Executive assistants: how to step up as a business partner

18 August 2020 Anastasia Kelly

Transitioning To A Business Partner Role

In the last decade there’s been an enormous shift in the role of the high-performing executive assistant. As automation and software makes time-consuming tasks more efficient and easy, EAs are now increasingly stepping into leadership positions. Rather than filing papers and taking minutes, business partner EAs are providing strategic, top-level support. 


Recently, an EA put it to me this way, and I love the term: 

‘I’m a competitive advantage for my CEO.’ 


However, for each highly capable, experienced and confident EA I speak with, there’s another who is not quite there yet. This can be for a myriad of reasons. Some are not confident to step into the business partner role. While others are feeling stifled by their executive, who perhaps doesn’t realise the advantages a business partner EA can offer. 


The role of a business partner EA

A business partner EA provides less of the admin support and more of the top-level strategy. 

The key differentials are initiative, ownership and facilitating outcomes. This can mean:

  • proactively identifying opportunities for improved efficiencies
  • taking ownership of key areas of responsibilities and managing projects
  • acting as a sounding board to empower decision making in the executive 
  • actively understanding and supporting the executive’s delivery of KPIs


I explain it further in my articles: 

However, administrative EAs are still very much in demand - one type of EA is no better than the other. 

But, if you’re an EA looking to uplevel your career and work with dynamic, fast-growing companies that align with your values, then positioning yourself as a business partner will likely fast-track your success. 


How to transition to a business partner role

The key is to assess your current situation and the skills gap that you need to fill. Plus, you need to consider the willingness of your executive to support you.

Ask yourself: 

  • What skills are you lacking that are integral to the role of a business partner EA?
  • Is there any training or development you could do to acquire those skills? 
  • Is your executive supportive of your intention? 
  • Do you need to work on your confidence? 


How to get your executive on board 

In my experience, most executives are delighted to see proactive initiative from their EAs. 

Creating a 90-day plan with gradual opportunities for increased leadership will allow both parties to test the waters to see how the new dynamic will work.  

In the case of reluctant executives, they typically worry that their EA will neglect administrative duties, or simply can’t see the exciting potential ahead. In cases like this, a gradual approach is best. Slowly taking on extra responsibilities, actively supporting the executive in delivery of KPIs over a 12-18 month period can demonstrate the many benefits to apprehensive executives. 


An informed EA is a strategic EA 

Reading widely to gain insights into industry best practice is highly beneficial for any EA wanting to step into a business partner role. 

Your weekly reading should include: 

  • following thought leaders on LinkedIn (they often share new strategies and ways of working) 
  • seeking out case studies for new efficiency models 
  • perusing industry and business publications 
  • reading the business and finance pages of national state newspapers (The Australian Financial Review, The Australian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Courier Mail, etc)
  • listening to business and leadership podcasts 
  • position descriptions for EA roles (to help you identify potential gaps in your CV)


This reading will expose you to the latest trends, giving you opportunities to share insights with your executive, and perhaps suggesting new ways of working following the success of others. If nothing else, you’ll be highly informed and aware, which is an essential requirement for top-level conversations with senior stakeholders and your executive. 


Surround yourself with leaders

If possible, build a network of high-performing business partner EAs around you. Find and follow them on LinkedIn. If there’s a chance to meet them in person, take it. Regular conversations (either online or in person) with senior EAs will leave you inspired with ideas and motivated with new strategies. 


Gather feedback and take advantage of opportunities 

Often, it can be difficult to truly identify your weaknesses. So, it’s time to draw on the resources your employer has available to you in the form of your HR team, professional development budget and performance review system. 

Seek constructive feedback on your areas for improvement, putting your ego aside (if you disagree) and step up to the plate if there are any concerns that prevent you moving into a leadership role. You can really demonstrate your positive and proactive nature here. 

Can you agitate for a slice of the corporate training budget? Do your research and identify potential courses on leadership, communication, strategy or other skills you’d like to learn. When you pitch for the investment, focus on the benefits to your employer to improve your chances of securing the investment. 


Work on your mindset 

I’ve met many executive assistants who are already serving as highly strategic business partners, without even realising it. Plus, I meet more who have the deep ambition to step up to more responsibility, but are lacking the confidence in themselves. 

I believe that confidence comes with evidence. Take a look at your achievements and remind yourself of everything you’ve done. It’s usually more than you realise. If you’re really struggling with confidence, a mindset coach can help you break through those limiting beliefs that are holding you back in your career. 


Ready to step up and become a business partner executive assistant? 

Follow Altitude EA on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. We regularly share top-level business partner EA positions. Perhaps the next role will be perfect for you? 


If you’re an executive or HR manager looking for a high-performing executive assistant, then we can help find you the ideal candidate. 

Contact Anastasia on 0421 16 55 96.