Advocating for Yourself

August 11, 2020


Assistants are often great brand ambassadors

Assistants and other employees can be among their employers’ best brand ambassadors. Think about occasions on which you’ve offered positive remarks about your employer’s services, products, people or ethos – and how other assistants who are satisfied in their careers will often readily do the same. I’ve witnessed assistants’ voluntary and sincere promotion of colleagues and organisations in action time and time again, in person and on social media. Inevitably, such promotion positively impacts my perceptions of a business or organisation.

You may also advocate for others within your organisation, encouraging that they be given opportunities. You may delegate to others, in part for your own benefit but also in part as a means of letting people demonstrate what they can do and grow professionally.

How do assistants do, then, when it comes to promoting themselves and their career strengths? For some, self-promotion doesn’t come quite so readily. In one of my summer 2019 Weekend Polls, I asked readers a series of questions about their comfort levels with self-promotion and with advocating and negotiating on their own behalf.

The responses suggest that many assistants are clearly comfortable with promoting, negotiating and advocating on their own behalf, and some can do so despite saying they’re not naturals at it. However, significant percentages of respondents reported being very uncomfortable with such undertakings.

Equal percentages of poll participants found themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to self-advocacy within their careers. Twenty-two and a half percent reported being very comfortable on this front, while another 22.5% said it makes them very uncomfortable. In the middle, 55% of respondents said that, while they’re not naturals at it, they can advocate for themselves when it comes to their career.

Why, then, do some people feel uncomfortable promoting themselves or advocating on their own behalf? Perhaps it’s a reluctance to be seen as bragging or arrogant, or discomfort with the potential for rejection.

Emotional intelligence and self-advocacy

Emotional intelligence is is a term used to describe both self- and social awareness, and the ability to manage yourself and your relationships. It’s often referred to as EQ, or as EI. Whether or not you go about your day consciously incorporating EQ in your communications, it likely has a significant impact on your career success.

Being able to self-advocate means you’re able to represent your views and interests. If you’re skilled at self-advocacy, then you’re able to speak up for what’s important to you – and to do so with emotional intelligence. With a positive outlook and an orientation toward achievement, you’re likely to also bring organisational awareness and empathy to conversations in which you advocate for yourself.

Some perspective

However comfortable you may (or may not) already be with advocating for yourself, you can build confidence by taking the time to assess what you want and need.

Think about this in the context of how you advocate for others’ wants and needs, using travel planning as an example. Whether you make bookings directly or through an inhouse or external travel agent, you probably go out of your way to ensure (advocate) for what your traveller needs and wants.

You may take care to secure a specific hotel brand, and even a certain room type or location. In order to do so, you’ll have had to establish a solid understanding of your traveller’s wants and needs. A list of wants may include a particular hotel brand, style or location. Wants may extend to room locations. Understanding the context (why) behind some of the wants and needs can help you make specific choices that keep a light sleeper away from elevators and street noise, or a traveller with mobility challenges close to an elevator and the ground floor. Wants may also extend to fitness or other amenities, a certain bed size, a desired view or exposure, or proximity to restaurants and meeting venues. A list of needs may reflect budget considerations or accessibility requirements.

If you don’t have these wants and needs established, then you’re reducing your likelihood of being successful in securing your traveller’s preferences – and the likelihood of meeting organisational expectations in terms of budget and brands. When you make the effort to identify wants and needs, you increase your likelihood of success.

The same applies to advocating on your own behalf. Whether your want is an increase in compensation, a flexible schedule or financial support to attend a conference or enroll in a credit course, be sure you’re able to articulate both the what and the why.

Identify what it is you want or need, and why

The same is true when it comes to making the case for something you want. In order to be successful at advocating or negotiating on your own behalf, you need to begin with some self-assessment.

Whether your want is an increase in compensation, a flexible schedule or financial support to attend a conference or to enroll in a credit course,  be sure you’re able to articulate the why as well as the what.

Make it relevant to your employer

For example, will participation in the course or conference position you to contribute more effectively at x, thereby freeing up more of your principal’s time to focus on y or zWould you be able to increase your productivity or efficiency? Would you propose providing return on investment (ROI) by sharing new skills or insights with colleagues?

You need to be provide context that will be relevant and justifiable to whomever will be making the decision on your proposal or request.

You may want flexible hours for personal reasons. However valid they may be to you, it will help you to frame the request through a business lens. How might this flexible schedule benefit your employer? How might it impact colleagues and clients? There may well be both pros and cons to such a request; anticipate and be prepared to address them. You also want to be prepared to consider a compromise, which can represent a win for all parties.

Track, be prepared to quantify accomplishments

Depending on your ask, be prepared to build your case in the context of the value you bring to the role and the impacts you have upon the organisation. If you routinely track your achievements and the efficiencies/cost savings you’ve established for your business unit, you have a head start. If you can attach metrics to those efficiencies, that’s even better.

Again depending on your ask, it may be relevant to highlight commendations or other recognition that’s been extended for a project you undertook, or some other accomplishment. These can also help you articulate your value. Be prepared to build your case in the context of the value you bring to the role, and the impacts you make upon the organisation.

Do your research

Do your homework. If there’s any financial impact to your proposal or ask, you need to be paying attention to the organisation’s finances as well as market and economic conditions in general. That’s good advice no matter the situation. If you want to advocate for an increase in compensation, though, consider whether the timing is suitable. Depending on your sector, employer and locale, the time be may be right.

If you’re like many executive or personal assistants (EAs, PAs) in the UK, though, this may not be the time to be seeking a raise. While many are thriving, more than a few good assistants have found their roles made redundant through no fault of their own. Some skilled UK counterparts are spending late 2019 focused on job searches rather than salary lifts.

You also want to understand your market value. What kind of compensation packages are available to your peers who have similar skills, responsibilities and accountabilities?

See what information is publicly available both internally and externally, and check career postings to get a sense of norms within your sector. If you’re seeking a lift above the norm, be sure to articulate the rationale and why (there’s that word again!) your contributions merit such an increment.

If you’re looking for funding to support professional development, tie the proposed development to the value you bring to the role. It comes back to ROI for your employer – whether that’s efficiencies and production, or morale, employee engagement and corporate culture.

You won’t always get what you want

… but that’s no surprise, and nor should you allow this to deter you. I’ve yet to meet anyone who always secures what they want or need. If you know someone who does, observe that person closely and take notes!

About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.   

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you

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