“No matter how long you’ve been in ‘the game’, the moment you stop learning or say there’s nothing left for you to learn is the moment you’ll be left behind.”

I think it all starts with the relationship between the PA/EA and their boss – there needs to be trust and transparency. From there, the boss needs to empower the EA to own the culture development process

Executive PA Media award winner, runner up and finalist, Natalie Kennefick shares her career journey and top tips for fellow admin professionals.

Please tell us a little about your career journey so far…

I’ve had a very traditional admin journey. I started sitting on the floor of my mum’s office after school and doing the office filing… Unpaid! As an adult, I did a traineeship in Business Administration and worked on reception, my path was then a steady rise from administration to team assistant, administrator, admin manager, office manager then, finally, EA!

Now, what are your main responsibilities?

I’ve only just started in this role so there’s lots of room for development and growth. While I do the traditional EA duties of diary and email management, as well as some office management, my main responsibilities revolve around helping the CEO and ELT drive performance and meet company goals. I’m also involved in projects over all three business groups (I work for a business made up of three businesses). Previously, I have looked after multiple teams and managers, and been able to bring my passion for events and culture into the role by implementing team engagement initiatives.

What is the working environment like?

Many businesses claim that they have a great culture and that they’re all friendly and diverse/inclusive – but when you turn up to work it’s anything but! I can honestly say that’s not the case with my new company. They definitely walk the walk! Everyone is so welcoming to each other each day, and there’s so much cross-functionality that people will always be helping each other out.

What about perks, flexibility and communication?
We have a hybrid workplace and people really use their days in the office to build and cultivate their relationships. There is so much respect and flexibility in people’s work choices. Our CEO actively walks the floor daily, and an abundance of comms keep us informed about what’s happening. There is a genuine concern for employee wellbeing from the leadership team, and they’re very active on our online recognition platform. They also do weekly check ins with their team members. We have great benefits, and it truly is a great environment from the CEO down. People openly say they love their job and coming to work, and there’s only sincerity when they say it. It’s honestly exciting to come to work each day!

Have your EA achievements been recognised formally?

Yes, I was fortunate enough to be a finalist for Best Organised Event 2018 and runner up for the same award in 2019, as well as winning the 2018 Up and Coming EA/PA of the Year Award – all at the Executive PA Media awards. Being a finalist was exciting but to be a runner up and winner is beyond words because there are so many talented and deserving EAs and PAs in our industry.

Did you feel different as a result of your accolades?

It validated my contributions and position within my team and business. Administrators are often overlooked because we don’t have a quantifiable dollar amount for our work, so the fact that there are awards recognising our work and worth means a lot to me personally. It gave me a greater appreciation for our industry, and I developed a passion for helping to support EAs and admin professionals.

What’s happened since?

Not long after winning my 2018 award, I was offered some public speaking engagements – I got to put my desire to empower other EAs into action by speaking at a number of conferences. I’ve also moved up into a C-suite role to continue growing and developing in my own career.

What are your top tips for senior level PAs looking to create a great culture in their organisation?

I think it all starts with the relationship between the PA/EA and their boss – there needs to be trust and transparency. From there, the boss needs to empower the EA to own the culture development process. In consultation with senior leaders, a culture plan should be developed – and it should be fluid. I also think a good culture is made of many parts. Some people think culture is drinks in the office after work or team events. But for me, culture is a trust in leadership, plus leadership being open and honest with staff, and having the right people in the organisation. This is where values come into play. A company – and, drilling down, a team – should have a set of values that everyone knows, understands and demonstrates. A common goal and purpose give people a sense of belonging and achievement, and this fosters a great working environment.

What tips do you have for fellow admin professionals?

Never stop learning and developing. No matter how long you have been in ‘the game’, the moment you stop learning or say there’s nothing left for you to learn is the moment you’ll be left behind.  Embrace change and technology and discover how these can benefit you. Always ask for your seat at the table – don’t wait to be invited. Speak up – if you have an idea or opinion share it because we’re in a unique position and can often offer a different perspective. Finally, network! Join EA/admin groups, build your LinkedIn network and attend conferences. There is no better group of people to lean on when you need help or guidance.

How do you see the EA role developing?

I think the EA role has so much potential to grow into a partnership or leadership role beyond the assistant role, and I hope that the actual title of EA is phased out in order to truly reflect our standing and contributions to the workplace. I would like to see a true strategic partnership role where our ideas and views are listened to. We would be considered in the shaping of our teams’ and businesses’ goals, and admin professionals would be given a seat at the table.

And what about your own career progression? What is your ultimate career goal?

I would love to be in a strategic role where I’m able to take on projects that are challenging and fulfilling. And, as one of my biggest passions is events, I’d love to be able to have events as part of my role. One of my biggest personal highlights, actually, was taking my love of event planning and management and starting my own small events business. It was unfortunately severely impacted by the pandemic but it remains one of my biggest achievements.

Natalie Kennefick. EA to the CEO

Arriba Group gives people with disabilities the best opportunity to connect in the community, build social skills and open up work opportunities. The team trains and retrains people to be work-ready, as well as helping individuals recover from an accident or illness then return to work. arribagroup.com.au