From PA to Project Manager: All You Need to Know

Updated: Mar 20

After the success of our September event headlined by Jennifer Smith, FEPAA on the subject of PAs becoming Project Managers, we are delighted to be publishing this follow up guest post. Thank you, Jennifer!

There are lots of courses out there aimed at PAs on the same subject as this blog.

Let me be very clear I cannot vouch for how useful they are, but they all propose to cover the following:

  • Common terminology

  • Identify objectives

  • How to structure a project

How successful are they at delivering this? Like I said I can’t comment. But I can tell you why I think PAs make good Project Managers and why more are taking on this responsibility.

Since the financial crisis PAs have been increasingly asked to take on the duties traditionally reserved for middle managers as these were the first roles cut. But their work didn’t go away - someone else needed to take on these responsibilities. Enter the PA.

Not only have middle managers been cut but the traditional PA role of managing diaries, typing and taking minutes is also under threat. It is vital for PAs to expand their role by taking on additional responsibilities like line management, budgets and project work.

PAs are suited to project work and will excel when given the chance. Why? I believe there are six reasons for this.

1. Planning Skills

PAs have excellent planning skills and are used to changing demands and priorities. Not only do they have to manage their own workload but also that of the people they support. Planning skills are all about being organised and the PA is the most organised person in the company. Project management is all about organising and planning.

2. Overview

Whatever level a PA provides support at they will know the priorities, demands and timescales of their team. They will know what people are working on and the strengths and weaknesses of the people within their team. To plan a project, you need to know where the workload pressures are, where individuals excel and where extra support might be needed.

3. The Right Contacts

Part of having an overview of your team is knowing whom to go to for support and who can get things done. But think about the flipside; the PA knows who to go to but also who to avoid. Jimmy might know everything about a certain subject but you know that by approaching him you will lose a whole afternoon, and that you could obtain the same information from someone else without losing any time. This means the project can continue efficiently and within the timescale.

4. Communication skills

Beyond being highly organised, the second most important skill that a PAs possesses is good communication. A good project can and will fail if the communication is lacking. It is vital for there to be consistent communication throughout a project with the team, senior managers, the wider organisation and possibly external stakeholders.

5. Ability to manage up and down

Another skill the PA possesses and uses regularly is managing both those senior and junior to them. On a daily basis they need to ensure the person they support is doing what they need to do and meeting their deadlines while also delegating tasks to people throughout the organisation. Again, a large amount of managing project is getting people to complete tasks within a set timeline. Another reason why PAs are successful at this is because they have good communication skills, as mentioned earlier.

6. Technical knowledge

Finally, the PA has a lot of technical skills and the ability to use a variety of software programmes. While not vital for project management this ability will mean the PA is able to create any template as needed.

As you can see the skills vital to being a successful PA are the same skills needed to manage a project; PAs are natural Project Managers. All they need to be successful is the opportunity and the self-belief.

Hopefully this blog will help PAs to find their self-belief by showing that they already have the skills needed to be a Project Manager.

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