The Two Most Powerful People in an Organization

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

There are two very powerful people in your organization – the person who runs the show, and the PA to the person who runs the show. Savvy professionals who manage upwards effectively know this.

It doesn’t matter really if you consider ‘your organization’ as your department, your project or your whole company. It’s the same whatever the level: the person who is the formal head of the organization (i.e. CEO) and their Personal Assistant (PA) are the two most powerful people in your organization.

It is sensible to take this into account when dealing with both, and important to remember their close relationship when talking to either.

The Boss and the PA have a very close working relationship – the PA generally knows everything about their boss: intimate details about their spouse and children, vacations, lunch preferences, clothing sizes, spectacle strength, salary and benefits… you name it, they know it. So the PA and the Boss are like a professional married couple (no matter if they are the same gender.) So the PA is influential over the Boss as considerable trust has been built up. The PA organizes dry-cleaning pickups, the CEOs children’s parties – all sorts of stuff. But don’t let that confuse the issue of influence. Often they become close friends and confidants.

The Boss will speak to his/her PA more than anyone else.

The PA has the Boss’s ear and can drop any comment, opinion, news or information in, and is the gatekeeper for any written memos, emails or telephone calls. And of course, the PA can equally omit these too. The PA is there to organize the Boss, but also (and more importantly) assist in making the Boss effective by screening out a lot of noise.

So building a good relationship with the PA is perhaps more important than building a good relationship with the Boss!

I won’t venture into stereotypes, but relationship building doesn’t involve sending gifts of wine, flowers or chocolates. PAs see straight through this. People who I’ve seen building the best relationships with the Boss’s PA do these things:

  1. They respond to requests for meetings and information as soon as they can. The Boss’s time, and therefore their diary, is the most protected and sacred of beings, so they don’t run the risk of causing conflicts or wasting time
  2. They don’t Copy (CC) emails to the Boss, but rather forward emails with a covering statement as to why the PA should let this pass through to the Boss
  3. They provide support to the PA of the highest quality if that is in their remit, e.g. Helpdesk Managers will allocate PAs desktop issues as Priority One
  4. They consult with the Boss’s PA on whether meeting invites or information should be passed on
  5. They drop by the desk of the PA occasionally and build rapport
  6. They defer asking logistical questions to the PA rather than asking the Boss
  7. They Never Ever bad mouth the PA!

The PA to the Boss is a General, not a hand-maiden! I won’t forget this…. will you?

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2 thoughts on “The Two Most Powerful People in an Organization”

  1. Simon – it gets even more interesting when (middle) management shares a PA lol! Now that is one powerful woman (sorry, I’ve yet to meet a male PA in UK or Japan.)

    Just to go off tangent slightly – as one of the technical foot soldiers I left it to my manager to manage the layer 8 guys (lol!) and the 2 most important people for me then became (apart from my own boss):

    – The Cabling team (a layer 1 problem on a sat afternoon change window and it’s good night “change window” and hello “star chamber”. (No water-boarding though !! 😉

    – The Procurement Team lead who can help oil the mouse in the hand of the MD who is holding up the internal approval on a project purchase which is critical to the timeline he/she is the sponsor of lol!

  2. @Mark – anyone in a role that supports the rest of the organization or key people is in a very powerful position. OK they might not be able to use their authority to deliberately and publically get in the way, but many small things can be a pain in the butt. E.g. putting your request at the bottom of a pile, or ‘forgetting’ you called, etc.

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