Careers in Office Administration
Office administrators are the unsung heroes of the business world – they are the men and women who keep the day-to-day operations of the business flowing smoothly so that working professionals can perform their specialised tasks with ease.
They specialise in administrative tasks like managing the front office, dealing with visitors and callers, cataloguing and ordering office supplies, planning and scheduling events, and lots more – all tasks that require great organisation skills, a polite and professional demeanour, project management ability and practical training.
The field of office administration can lead to a successful career in people management, human resources, executive assistance and other interesting jobs. To start off, however, most administrators have one of the following four job types.
A secretary or receptionist is the first person most people interact with at a company, and is therefore a vital cog in the corporate machine. Secretaries are usually in charge of the front office, which means that they screen and welcome visitors, take calls, handle mail deliveries, catalogue and source office equipment, and keep track of appointments, meetings and schedules.
The role largely depends on the organisation – a secretary at a small dental office, for example, may be responsible for all aspects of running the business except for the actual dental work, while a receptionist at a large corporation may spend most of the time managing a switchboard.
A personal assistant (PA) is someone who handles all administrative matters on behalf of another person, to free them up to do other important work. PAs usually work for high-ranking corporate officials, like CEOs and high-level managers, whose frenetic jobs mean they have no time for tasks like scheduling appointments, keeping track of expenses, and organising business-related events.
The PA therefore plays an essential role as the person in charge of the CEO’s time and attention, and usually forms a close relationship with the person they are assisting. Vitally, PAs also act as a buffer and gatekeeper for the CEO – they filter content, messages and visitors so that only the most important and relevant ones go through.
An office manager can wear many faces, depending on the organisation they work in. In general, an office manager is responsible for the day-to-day smooth running of the business by managing the physical office space and internal employee matters. He or she will track stocks, ensure the physical maintenance and repair of the office building, coordinate and organise internal company data, and organise company events like team-building outings, Christmas lunches and training sessions.
Some may be responsible for the health and safety of the company, and could also deal with low-level HR issues. While a secretary is the outward face of the company, the office manager focuses inward to make sure employees stay efficient in their working environment.
Aside from the general roles above, office administrators also often possess specialised skills that will help them perform additional valuable tasks for the business. Many secretaries are also trained bookkeepers, which allows them to keep track of incoming and outgoing payments, control stock, and manage the petty cash, which is usually located at the front desk.
PAs often have paralegal training, to enable them to advise CEOs on basic matters like contracts, legal business obligations, tax matters and other related laws. Human resources management is another useful skill set – even if the office administrator doesn’t work as an HR representative, the people skills and conflict resolution always come in handy.
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If you are interested in this topic, take a look at our University of Cape Town Professional Communication and Office Management course.