frees up the EA’s time to concentrate on adding more value with tactical support. On the other hand, the purely transactional EA is certainly still highly regarded by senior leaders in Australia’s top companies. It would be unfair to call this an ‘old-school’ approach. 

One is not better than the other

It’s simply a matter of clarity. For HR managers this can be one of the most important questions to ask your executive. Today, I’ll outline the benefits of each type of EA support to help you make the right recommendation. 

Strategic EAs provide top-level support 

Every improvement in efficiency that an EA creates for the executive has a significant impact on company performance. As Richard Branson says: “With the logistics and details organised by others, I am free to think about the bigger picture. Without a world-class assistant, this wouldn’t be possible.”

If an EA takes on responsibilities and senior leadership support, the executive has more hours per week to think broadly and concentrate on innovation, future forecasting and visionary planning. All of which ensures a stronger chance of the organisation's continued growth, agility and competitiveness.

Typical responsibilities of a strategic EA 

  1. taking ownership of projects
  2. acting on behalf of the executive when absent or occupied elsewhere
  3. helping the executive make tactical business decisions 
  4. having a seat at the table in leadership strategy sessions
  5. managing day-to-day business operations
  6. liaising with relevant stakeholders

Transactional EAs still in demand 

While there is a shift towards EAs playing a strategic role, many executives still prefer a more traditional, transactional EA role. These leaders have no need for additional strategic support. They want a qualified, experienced EA to implement tasks according to instructions. 

Typical responsibilities of a transactional EA 

  • managing diaries 
  • planning meetings and minute taking
  • preparing reports, presentations and proposals 
  • managing travel plans, including flights, hotels, 

Elements to consider when considering candidates 

I’ve found that strategic EAs tend to be more loyal and stay in the position longer. Possibly, this is due to greater enjoyment in the position and feeling like they're making a difference and contributing more to the direction of the organisation. 

Some EAs will turn down a role if it doesn’t have the opportunity for high-level input (others prefer the less stressful transactional positions). According to their skillset, strategic EAs tend to command a salary at the higher end of typical market wages, so this should be factored into salary budgets.  

The importance of clarifying 

This distinction recently became very clear to me as I was recruiting a high performing EA for the CEO of an ASX listed company. The HR team had specified a strategic EA, and I nominated a competitive candidate. However, the CEO had other ideas. During the interview, it became clear to the candidate that the CEO wanted pure implementation. He saw no need for an EA to act as a senior member of the leadership team. Regrettably, this information was a dealbreaker for the candidate, and she politely turned down the opportunity. While I was able to place another more suitable applicant in the position, it would have been better to clarify that requirement in advance, so the right candidate can be put forward. 

HRs can determine (and perhaps influence) executives’ requirements 

When hiring an EA to the CEO or c-suite executive, HRs can show the leader the potential possibilities of hiring a strategic EA. Leaders may not have considered how the nature of the EA role has evolved and may not be aware of a new way of doing things. HRs can use their people skills to good effect to encourage leaders to consider their needs and whether a strategic or transactional EA will be the best fit. 

Recruiting an EA for your CEO or C-suite executive?

Altitude EA can help find a high performing candidate. Contact Anastasia on 0421 16 55 96.