THERE are three fundamental requirements to being a great executive or personal assistant — the ability to prioritise, remain calm under pressure and stay focused.

Gone are the old clichés of executive assistants (EAs) and personal assistants (Pas) doing clerical work, answering the phone and picking up dry cleaning.

Employers are now essentially looking for a right hand — someone who can keep them on track and assume some tasks in their role from time to time. Today, being an EA or PA is viewed as a challenging and rewarding career in its own right.

This means that to be successful as an EA or PA, you not only need the right technical skills, such as knowing how to use the latest office software and being Internet-savvy, but you must also possess the appropriate soft skills to meet the role’s requirements. You need to be a confident communicator who is dedicated, focused and able to multi-task.

Ability to prioritise

As you can support anyone from an executive manager to a number of senior executives or a management team, your role of an EA or PA can stretch from taking dictation, preparing correspondence and managing diaries to handling a budget, updating websites, conducting Internet research, commissioning work on your manager’s behalf and representing him or her at meetings.

Given an EA or PA’s varied workload, your ability to prioritise tasks is vital. That’s why the best EAs and PAs always know their deadlines and plan for them. If you want to be great in your role, it will also help to prioritise not only your day, but your week and even your month. And don’t forget to stay flexible, as plans can change at a moment’s notice.

Also, a good way to prioritise is to ask yourself approximately how long each task will take, which tasks have non-negotiable deadlines, which have the most direct impact on the business and what are the consequences if those deadlines are missed.

Remain calm under pressure

Reporting to a senior executive can be stressful and a lot of pressure as most leaders are driven, focused and move at a fast pace. It’s advisable to not take it personally if the intensity turns negative.

By learning to manage your own internal stress, you will present a strong exterior, which is what the job demands. Therefore, it’s important to employ some stress management techniques. Good time management of your workload and that of your manager’s can also reduce stress.

Stay focused

The EA or PA position can have areas that are not clearly defined, as you may not only be reporting to an executive but are part of a larger organisation.

This means sometimes being asked to perform miscellaneous administrative duties. While this is usually part of your job, remember to stay focused throughout the day and prioritise.

Part of being focused also involves anticipating what your manager needs. This way you can be prepared and look smart at the same time.

Job well done

Specialist recruiter Hays in Singapore recently announced the winner of the inaugural EA/PA of the Year award in recognition of the challenging and important work done by these office professionals.

Ms Elsie Chew of Barclays, who earned the title and the opportunity to fly to London to attend the 2012 Executive PA Magazine/Hays Awards, is a great example of what it takes to succeed as a EA or PA.

Ms Donna Lansdown, Asia Head of Enterprise Solutions Technology at Barclays, who nominated Ms Chew, says she is extremely organised and structured, and supports more than 400 employees with ease.

She ensures that all her responsibilities are accomplished on time and according to corporate policies and procedures.

Ms Lansdown also says that Ms Chew is proactive, and needs minimum direction or instructions to complete tasks well ahead of their deadlines.

Says Ms Chew of her job: ”Being an effective EA or PA is about good time management, organisation skills, being proactive and being familiar with corporate policies and procedures.”

Next: Getting to the top of your profession as an EA/PA.