What Does a Secretary Do, According to 7 Experts

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What are the duties of a secretary?

We asked experts to provide some insights.

Ron Auerbach, MBA

Ron Auerbach

Educator | Career Coach | Job Search Expert |
Author, Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success

Secretaries, or Administrative Assistants as many are known by, these days, will have a variety of duties. Their main responsibility is to support the people for whom they work. And we have those who work just for a single individual. Others will work for multiple individuals, including supporting an entire department.

FYI, I have been in all three of these roles during my working life. The job is making sure things run smoothly and the ones for whom you support look good and are able to focus on their jobs. Thus, secretaries are the boss’ right hand who does all the behind-the-scenes tasks to make him or her look good to others!

As a secretary, you’ll answer the phone(s)

And screen calls to help those you support better manage their time and focus more on their main tasks. Even running interference when necessary to shield the one(s) you support from being disturbed or unnecessarily interrupted.

You’ll answer questions to ease the burden on the mangers and others you might be supporting. And will gather information necessary to help those you support to answer their questions and/or complete the actions necessary.

You will also take messages and make sure that things are followed-up on to make both yourself and those you support look good, plus the company as a whole.

Another routine part of a secretary’s job is handling the mail

So you may have to go through the mail and separate things out in terms of what kind of mail that item happens to be. Prioritizing things to help those you support better manage their time and focus on the mail that’s most important to them. For example, one pile for subscriptions, one for interoffice mail, and another for contracts.

Depending upon how many people you support, you may even have to distribute the mail to the various individuals. And handle some of the mail yourself to ease the burden on those you support.

You will also be typing up a correspondence and other business documents, including interoffice memos. And possibly having to go to the mailroom or mailing machine to add postage and send them out. Some offices have mail personnel.

Another thing secretaries will do is handle appointments

So you’ll maintain one or more calendars of appointments. Depending upon how things work, you may schedule people on your own.

Then again, we do have managers who micromanage more and prefer they set the date and/or time. In this case, they’ll let you know when the appointment is and you’ll add it onto their calendar or just be able to access if that person maintains their own calendar.

One more aspect of handling appointments is following-up with schedule people to confirm the meeting or provide an important update or revision, such as the meeting being moved from one location to another or being rescheduled from one day and/or time to another.

One more important and normal task for secretaries is maintaining databases and spreadsheets

So you might set them up from scratch. Then again, when you were working there, the databases or spreadsheets might already be created and you’re keeping them updated and/or revising them. FYI, I undertook a big project in taking static databases and spreadsheets and creating linked ones.

Something that made it easier when it came to entering information in one and having that info immediately update other databases and/or spreadsheets. So as a secretary, it’s not unusual for us to revamp things accordingly to make it easier on ourselves plus those for whom we support.

Secretaries will also make travel arrangements for those they support

So if someone you support needs to travel somewhere on business, you will find a rental car, book a flight, find a hotel, etc. And you may also have to handle travel arrangements for those coming in from elsewhere to the office. So part of your job may be to make the travel arrangements for those coming in from elsewhere.

For example, some people from the headquarters, HQ as we’ll often say, might be flying in to visit. Although you don’t support the HQ personnel, since they’re coming to your location, your boss(es) may request you make their travel arrangements. Something that lets them know we’re helping you out and a way to showcase how good our assistants are.

One more secretarial responsibility is note-taking, dictation, and/or transcription

So you may be in meetings with just the one(s) you support and taking notes to type up or use for a document, letter, or report. Then again, you might be in the presence of others who you don’t support but are taking notes to type up as our record of the meeting.

Secretaries will often be involved in a bunch of special projects

For example, you may have a mass mailing that needs to be done. Or you’ll be called upon to make arrangements for an office party in the case of someone being promoted, retiring, etc.

One or more of those you support may have a presentation to make, calling upon you as the secretary to help with it. You might even have to travel with the one(s) to assist with things during the presentation.

Holly Wolf

Holly Wolf

Director of Customer Engagement, SOLO Laboratories, Inc.

In today’s world, most secretaries are called administrative assistants. I’ve had several stellar administrative assistants and this is what makes them stellar in my opinion.

They understand processes and goals

Instead of just doing the work, they understand what you are trying to accomplish. So if you miss a step, an instruction, they know what to do and they do it.

They are organizers

They make meetings happen and know how to move things around according to your priorities. They take care of the details that make a big difference, like remembering meetings with this person always run over, so moving them to later in the day.

Or, mention that someone in the lunch meeting prefers salad rather than a sandwich. They have all the papers ready in a folder and hand them to you because they anticipate what you need.

They are your second set of eyes and ears

They hear the rumblings that will never get to your desk. They also are the first line of resolution when someone wants to speak with you. They can start the process. That’s helpful to all parties involved including the customer. They take responsibility for follow up.

For many, their greatest success is seeing things run flawlessly because they’ve managed everything with precision, behind the scenes.

In many organizations, the administrative assistant is considered an easy way to cut costs. But when you have a great one, it’s challenging to live without one because they take care of so many details few even consider.

John Moss

CEO, English Blinds

Secretaries today generally fulfill many different roles and have a much wider range of skills than was traditionally the case, and being a secretary can fairly be referred to as a very skilled and qualified career.

Some of the better-known basic things that secretaries usually do include performing administrative tasks

This involves clerical duties, customer-facing tasks such as reception and telephony work, answering correspondence, diary-keeping, and scheduling, filing, managing documents, taking dictations and performing typing work.

They also deal with a unique combination of personality traits and learned or hard-to-find innate skills

However, the “soft” or less tangible roles that secretaries fulfill are a lot broader and valuable to employers who can find them.

These might include serving as a type of gatekeeper between an employer and people wishing to speak to them, being able to manage various personality types to get the best out the them, a high level of tact and diplomacy, the ability to speak one’s mind even when daunted, and being able to thrive under pressure and in high-stakes situations.

The personal dynamic between a secretary and their employer is often a very close one, with many employers being hugely reliant on their secretaries for both practical support and to help them to manage their own stress and challenges.

Professional support

A secretary may offer support by serving as a sounding board, supporter, trusted the second opinion, and generally, fulfilling the role of a person who might be permitted to speak more freely and be more open and honest with their boss than even their employer’s peers and superiors.

The exact roles any given secretary fulfills can be highly variable, however, and some secretaries may undertake all of these tasks and more, whilst others might only perform a couple of very narrowly defined fixed tasks.

There is a lot of crossovers today in higher-level secretarial roles with personal assistant duties, and often, little to distinguish the two in practice. In some such roles, a secretary might themselves be supported by one or more assistants of their own!

Additionally, certain professions require secretaries with industry-specific secretarial qualifications and experience, such as medical secretaries and legal secretaries, providing an opportunity for further specialization within the field too.

Joe Bailey

Joe Bailey

Business Development Consultant, My Trading Skills

Secretaries are essential to the successful daily operations of a company

Their duties may vary from one organization to the next, but they are usually the most familiar face of the organization. I have an incredible secretary, and according to me, these are her core functions that ensure the workplace is running smoothly:

  • Preparing internal and external memos, and correspondence.
  • Managing daily, weekly, and monthly schedules.
  • Setting meetings and reminders for important, must-do events/tasks.
  • Updating and maintaining particular company databases and files.
  • Warmly receiving visitors/customers at the reception area.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith

Business Finance Expert | Founder, I Am Net Worthy

Secretaries play an important job in your business

As a business owner, there are so many things you will be working and focusing on which is why having a secretary is so beneficial. The duties of a secretary vary from business to business, yet some are very similar.

A secretary will most likely be responsible for doing the following:

  • Setting up and scheduling appointments, meetings, paperwork.
  • Keeping things organized, phone calls, and much more depending on the job.
  • They are more likely to be the first person a visitor sees; therefore, it is important for your secretary to be polite, friendly, and a positive attitude along with other characteristics.

Personally, I consider my secretary more like an assistant or my right hand, so I highly recommend it must be someone you trust as well. Secretaries should be very much appreciated for what they do because their job is extremely important.

Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel

Founder & CEO, Prep Expert

Anticipating needs before you do

Any good assistant or secretary will, over time, anticipate what you need before you even think of it. Whether it’s a daily routine task or juggling your schedule due to potential problems they think of, your ‘secretary’ is ahead of the curve.

If, for example, they overhear your stress over a persistent medical issue you’re unsure about, they will get ahold of your doctor for an appointment, and rearrange meetings to accommodate it.

What’s important is helping you get through the day with as little distraction as possible, to get the high-level work you’re responsible done correctly.

William Taylor

William Taylor

Career Development Officer, MintResume

A secretary assists his/her boss in a variety of tasks throughout the day

Some of these tasks include scheduling meetings or appointments, maintaining files, taking meeting minutes, sending emails, answering phones or making guest travel and/or accommodation arrangements. Often, he/she can also act as a receptionist and/or meet and greet clients.

A secretary performs a number of tasks such as meeting scheduling, attending phone calls and redirecting when needed and much more.