An important element of the private secretary’s success and value to the executive lies in skill in dealing with people, and in creating an impression which will enhance the organization’s reputation.

The responsibilities are enormous, generally deciding whom they see and to whom they speak, what matters receive their urgent personal attention and what can be redirected to others.

The secretary should provide a vital link between the executive and their various contacts, ensuring that communications are effective and that the required action is taken.

The secretary is the executive’s personal representative and in this key role should be relied upon to create a favorable impression with contacts within and outside the organization.

Secretaries cannot play a full part unless they are given a full and clear understanding of their executive’s role and objectives and the part these play in the organization as a whole.

Secretaries need to know clearly what is expected of them in assisting the executive to achieve his or her objectives.

A secretary is one who has sufficient knowledge of their executive’s activities and the sphere of work to be able to have a considerable amount delegated to them.  They are able to make decisions, give instructions and represent the executive on business occasions.

The secretarial office with interactive word processing terminals, facsimile terminals and microprocessors for word, text and data processing has had a marked effect on the secretary’s role.

However, sophiscated machines may become, they will never succeed in replacing the competent secretary who can use initiative, co-ordinate the activities of an office and carry out what is in effect a public relations and human relations role both when and outside the organization.

To be effective in a secretarial role demands much more, particularly in the present climate of technological change.

Employers are looking for people who can offer more both in terms of value for money and in providing the sort of support which helps them move with the times.  This may mean that employers are looking for secretaries who can confidently handle the workload of more than one person.  Gone are the days of the one-to-one secretary/boss relationship – in fact it is more likely to be the exceptions than the role.

Working for more than one person demands great flexibility on the part of a secretary and requires that she exercises well-practiced interpersonal skills and abilities.

Prospective employers are also looking for someone with a wide educational background who will be willing to accept the challenge of new ideas, who can adopt to and cope with the demands of a changing environment and who has positive attitudes about the role and function of a secretary.

They are likely to be looking for someone who is appreciative of the need for good systems and procedures, who is a good organizer, and who can communicate effectively at all levels and is perhaps capable of working as part of a team.

There is need to study the background to organizations.  Since without the existence of organizations in pursuit of certain goals there would be little need or demand for offices, business communications networks, systems and procedures, records, meetings and office technology.  Take this a step further, and clearly there would be no need or demand for secretarial support staff.

An office can be described as any place where office work is performed.  Whether it be in ultra-modern, landscaped buildings belonging to a multi-national corporation, in a government department (central or local), in a firm of accountants, in the office attached to a retail outlet or in the spare room of a self-employed tradesman.  Where the offices are and what facilities they have is unimportant.  What we are concerned with is the work which goes on, its purpose, the functions performed, the systems used, the services produced and the departments, sections and personnel required to perform these functions satisfactorily

Before you can begin to appreciate the role of a secretary within any organization you need to develops some understanding of the way organizations and formed, managed and controlled and where the office fits into this structure.

Basically business organizations may be split into profit-making and non-profit making organizations.  The former include both manufacturing/trading concerns and service industries like banking, insurance and the legal profession, whereas the latter function to provide a service, like hospitals, educational establishments and local government.  These organizations fall into either the public or the private sector.

The public sector can be divided into two sections – state-owned or nationalized undertakings like the Banks, Kenya Power et cetera, and municipal undertakings in which the services are operated by the local authority for the benefit of the community.

The private sector comprises several types of organization, which are determined by the size and ownership of the enterprise.  The sole trader, as the name implies, is essentially a business operated and typically owned by an individual.  A partnership is formed by two or more individuals who have joint ownership and share in the financing and operational activities of the business in predetermined proportions.   Therefore, many professionals like accountants and solicitors, or contractors like electricians, plumbers or decorators, operate on a partnership basis.

Secretarial work in the case of the sole trader will be undertaken informally, often by the owner or by a member of his/her family.  The same way be true of a small partnership; however, the volume of work may warrant the appointment of part-time or even full-time secretarial support.

Larger organizations in the private sector form limited liability companies, whereby the legal responsibility is no longer with the individual or the partners but with the newly formed company.  This is then treated as a corporate entity in law.  The advantages of limited liability are obvious, but company formation is a complex and somewhat costly operation.  Limited companies may be either private, where the maximum number of shareholders is restricted and where shares are not offered for sale on the open market, or public, where there is no upper limit in terms of the number of shareholders and where shares are quoted on the Stock Exchange.  Examples of public limited companies are major national companies like banks, department stores and product manufacturers.

Thus a secretary should have knowledge of:

  • the business world,
  • the divisions of industry and commerce and particularly the branch of industry or commerce with which her employer is concerned.
  • her own organization, its structure and objects and the procedures of the company, corporation or institute.

Thus a secretary could be working in a law firm, a doctor’s office, a sales office, a warehouse front office, a retail business or a service business.

The company may have several branches in several towns or even several countries.


Shorthand Typist

Takes dictation, transcribing her shorthand and presenting her work for signature.  Answer the telephone, deal with mail, receive callers and assist with filing and duplicating particularly in  a small organization.


She transcribes recorded dictation while a shorthand typist transcribes shorthand.  Performs also all other duties such as answering the telephone, dealing with mail, receiving callers and assisting with filing and duplicating.

Junior Secretary

A girl who has successfully completed a secretarial course at school or college and is in her first job or has less than three years’ experience.

Senior Secretary

A secretary of considerable experience (more than 8 years for example) whose value to her employer is not solely due to her excellent skills but also to her wide knowledge of the firm, the industry and her boss’s profession.

Personal or Private Secretary

Secretaries who work for only one official are called Personal or Private Secretary to distinguish them from secretaries who work for several junior executives or who perform the secretarial duties for several people.

Executive Secretary or Personal Assistant

A secretary who has sufficient knowledge of her Chief’s specialization and branch of commerce, industry or the profession and the organization in which he is working, will be able to have a considerable amount of work delegated to her.  Performs fewer and fewer primary functions and (may in fact have a junior secretary, shorthand typist working for her) and more and more secondary functions.  She will be able to take decision, give instructions and even represent her boss on business occasions.  She may well be promoted to the executive ranks of the organization.


  1. To be completely loyal both to her immediate executive and to the organization, not discussing confidential matters or passing on spicy secrets.
  2. Should be discreet and tactful in person on the telephone, dealing with customers, clients, members of staff of the organization with which she works.
  3. Should be neat in appearance, good humor at all times.
  4. Have an above average command of English, spell well and be a good communicator.
  5. To be consistently helpful to all including her fellow directors, all the staff, the office junior and the man with the wrong telephone number.
  6. To have confidence and initiative to act independently in the absence of her boss.
  7. To have an understanding of the company, her boss, his job and objectives.
  8. Should feel a sense of identification with her employer, company, its policies and practices.
  9. Should be punctual and regular.
  10. Should be responsible and dependable, and show the willingness to work.
  11. Should have an attractive personality, properly dressed, neat, good and smart appearance conducive to her working and to those around her, healthy and physically fit.
  12. Should be able to carry out routine tasks on her own and make the necessary arrangements while the executive is away.
  13. Should be efficient, that is, carry out her duties accurately and complete them within the time scheduled.
  14. Be courteous by respecting others and her seniors.
  15. Be helpful, that is, be available and willing to assist when the need arises.
  16. Willingness to accept criticism.
  17. Follow instructions given by your immediate supervisor carefully without repeating mistakes.
  18. Coping effectively with human relationships is a very important aspect of any secretary’s work.
  19. A secretary is in daily contact with the public and it is her/his job to see that her relations with everybody are right.
  20. The ability to follow up and make sure that work for your boss which has passed through your hands to another person or department is completed.


Primary Functions:  These are those that almost all secretaries in all offices in all parts of the world are expected to perform.  They are in fact the basic skills.  They include:

  1. Typing correspondence, for example, reports, letters, and tabulations.
  2. Taking dictation and transcribing using a word processor.
  3. Handling the telephone calls and route them to the appropriate people by applying correct telephone techniques.
  4. Sorting inward mail and preparing outgoing mail.
  5. Receive and entertaining of visitors.
  6. Ensure all records are filed accurately for speedy retrieval.
  7. Operates various office equipment, for example, dictating machines, computers, copying machines, fax machines, et cetera.

Secondary Functions: Require knowledge rather than skill and the more the knowledge a secretary has the better she will do her work and the more interesting she should find it.  She should be able to:

  1. Compose letters from outline notes or draft replies without instruction.
  2. Use reference books or sources of information.
  3. Making travel arrangements and booking hotels.
  4. Organize and attend meetings and take minutes.
  5. Keeping the employer’s diary and arranging his appointments and engagements and assist him in planning his day to ensure the most effective use of his time.
  6. Organize the executive’s office, maintaining wall charts and statistical data.
  7. Control stationery and office materials for the executive.
  8. Organize conferences and special events as required.
  9. Supervise junior secretarial staff and administer that induction training, job allocation, appraisal, disciplinary and complaint procedures.
  10. Handle money and keep simple accounts of receipts and payments, that is, control the executive’s petty cash, bank transactions.
  11. Supervise junior secretarial staff and administer their induction training, job allocation, appraisal, disciplinary and complaint procedures.
  12. Comply with the company’s health, safety and security regulations.
  13. Have experience with computers and other electronics as she will handle a great deal of electronic material.
  14. Should be able to answer most of the questions raised through the telephone.
  15. Respond to as many letters as possible and be encouraged to gather all the relevant files and papers needed to prepare these letters.
  16. Put to the boss the most difficult issues as well as those callers who are better off speaking with the manager directly.



  1. Appropriate Dressing

In a corporate office appropriate clothes are clean, formal clothes such as suit which is usually dark coloured (with or without patterns), grey, dark blue, brown or black.  The suit is worn with a long sleeved shirt and a tie or polo-shirt with dress pants for men.

For women – a suit consisting of a jacket with matching skirt or trousers plus a blouse.  Also shirts, tops, blouses, skirts, the usual dresses and jackets are acceptable attire for work if they contribute to the appearance of formal professional dress.

Avoid tight-fitting and body revealing clothing and clothes which are seductive in nature, that is, reveal your back, chest, tight skirts that ride halfway up the thigh, dress and skirt length should be at a length which you can fit comfortably in public.

Clothes that work well for the beach, dance, clubs, exercise sessions and sports contests, miniskirts, sun dresses are inappropriate for the office.

Also any clothing that has words, terms or practices that may be offensive to other employees is unacceptable.

Clothing should be pressed and never wrinkled and all seams must be finished.

Torn, dirty or frayed clothing is unacceptable.

  1. Shoes and footwear

Avoid casual shoes with open toes, athletic shoes, wear socks. Polish and clean shoes, good looking and comfortable. Conservative walking shoes are acceptable for work.

  1. Accessories

Earrings, necklaces, jewelry should be worn in good taste.  Avoid flashy jewelry. Do not wear too much jewelry in the office and avoid anything which jangles or rattles.

  1. Makeup, perfumes and cologne

Avoid heavy and excessive makeup; should be moderate.  Some employees are allergic to the chemicals in perfumes thus apply perfumes and cologne sparingly with restraint.

  1. Hair

Should be clean, shiny, well cut or combed to keep it neat and tidy, facial hair for men tidily trimmed.

  1. Nails

To be neatly trimmed and well shaped.  If you wear polish maintain it regularly.

  1. Breath

Keep your breath fresh by brushing your teeth after lunch as well as in the morning and at night.

  1. Body Odor

Have a daily bath or shower.


  1. To create a positive image about yourself and the organization you present to your customers, suppliers and the public.
  2. To fit in with the norms and expectations of the society to avoid judgmental views.
  3. It defines one’s personality, age and fashion sense.
  4. To boost one’s self confidence.
  5. It demonstrates respect for yourself and for others.
  6. Potrays efficiency.
  7. To look formal and avoid casualness.
  8. To ensure your comfort while working in your job in order to give your 100 per cent.
  9. It potrays professionalism and business-like image.
  10. To promote a positive working environment.


Confidential means that only certain people have permission to know about particular things.

It is your responsibility to know what is confidential and what is not confidential.

Generally speaking, information will be confidential if it is about:

  • Another employee
  • A client or customer or
  • It is sensitive information about the organization.

All private information about employees is confidential.

All personnel documentation is confidential (discipline cases, for example).

All personal data on customers is confidential.

Sensitive information on the organization is confidential.


One Friday afternoon, Jane overheard the Personnel Manager say that the organization had a cash flow problem and if sales did not pull over the next few months the organization would be in serious trouble.  It could even be forced to close with millions of pounds of outstanding debts.  Jane couldn’t believe what she had just heard and was bursting to tell her colleagues.  She went back to her computer and sent an e-mail to one of her colleagues explaining what she had just heard.  Her friend then forwarded the e-mail message into someone else.  By the end of the day the rumour was known by everyone in the factory and some people outside.  Monday morning came and many of the shareholders in the company began to sell their shares, the company was now facing disaster.  The management had traced the disclosure of the information to the e-mail that Jane had sent.  She was called into the Manager’s office and dismissed instantly.  However, it was too late repair the damage done to the organization and it was forced to close.


Employee Information

  • Home address or telephone number
  • Email address
  • Any personal documentation/data

Management information

  • Discussing about employee relations issues
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Impending layoffs/reductions in force
  • Terminations
  • Work place investigations of employee misconduct

Even though it is not illegal, it damages the collective psyche of a workplace.

Business Information

This refers to proprietary information or trade secrets.

Common examples of trade secrets include:

manufacturing processes and methods business plans

financial data

budgets and forecasts

Computer programs and data compilation

client/customer lists

ingredient formulas and recipes

membership or employee lists

supplier lists etc.

Failure to properly secure and protect confidential business information can lead to the loss of business/clients.


Access to information and assets must be limited to persons who are appropriately reliability screened/security cleared and who have a “need-to-know”.  Precautions must be taken to ensure that uncleared persons, who may be in the proximity of information and assets do not gain access to this information and assets.


The highest level of classification of material can cause exceptionally grave damage to an organization, if made publicly available, for example, minutes for the Board of Management, Trade Secrets.


Such material could cause grave damage if publicly made available, for example, policy documents.


Such material could cause damage or be prejudicial to organization if publicly made available, for example, disciplinary action.


Such material could cause undesirable effects if publicly made available, for example, promotions.


Depending on the level of classification there are different rules controlling the level of clearance needed to access such information and how it must be stored, transmitted and destroyed.

Additionally access is restricted on a “need to know” basis. The individual must present a legitimate “need to know” in addition to the proper level of clearance.

Classified resources are trusted to only those who display a high level of consistency, maturity, trust worthiness, honesty, tolerance and loyalty. 


  1. Explain six essential qualities of a secretary.  (9 marks)
  2. Petronillah is a newly employed secretary. Outline five functions she is likely to perform in her new role.  (10 marks)
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