by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | February 01, 2006

With a growing number of administrative assistants getting involved in organizing meetings and events, it is likely that most planners will have occasion to work alongside them.
    Too often, these working relationships get off on the wrong foot: There is some residual resentment on both sides from the late ’90s, when scores of planners were cut from companies and administrative assistants were expected to fill the planner role on top of their already overloaded schedules.
    Today, it’s a good idea for planners to establish a mutually respectful and functional partnership with their planning colleagues.

Meet in person.
Establishing trust with an assistant is essential and cannot be done solely via e-mail or  telephone. If possible, meet in person at least once, more often if budget and schedule permit.
    Be open. Enter the relationship with a positive attitude for learning, fostering and embracing each other’s attributes. 
    Find common ground. If you both work for the same company, you have a built-in topic to discuss. In other cases, you will need to dig deeper to establish a connection perhaps in regard to family, pets, etc. with your planning partner. 
    Communicate goals and personal stakes. Don’t assume you’re both on the same page. Does the assistant agree and understand the goals and objectives for the project? What are his personal goals for this event? Does he plan to attend the event? Have you both agreed upon and clarified your individual roles and responsibilities?

What special considerations should planners have when working on meetings and events with administrative assistants?
    Avoid jargon. Be conscious of the terms and words you use. While “RFP” or “BEO” might be part of your everyday vocabulary, most people outside the meetings and hospitality industry haven’t a clue as to what they mean.
    Respect time. Keep in mind that administrative assistants have another full-time job that must take priority. Be respectful of their time and you will be rewarded with a devoted project partner.
    Welcome expertise. You might pride yourself on your savvy negotiating skills, but don’t assume an assistant has no skills in that arena or in other areas relevant to meetings. Says one senior administrative assistant at a Fortune 500 firm in Seattle, “It kills me when the planners at our company don’t acknowledge my accounting experience. I could help them ensure their projections are accurate.” Point taken.

There are a number of ways working with administrative assistants actually can boost your position in a company. Among them: 
    Impress higher-ups. This point cannot be understated. Administrative assistants have the ears of senior management. In fact, this power perk can make or break your own success in the company. By impressing the assistant with your skill and ability to work well with a team, you’ll have a far better chance of impressing the top brass. Likewise, if you insult an administrative assistant, you can be sure their bosses will hear about your lack of interpersonal skills. 
    Insider information. Similarly, administrative assistants have access to proprietary information. This is not to imply that they would divulge company secrets, but they can be a great source for obtaining information on the management team’s expectations, as well as their peeves. They also can help you sway management’s opinions, increase budgets and get their buy-in on more unconventional ideas.