Does the Devil Wear Prada? A Pep Talk for PA’s


Does the Devil Wear Prada? A Pep talk for PA’s-The Unsung Heroes and Heroines.

What a brilliant film, Meryl Streep was totally mesmerising as Miranda Priestly, she lit up the screen with her silver hair and her lines crackled like electric. Sheer brilliance. Her suffering PA played by Anne Hathaway was the ultimate heroine throughout, great under pressure; she delivered in spades and maintained control. I have often said to PA’s who come to me for training, that this film really is the best training video out there as, although extreme, it does highlight the key skills that are required of someone in that role. Oh and I should know, I too have been a PA and this

Blog is being written after a number of you have got in touch to ask if I would write something for arguably the true heroes and heroines of business, the PA’s ,that would fit in with my other training blogs so here goes.

Over the years a number of Personal Assistants have attended my training courses, mostly to help them develop skills in Time Management, Assertiveness Skills and Communication and also for the odd chat between kindred spirits when things get too much and the cracks start to show, sometimes over the odd spirit too, but I digress.

Let us look at the PA in a bit more detail and let us be clear from the get go. The role of the PA is not easy, but the outcome is quite simple.

‘To help the person they are PA to, become more efficient, productive and effective by managing their life.’

This should be on every job description for every PA out there. Oh and yes this does involve getting directly into the life of their manager. I am not just talking about diary management, completing expenses and picking up dry cleaning, I mean actually getting to know them intimately, their habits, their likes and dislikes, their families, their body language, even the contents of their wallets and handbags. I am not kidding. Here is why. Anticipation.

Anticipation is essential for any PA, and is worth its weight in gold. Being able to identify working patterns, personal habits, and personality traits can help the PA develop this rare quality. Once in place and it can be labour intensive at the start, it really can make things easy. I have spent many an hour with PA’s who simply don’t get this; I guess it is why most of them are no longer PA’s. How can a PA develop this valuable skill?

  • Watch for when the manager is most productive, it will help to schedule their most challenging meetings and events
  • Be aware of when the manager has dips in concentration and becomes more ‘playful’ use this time for when you really want something for yourself or when you want your own stuff dealt with
  • Be aware of planning, use historical information like notes or minutes from previous meetings to help forge more productivity
  • Be aware of things, people, and habits that piss them off, deal with them before the manager gets sight of them.
  • Try to get hold of duplicate items that can get lost such as phone handsets so that should the worst happen you have an immediate back up to hand
  • Take away from the manager anything that causes them personal stress, where you can. This may involve issues with their phones, cars and even their kids. Yes this is your job by the way
  • Give them the heads up on the ‘temperature’ and ‘flavour’ of people they are meeting, so they can adjust and anticipate better themselves. I cannot tell you the number of times I was asked, “what sort of mood is he/she in today?”
  • At the beginning of a week, take in a printed copy of their week’s schedule, and one from last week with any follow up detail that may be required. Often if the manager has an electronic diary they tend not to read it, print it out and let them really get a grip on their time. Oh and do not let them keep a separate diary, it just causes confusion, mostly for them.
  • Keep a list of not only the managers favourite places such as restaurants, bars, etc., but also new places, so that you can make informed recommendations that will pan out for them should they be needed.
  • Always sit where you can see the manager at all times. If you sit like I did outside of their office with your back to them, have a carefully place mirror on your desk so you can see them. Like driving a car you learn to mirror, signal and manoeuvre!
  • Keep a clock on your desk at all times, so you can track their time. You can keep a meeting to time that way. Nothing wrong with popping your head around the door to remind of what is coming up. They will thank you for it.
  • Keep a list of key contacts birthdays and important dates as this really can make a difference in relationship building for the manager
  • Don’t ever be naïve to think that the manager will not check email or phone messages while on vacation. They do, it is a fact and there is nothing you can do about it. It is a bloody pain as they don’t switch off, but make your peace with it. The change of scene is doing them good!

I suppose the most important aspect of being a PA is to develop trust. Trust is fundamental if the relationship is going to work. It is the glue that holds the entire fabric of the relationship together. The cliché that trust is earned does not hold here as it is given from first day the PA starts, where the PA goes from there is up to them! This trust manifests itself in ‘expectation’ and the manager, quite rightly will have a high expectation of their PA from the get go, there is little time to get your feet under the table. So always start off with big gestures that assert your control. These gestures can include

  • Make sure you are in work before the manager arrives, and be settled into your day. It is reassuring for the managers to know you are there, ready, willing and able when they arrive each day. However try to leave on time and before they do, this demonstrates that you are in control of time and your life, thereby reassuring them you are in control of theirs.
  • Advertise verbally your availability to them, if you are able to be ‘on call’ whenever then say so, if there are times when you are not available the make it clear, but make sure you have everything covered, just in case. Of course if foreign travel is involved time differences may not allow.
  • Reorganising the manager’s office, but not their desk, never ever touch their desk; even if it is a shit-pit, often managers will know where everything is, even though it won’t look like it. It goes without saying you don’t go through the drawers!
  • Making your working processes very visible to the manager, this is called ‘visible control tactics’ and enables the manager to quickly accept and be calm with the new PA reinforcing who really is in charge in this relationship!
  • Be ruthless with their time, but gracious with people who come to see you. Make sure that every minute counts.
  • Find time in the diary for manager to kick back and make it happen for them. This will allow them to do whatever they want such as talk to colleagues, or even leave early. Of course by doing this, gets them out of your hair and you are then able to really get lots done without being disturbed.

The level of trust you have with the manager can vary, some are very happy for you know every little detail, whilst others like to keep a professional distance. It is important that a PA not think themself as invincible, powerful yes, as they make key decisions and maintain control, but never invincible. The manager can manage without you as their current PA, they may say otherwise and indeed it is great if you can get to the stage where they say things like “don’t ask me, my PA is in charge” but if you go under a bus, then a new one will come along. Keep a check on your own value to the manager, make a list of key achievements that you have delivered in your role as some managers take their PA for granted and never say ‘thank you’, I was fortunate, my manager was beyond generous with thanks and appreciation but many aren’t.

The relationship between a PA and the Manager is intense and close, and can cause some problems, as you will see them more than their own wife or husband. You will know everything about them, habits, foibles, likes, dislikes you name it. However it is important to establish boundaries. You are not friends, however close the relationship may appear, socialising is out, as is the manager coming to the PA’s home. You can be expected to go the managers home sometimes for various reasons, but I would advise against it if you can.

A note on your appearance. As the PA you represent that manager and all they stand for. Dressing down is not appropriate, polished and presentable is paramount. Keep an eye on the details too. Clean nails, tidy hair, ladies not too much make-up and for both sexes go easy on the fragrance. Oh and shoes, good shoes! Make sure your desk is approachable clean and tidy. You really want to give the impression of ‘effortless urgency’. Remember a swan may glide over the surface of the river, but beneath the surface, unseen to anyone’s eye, the swan is paddling hard to make the illusion real. I say again ‘effortless urgency’.

So to end this little blog for the truly unsung heroes and heroines that are the PA’s out there, it goes to Miranda Priestly to sign us off. “That’s all.”


If you would like to engage the services of the SerialTrainer7 into your business, then please visit the website or email Simon Hares at for more information. Thank you for visiting.





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