The Difference between Secretary and an Administrative Assistant

The Secretary vs the Administrative Assistant of today.. hmmm…  Exactly what  are the changes?

The role of the secretary has indeed evolved since the role was developed. Especially in the past twenty years as technology advances.  The role has went from secretary to administrative assistant in the following ways:

  • From – taking phone messages   To – handling the calls, coordinate responses, and delegate appropriately.
  • From – simple office tasks  To – managing projects and contributing ideas for projects.
  • From – identifying possible situations and problems To using his/her knowledge of the business to solve those problems.
  • From – supporting one manager in a clerical role To filling a critical role, working as the manager’s partner and as a part of the team.

  • From  manager gives tasks with direction To a self-starter, identifying tasks.
  • From low-level clerk To a strategic partner that is crucial to the management team.  (International Association of Administrative Professionals, 2008).





According to, the job description of a secretary as “Perform routine clerical and administrative functions such as drafting correspondence, scheduling appointments, organizing and maintaining paper and electronic files, or providing information to callers.” defines the job description of an administrative assistant as, “Provide high-level administrative support by conducting research, preparing statistical reports, handling information requests, and performing clerical functions such as preparing correspondence, receiving visitors, arranging conference calls, and scheduling meetings. May also train and supervise lower-level clerical staff (2008).” These two job descriptions show that there has been a shift from a secretary into an administrative assistant.  

This is a position that I have held in a few different capacities over the last 13 years.  Each position has given me countless opportunities, for learning and growth that I could have never been given in an entry-level management job. The position has much more visibility than an entry-level management job, working with managers from many different levels on a diverse array of topics.

The technical skills that were so important to yesteryear’s secretary are taking the background as the soft skills take center stage for today’s administrative assistants.  Soft skills like project management, team work, collaboration, tact, customer service and analytical skills are more crucial to the role since the person will be taking on more managerial tasks (Office Pro, 2007). 

Yesteryear’s secretary has little comparison to the administrative assistant of today.  The technical skills needed in the secretary are not nearly as important to the soft skills required for the administrative assistant of today to be successful.  The days of cutting the secretary first seem to be in the past. Managers must treat their administrative assistant as an apprentice, keeping them on the cutting edge of developmental assignments and training to prepare them for the next position that they will hold in the company.

Today’s administrative assistant shows initiative, high potential and truly teams with the manager to run the business. The position is still an entry-level position, but holds a high visibility role with opportunities to participate in a variety of projects that many other positions do not receive. The administrative assistant role is difficult to fill.