Andrew Jardine is the General Manager for the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), one of the oldest management institutes in the UK
Can we start with a little background information? Where are you from and what is your current role?
I’m an Essex boy originally, born in Clacton-on-Sea and raised in Marks Tey, a village outside Colchester. My current role is General Manager of the Institute of Administrative Management; essentially, I’m the operational and public face of the Institute.
What is your background?
During the late 1980s I worked in Central Government, initially as an administration assistant in Business Rates (yes, the Inland Revenue…sorry!). I then moved to the Ministry of Defence and worked as an assistant management accountant for six years into the 1990s. I reached a point where I had three options; qualify as an accountant; stay as I was and never be promoted or; do something else. Needless to say, I did something else. I re-trained as a management services practitioner, essentially an internal consultant, and worked in a troubleshooting role. This led me into the realm of organisational development and during this time I first came across a maxim that I firmly believe in to this day: “Organisations improve one person at a time”. While working as a consultant I developed a passion for developing people and trained as a trainer through the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), beginning a 20-year training career specialising in management development. I eventually left the Civil Service and went into the private sector. After nearly two decades in a management consultancy and training company working with many different private sector, public sector and charity organisations, I joined the Institute of Administrative Management in 2016.
How did you become involved with Assistants?
I started in administration and worked alongside PAs, EAs and secretaries throughout that time. I’ve been around long enough to have worked with typing pools too. If truth be told as a young man in my first clerical job I found the senior assistants working directly to the professional staff quite intimidating, although the very good ones were excellent at balancing the fist of iron with the velvet glove. Still a core competence today.
Since then I have mostly worked in smaller companies where the assistants were a shared resource and I have been hugely impressed with the level of multi-tasking they demonstrated. One thing, out of many, that always stood out for me was the incredible levels of flexibility they demonstrated, particularly when four or five consultants and trainers all wanted different tasks completed at the same time.
When I visited clients many of the better managers freely admitted they wouldn’t be as effective and efficient without their assistant.
Since taking over the running of the IAM I have realised how polarised opinions are of assistants, even among assistants. Some are fortunate enough to get the recognition they deserve while others work in a vacuum feeling significantly undervalued.
I now have daily interactions with PA networks, EA/PA trainers, members who are assistants and those who work with assistants.
You are the General Manager for the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), one of the oldest management institutes in the UK. Tell us a bit about that.
The IAM seeks to champion professionals in the fields of administration and management, and to support their professional and career development. Through our membership services we also endeavour to give them the professional recognition that they deserve and the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals.
I want to know why CEOs and their Boards expect their quality managers to be members of the Chartered Quality Institute, their solicitors to be members of the Law Society, their directors to be members of the Institute of Directors and so on, without expecting, recognising or encouraging their administrative staff to be part of a professional body.
We hold a unique umbrella position that encompasses all manner of administrative roles, from juniors to administrative managers. Anyone looking to specialise has a range of bodies that they could join, but we provide resources that cover all aspects of administrative and management work. This means that our members have a broader view of the industry giving them the opportunity to learn about, and consider moving to, positions beyond their current one. It also means that with our content we can discuss more varied subjects.
What lessons have you learned in your time as General Manager?
I’ve learned a lot in my two years. I’ve learned much about the role of assistants from assistants of all levels of responsibility and experience, and from top trainers and from experts in the field. I’ve been impressed by the dedication to professional development from the assistants I’ve met at events; many paying out of their own pockets or taking time out of their evenings to join us. As an ex-trainer I’m always willing to learn from other trainers and public speakers and my position has given me the opportunity to listen to a wonderful variety of speakers and on subjects that I wouldn’t previously have listened to. I’ve also learned that this industry has some fantastic people who all want the same thing; to raise the standards from good to exceptional.
How important do you think Associations and networks are to the career of an Assistant and why?
The boom in computers, intuitive multi-function office machinery and office software along with the emergence of the internet meant that everyone thought they could be good administrators and I believe this has led to a devalued view of genuine administrators.
I believe that associations and networks play a key role in changing the perception of the administrative profession. The role for many administrative professionals has diversified incredibly over the past few years and associations and networks are best placed to encourage and offer professionals the opportunities to engage with training to help build their knowledge and skillsets.
I also think that professional bodies, through events, webinars, and similar, give assistants access to top trainers and guest speakers, which is why we love it when one of these speakers agrees to deliver a session for an IAM CPD (Continuing Professional Development) event. Many assistants don’t have the organisational support or personal finances to see the very best so the fact that they can see them at our events is important.
In addition, competition for top places will only become fiercer and belonging to a particular association or network can act as a shorthand for employers. In the same way that having a qualification tells employers that you have certain skills, then belonging to a professional body demonstrates that you are investing in your own career.
What are the main changes you have seen in the time you have been working with Assistants?
My perspective is, I think, different to a lot of the people who work in the industry since my focus on administration and assistants is relatively new, unlike the many excellent commentators in this area that have vastly more experience than I do.
My early experiences were in cultures where the majority view was still about ‘just’ being an assistant and the cliché view of ‘tea & typing’. Since starting this job, I have realised that this culture is still in place where narrow-minded managers hold sway, although it is not as widespread as in the ‘80s.
What has been eye-opening is meeting the new breed of assistant that is closer to being a true business partner. In my role I have the good fortune to attend many events, seminars and conventions and I think the assistants who are actively managing their professional and career development are an inspiration to the new assistants coming through.
Just looking at the subjects covered on the top courses for assistants shows how much the job has changed and how much assistants are increasingly assuming responsibilities that were once reserved for managerial staff.
What inspires and motivates you?
I realised what motivates me at work when I became a trainer. As corny as it sounds I find it incredibly satisfying seeing people develop new skills or ways of thinking about situations or themselves and knowing I played a part, however small. Talking to people at events, running blogs and articles or simply supporting and promoting guest speakers that I respect all give me great satisfaction.
What advice would you give someone just starting out as an Assistant?
My main advice is that attitude is more important than skill. You may not know everything including every process, procedure or administrative system in place, but proactivity and willingness will get you a long way.
There are as many views on the desired attitudes or traits of an assistant as there are PA trainers with books to sell, but my view from talking to some of the best and from talking to executives is that an ideal assistant is flexible, assertive (not aggressive–some people don’t know the difference), proactive and calm in a crisis.
In terms of practical advice to new assistants I have two things to say. Firstly, have the confidence to ask for help or clarification. It can be easy to worry about asking more questions, but in reality, it will help build stronger relationships and ensure you have a full picture of any tasks at hand.
Secondly, join a network; whether it is internal or external. You’ll enter a room and instantly have an enormous amount of experience to draw on. Some of what you hear may things you already know, but you will also get genuine ‘a-ha’ moments and you’ll be picked up when you’ve had a bad day.
So, what’s next for Andrew Jardine? Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want to continue building and improving the Institute, I still feel there is more we can do to help support members’ professional and career development, but importantly, I want to continue to work to raise the profile in the industry and amongst employers the value of administrative professionals and that they are recognised as a professional.
However, there are two concerns that I’d like to look back in five years and say the IAM made a difference.
The first is that the main influencers in the industry – the names we all hear at conferences and on social media – don’t get complacent. I think it is a genuinely exciting time to be an assistant, particularly if you work for an organisation and with an executive that enables you to realise your full potential and that of your role. My concern is that the silent majority of assistants don’t have this good fortune and it is easy, when spending time with those making a difference already, to forget the rest.
I would also like to see more organisations providing recognition for administrative personnel. Good managers already do this but getting a good manager can be a bit of a lottery. We need more organisations to commit at the highest levels so that good managers are supported, and poorer managers are directed. That way, staff in traditionally under-recognised roles have the opportunities usually afforded to more senior or technical people.