Unsung heroes
By Editor
February 18, 2013, 9:51 am
Unsung heroes

For many bosses the day just wouldn't run smoothly without them - Meet the personal assistants.

Personal assistants without a doubt are the backbone of most companies, no matter how small or large. But just like their bosses, PA’s across Manchester want to meet other like minded colleagues and network.

For this reason, three city centre PAs decided to form their own networking group, which has grown to 250 members in less than a year.

The Manchester PA Network was founded by Amanda Barlow from financial advisory and investment banking services, Duff & Phelps in Manchester, Melanie Sheehy from the Laterooms Group and Hayley Harthern from Manchester 235 Casino in July last year.
The aim is to bring like minded PA's, executive assistants and secretaries together and create a community and opportunities to network through a series of ‘Little Black Dress Events.’
The launch took place at the Radisson Edwardian in Manchester and since then the network has held a further four events, whilst also raising money for The Christie.
Amanda said: “I had done a small networking group for around 30 PA’s that I knew through my job when Mel had heard about it and got in contact. We met for lunch and after a few conversations we decided there was a market for an event on a larger scale.
“Once we designed on a logo, and got on Facebook and Twitter, it spiralled from that and has kept on growing.”
The networking events also give PAs the chance to meet people they often speak to over the phone but have never met.
Amanda said: “We deal with PA’s everyday, if you know a PA quite well you can pick up the phone can ask them a question, and they can help. But more often than not you’re speaking to various PA’s but you've never met them.
“There were two ladies that came to the launch and had dealt with each other for 11 years but had never met face to face.
“It's important that PA’s do network because we are important to our companies, it's a very important role and we all share the same kind of passion and share similar experiences - plus our bosses get to go out and network – so why shouldn't we?”
Demand to attend the network's events have also been high and there's even a waiting list.
Amanda added: “We didn't expect it to get so huge and we are lucky that our events work and our bosses are 100 per cent behind us and give us the time to do it.
“We've now had interest from people who want to set up something similar in London and Warrington.
“In the meantime we intend to keep growing our network and we are always on the look out for new members, new venues and new opportunities.”
The next event Manchester PA Network event is on 24 April at DWF, Spinningfields, Manchester. To attend or for more information, email manchesterpanetwork@gmail.com.

Fusion spoke to Amanda Barlow and Melanie Sheehy about what it’s like to be a PA.

Who do you work for?
Amanda: David Whitehouse, Phil Duffy, Sarah Bell & Steve Muncaster of Duff & Phelps, Manchester.
Melanie: Chris Morris, managing director, The LateRooms Group (comprises LateRooms.com, AsiaRooms.com
and Hotels-London.co.uk)

How long have you been at your current firm?
Amanda: Over 3 years
Melanie: 8 months

What made you want to become a PA?
Amanda: After moving out of nannying, I moved in to office work and quickly found out I was good at organising, multi-tasking, reacting to changing circumstances and most importantly, problem solving. What seems complicated to others to resolve comes naturally to me and my attention to detail skills are strong.
Melanie: I became a PA for many reasons but mainly to be able to work with a senior team in exciting businesses with the added benefit of working on large projects and with the opportunity to travel.

Describe your typical day?
Amanda: There genuinely isn’t a typical day which is what makes my job so interesting.
I look after and coordinate the activities of four very busy and high profile partners, all of whom have different levels of demands and different expectations.
I was once set the challenge of getting a Champions League final ticket left behind in a hotel at London Heathrow to Rome. Normally this would be relatively straightforward however, the challenge was this was the morning of the final.
After hours and hours on the telephone a lot of patience and coordinating numerous parties between London and Rome, the ticket arrived to its owner in Rome, just half an hour before kick off.
Melanie: My day normally starts around 8am. My first jobs are to prep for the day, make coffee, check diaries, deal with any overnight issues/emails and try to ensure the day starts smoothly.
The rest of the day is spent working through the usual daily tasks as well responding to immediate
needs that may arise from time to time (of which are quite a few). The day only ends when I’ve done all I need to do as I’m never comfortable leaving unfinished business. This could mean that I leave at 5pm or sometimes very late into the evening.

How would you describe your style at work?
Amanda: Professional, organised and relaxed. There is a great analogy about ‘the swan’ - underneath your legs are flapping but on the surface you seem calm and composed and this is a great representation at times of what you need being a PA in Duff & Phelps.
Melanie: I have two different styles, one for my boss and one for everyone else.
Style 1 (with my boss) - dependable, forward thinking, trustworthy, open, honest and friendly.
Style 2 (with people in the business) – a little more distant, gatekeeper, tough, good judge of character, first point of call for small issues.

Are there any events that stand out the most to you in your career so far?
Amanda: Co-founding the Manchester PA Network is definitely the biggest event so far and watching it grow and grow to just over 250 members.
Melanie: The event that has stood out the most is being a co-founder of ‘manchester PA network’. I believe that had it not been for my career so far and the job I do now I would not have been able to start a network like MPAN and have it grow as fast as it has. It’s been a real success and I’m proud to have been one of the founders.

Does it get really stressful – and if so how do you cope?
Amanda: As a PA, I am the stress buffer for the partners – my job can be extremely stressful and demanding with working hours beyond the norm as I cannot simply leave the office at 5.30 if the partners need work completing.
I have a good sense of humour and I think I cope by using this to get things done. If I took things personally then I couldn’t support my partners as well as I do.
Melanie: On the whole I manage stress within my job by maintaining a calm disposition and anticipating situations so as to remain one step ahead. On those occasions it gets difficult, I don't panic, try to remain focused and keep things in perspective.

What type of skills are important for a PA?

Amanda: Organisation, attention to detail, multi-tasking, reacting to changing circumstances and most importantly, problem solving. Not losing control when things get hectic, prioritising what needs to be done and getting it done.
Melanie: The skills that are important are good organisational, the ability to forward plan and anticipate, understanding the person you work for, adaptability and communication.
The extra touches that would make you excel as a PA and stand out from others is being a confidante to your boss, making the job your own and being invaluable to the person you work for.

Describe your career ladder so far?
Amanda: After six years of working as a Nanny, I decided it was time for a change and an opportunity came up as a Secretary in a small firm of accountants. I applied and was successful and progressed quickly to become PA to the MD. I handled the pressure well and after some PA training, I realised I had found a career I was excited about.
After three years, I decided to move on and became PA to the MD of a mortgage brokers in what was a young and vibrant office.
Melanie: My career as a PA started 13 years ago at AstraZeneca where I worked for 10 years in different areas of the business.
After such a long time with one organisation I realised I needed a new experience and joined the Co-operative Bank as PA to the Marketing Director where I stayed for 18 months until I got the opportunity to be EA to the MD of LateRooms Group which had always been my goal and to be honest my perfect job.

What advise will you give to people who are considering a career as a PA?
Amanda: Be prepared to work to changing circumstances, to cancel plans you have already put in place, to be used as a “stressball” when things don’t quite go to plan, to be adaptable, to be able to work out people and understand their different needs, to be professional and courteous and to be swan like when the pressure is on.
Melanie: Firstly you need to be certain you want to be a PA. Secondly, start at the bottom and show what you can do. If training is offered, take it. I am still learning new things today. Then I would say take every day with enthusiasm and make the job your own. There are so many parts of being a PA that can be exciting and open many doors and opportunities.


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