Secretaries are a crucial part of any business since they play a critical administrative and organisational role in helping businesses run smoothly. A significant portion of the secretary’s responsibilities is to uphold a high communication standard and complete organisational and administrational tasks enabling the proper functioning of the business.

The term secretary is not used very often anymore as it is quite old-fashioned; receptionist, team assistant, personal assistant and executive assistant roles are more common, and the title depends on the industry and organisation.

In this job description guide, we discuss the role of a secretary, the skills every secretary needs to have and the salary they should expect.

What is a secretary?

Secretaries are administrative professionals who play an integral role in business and organisational environments. They maintain and organise office tasks, implement procedures and carry out administrative duties depending on what type of organisation they work for. Their role varies across fields such as law, government, finance, and private company sectors.

However, there are several tasks secretaries are typically responsible for regardless of their field of employment:

  • Receptionist and client greeting duties
  • Answering enquiries via phone and email
  • Maintaining file systems and organising paperwork
  • Assisting other company employees with project work

Although secretaries and personal assistants (PAs) often carry out similar tasks, there is a significant difference between these positions. A personal assistant is also an administrative worker but tends to work for only one or two specific people – usually a manager or an executive – in the company, while a secretary is generally responsible for a whole department or company.

What does a secretary do?

Secretaries work behind the scenes in an office, performing essential duties such as drafting correspondence, organizing documents, managing office supplies, scheduling appointments and answering inquiries from visitors and callers. They handle all day-to-day operations and administrative tasks to ensure the smooth running of the organisation.

Secretaries are often the first person to interact with customers and clients and arrange for them to meet the person they come to see. They organize meetings and take minutes for important discussions. They often fulfil multiple functions in the office, such as receptionists and administrators. Secretaries work with office staff and often report to the Office Manager.

Duties and responsibilities of a secretary

Secretaries must be able to multitask and stay organised under pressure. They also need to be friendly and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Secretaries have particular tasks depending on the industry they work in, but most will have some or all of the following responsibilities:

  • Greet visitors and undertake general receptionist duties when required
  • Answer phones and respond to emails
  • Book meeting rooms, arrange conference calls, take messages and minutes during meetings
  • Prepare and distribute correspondence, memos and forms
  • Develop and maintain a filing system
  • Manage database entry and client files
  • Order and maintain office supplies
  • Make travel arrangements
  • Manage current agenda and arrange new meetings and appointments
  • Assist with bookkeeping, presentations, reports, emails and letters
  • File and update contact information of clients, employees, suppliers and partners
  • Document expenses and financial information
  • Implement and develop office procedures
  • Maintain confidential information, file and store them accordingly
  • Organise and distribute messages to the appropriate team members

Secretary qualifications

Each company hiring for a secretary job role may have its own qualification requirements. However, the most common qualifications that organizations typically look for while hiring a secretary are:

  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Experience with customer-facing roles
  • Patience, a ‘can-do’ attitude and time-management skills

Most secretarial job positions do not have specific formal qualifications as a requirement for employment – apart from a high school diploma in the US – but a set of demonstratable behavioural traits. Some of these are:

  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Administrative skills and experience
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills
  • The ability to multi-task
  • Be flexible and open to change
  • The ability to organize and prioritize
  • The ability to work alone and in a team environment in a professional manner
  • To be able to use a computer and main office programs competently

However, some industries have specific requirements for secretarial applicants. Specialist secretarial work in human resources, education, health, legal or medical requires further qualifications. Very often, knowledge of industry-related software is also needed.

How much does a secretary earn?

Secretaries earn between £30,000 – £40,000 in the UK, based on location, industry, and level of education. The salary band for a secretary job is $90,000 – $105,000 per year in New York in the United States.

Key skills required to become a secretary

1. Clear communication

Clear communication is one of the essential skills a secretary must have. Most secretarial tasks involve communication with team members, stakeholders, clients or suppliers. The efficient handling of administrative tasks also requires excellent communication skills, as secretaries are often in a supervisorial role. 

2. IT literacy

In today’s world, most administrative tasks are performed on the computer with the help of dedicated software. Secretaries are now required to demonstrate technical competence and be proficient at using computers, laptops and other devices to manage schedules and daily tasks. Secretaries might also be required to use industry-specific software, word-processing programs, emails, calendars and scheduling platforms.

3. Sense of professionalism

Secretaries are expected to exhibit a high sense of professionalism and excellent customer service skills. As they are administrators and also take care of receptionist duties, they are seen as the face of the company. They are always expected to act respectfully and politely with clients and colleagues. 

4. Organisation skills

Secretaries deal with an enormous amount of data every day. Experienced secretaries can retrieve large amounts of information and data, whether it’s meetings, files, databases or briefings. They’re also responsible for efficient communication across multiple levels of an organization, ensuring the smoothness of all business operations. 

5. Time management

Time management is one of the core skills for secretarial work. Secretaries occupy a central position, resulting in having to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously.  Effectively managing time to complete tasks and creating optimized schedules are critical for success.

6. Problem-solving

Moving toward a senior secretarial role means more decision-making and problem-solving. For example, experienced secretaries are responsible for fixing common problems, such as scheduling issues and communicating with challenging clients. As secretaries are in a customer-facing position in an office, practical problem-solving skills are essential.

7. Planning abilities

The ability to plan couldn’t be more critical. Planning ahead for new staff onboarding, scheduling staff working hours and holidays and managing office supplies require foresight and planning skills. Understanding the organization’s objectives and being aware of the resources at their disposal is essential to successfully fulfilling the secretarial role.

8. Proactive approach

Approaching tasks in a proactive manner is an excellent quality to have. Many top-level secretaries find that anticipating issues and addressing them ahead of time saves them from many complications when running projects. Taking a proactive approach to all tasks means that the office is run smoothly and efficiently, enabling company efficiency.

9. Sense of discretion

Secretaries may deal with sensitive information. When dealing with confidential files and private information, having a sense of discretion is necessary. Excellent secretaries take pride in maintaining confidentiality, which can also help them earn high-paying secretarial opportunities.  

Final thoughts

Secretaries hold a central role in all organisations. Their effective running of administration and professional customer service skills ensure the optimized functioning of a business or organization. Companies looking to hire secretaries know the value of an experienced secretary and hold them in high regard.

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