Just saving the boss – it’s sometimes easier said than done

Published: 2018-08-21

Just to say it right away: I am not an IMA member. I am an author of books and screenplays and a management coach – and a former executive assistant. On the occasion of their national training day at the end of May this year, the German IMA section invited me for a reading out of one of my non-fiction books. That evening, I met wonderful women entirely committed to their jobs as the manager’s manager, as team manager and as project manager in the back office. And I met Else Britt Lundgren who asked me to share some of my points of view as to modern office management with you on an international scale. It’s my pleasure.
As my books have not been published in English, I translated for the IMA one of my interviews which I have had this year with Diana Brandl, former IMA Germany PR Officer. 
IMA: Before starting your writer’s carreer, you have been working as an executive assistant for many years. What where the reasons for choosing this job and would you choose it again?
Petra Balzer: This is one of the key questions which I also ask myself from time to time. And to be honest, I must admit that it was not entirely my dream job at first sight. Shame on me! But what would you otherwise expect of somebody who became known to a bigger audience with a book titled „And tomorrow I’ll kill him“? I have to say in this context that all my bosses are still alive and kicking and that my humour has always been a very British one.
But back to your question: What triggered me about the management assistant’s job was the possibility to work abroad in international, higly qualified professional environments and teams and to get deep insight in how international businesses functions. I had a very classical professional training as an international management assistant from 1983 to 1986 and I suppose that not a single university could have offered me the deep operational knowledge I quickly got when entering into the job. During that time, I got to know very interesting and exciting people.
Nowadays, my advice for young office managers would be to really try to have a clear „unique selling point“, that means to put forward the question: What kind of assistant do I really like to be? A classical PA supporting one or two executives on a very individual level? Or do I prefer to manage teams with a wider and perhaps not so deep range of tasks? Or, third option, do I decide to mainly concentrate on project management with a clear focus on processing issues. Anyway, the point is about focusing instead of being responsible for all kinds of tasks and for all kinds of collegues. To ensure qualification and future development 4.0 of this job, you should have a distinctive combination of special knowledges besides your technical and social skills. 
IMA: Nowadays, the key words in the modern employment market are digital transformation, office 4.0 und modern assistance. What do you think about the major changes as to the identity and role of management assistants?
Petra Balzer: We all know that there have been fundamental changes and a tremendous grade of professionalization in modern office management. We rarely use the word “secretary“ any more. By the way, it relates to times when exclusively men worked as „secret advisers and writers“ for the higher class people in the 19th century. After the second world war and due to typewriters entering the market, more women came into this job and salaries dropped. Very interesting to note, I think. This has nothing to do with nowaday’s team and project management in the office. Today, it’s the boss who types on his smartphone and books a flight for himself – I call it his e-emancipation, and his assistant finally has time for more interesting tasks. But there are not only positive aspects: Communication takes place via mail, twitter, Whatsapp, numerous conference calls and platforms. Work is not a place any more, it’s a mere activity wherever you are. How can a manager develop strategies and people without having an eye to eye contact any more and without being able to concentrate on his original core tasks? As to my impression, skills like people management, confidentialy and personal support are needed more than ever, they are the real “hard currency“ in modern business. I therefore think that the management assistant’s role might be more precious than ever today – presumed that she has certain qualifications which I refer to as „the big five“: data, mobility, people & personality, processes & quality, trust & reliability. These skills can still most easily be guaranteed by a human interface in the office management. 
IMA: Your latest non-fiction book is titled „Just saving the boss – the manager’s manager in the back office“. Tell us something about it.
Petra Balzer: I have often been asked about the real return on investment of a management or a team assistant. People are not sure whether they really need someone coordinating them because they think they can coordinate themselves with all kinds of project and team management softwares and all these skillful litte apps, Siri’s and Alexa’s. 
I think that our profession still needs a modern public facelifting. That’s because I wrote the book. It is about leadership and communication – still two essential and indispensible factors of modern management. You will find nearly all aspects of leadership and communication within the office – and the management assistant is the sparring partner, she provides time and support to enable the manager to concentrate on these mere tasks: communication and leadership.
I thought it was time to have a kind of public pleading for this profession because management assistants provide a rare mixture of technical and emotional skills, the ability to step back behind another person’s agenda and still being self-assured and strong at the same time – men would just not be able to do this all at the same time.
Petra Balzer, pen name Katharina Münk

Katharina Münk
Mal eben kurz den Chef retten
Die heimlichen Führungskräfte im Vorzimmer
Campus Frankfurt/New York, August 2017, 286 pages
EUR 18,95/EUA 19,50/sFr 24,30
ISBN 978-3-593-50742-2


Biography Katharina Münk
Katharina Münk is a pen name. She is the author of serveral non-fiction and fiction books. While her first book “And tomorrow I’ll kill him – my life as an executive assistant“ became an undercover bestseller over night in Germany years ago, she was still working as a PA in real life. Several of her books have been made into a film or got on stage. Within the German office management scene she is also known for her columns in the monthly magazine “working@office“.
Katharina Münk’s real name is Petra Balzer. She has been an executive assistant in different industries for 25 years and is now working as personal coach for executive teams, namely for assistants and their bosses. 
Her latest non-fiction book “Just saving the boss – the manager’s manager in the back office“ covers the issues of identity, communication, leadership and personal development within the office management – written with insight and an outstanding humorous touch.


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