11022 Why And How Administrative Professionals Should Develop Business Acumen
Why (And How) Administrative Professionals Should Develop Business Acumen

One of the primary roles of an administrative professional is to add value to the business.

Executives look to their assistants as strategic business partners. They want you to understand the ins and outs of the business and channel the executive or CEO when necessary.

To be more effective in this role, it’s essential to develop strong business acumen. This will help you to be proactive and to be a valuable contributor to the business. What is business acumen and how do you develop it? Here’s our take:

What is business acumen?

Business acumen is often a term that is thrown around fairly loosely, generally referring to someone who “knows their stuff” when it comes to business. The Wikipedia definition makes sense:

“Business acumen, also known as business savviness and business sense, is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.”

For administrative professionals, it means understanding how the business you are in is run at all levels, the core goals, values, and roles. APs who have strong business acumen understand what will drive the company forward and what their own personal impact can be on achieving the bottom line.

At a basic level, it’s knowing how the company makes money and delivers value for shareholders. You need to be able to make judgment calls that are in alignment with company values, while having enough knowledge that you’re able to think of innovative solutions.

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Why should APs develop business acumen?

APs should develop business acumen because it provides you with the tools to add value in your role. An administrative professional is expected to be able to think strategically and operate at the level of an executive. Having good business acumen allows you to better prioritize and understand what the most important tasks are to move ahead with in support of business goals.

The benefits of developing your business acumen include:

  • Helping you to connect the dots between different departments and projects.
  • Being able to make better-informed and more swift decisions.
  • Being able to take an innovative view of challenges.
  • Adding value to office discussions.
  • Being able to speak for your executive (especially in your role as “gatekeeper”).
  • Staying relevant in your profession.
  • Dialing in a sense of purpose in the organization.
  • Being able to take a leadership role in the company.

How to develop your business acumen

Here are a few things you can do to help develop (and continue to improve) your business acumen:

#1. Read, watch, and listen

There’s always something new to learn or developments in your industry. Read newspapers, magazines, journals, and blogs that pertain to your work or the wider industry that your company operates in. Know who the movers and shakers are and what they’re working on. Get a taste for any trends that may impact your company.

While you’re at it, scan social media content. LinkedIn groups are an invaluable source of information. Look for any emerging practices or technology updates that may be impactful for your organization.

Podcasts or video content can also be very useful for learning new information. Some things to look out for across all of these types of media include: new products and services, new business models, developing technology, marketing strategies, appointments to new roles, industry news and trends, and any economic factors impacting the business.

#2. Enroll in courses or continuing education

If there’s one thing that always remains true, it’s that things change! Ten years ago, you had to know completely different software than what you use today. And besides technology, there’s always something new to develop in terms of your overall business skills. Perhaps it’s new ways of connecting with people, or strategies for planning successful events.

You don’t have to be enrolled in a degree program, either. Take classes one at a time to suit your schedule. Look at online options or even your local community college.

Continuing education helps to develop a mindset of lifelong learning. When you adopt the notion that there’s always something you could be learning, you’ll be a sharp asset to any organization.

#3. Join professional networks

Professional networks such as industry associations or even online networking groups can be great for keeping your finger on the pulse. They often offer conferences or educational opportunities, as well as the chance to network with others and share information.

For APs, your network is often one of the most valuable things you have to tap into and share resources. It’s worth taking steps to join active groups and professional networks so you can share in that wider pool of resources.

#4. Get involved in special projects or initiatives

Does your company have opportunities for involvement in special projects or initiatives? These can be a great way to grow your understanding of the business as well as work with different people. For example, many companies have some sort of community involvement that is an important part of their overall culture.

You might even find that involvement in projects outside of work helps to develop your overall organizational and business skills. There are many community roles that not only require business acumen, but help to expand your network. PTAs, community boards, local government - all could be opportunities to contribute and to develop your skills further.

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#5. Attend meetings

You probably already attend many meetings with your executive, but if not, you need to. To develop good business acumen around the company that you work for, you need to be privy to the same information as your manager.

Client meetings, board meetings, or meetings with stakeholders help to put you in touch with other key decision-makers. This gives you a front row seat to observe how they make decisions and what factors are the most important to them. You’ll learn why certain decisions are made, and knowing this can help to guide how you operate in the company too.

Final thoughts

Developing business acumen is an important part of the administrative professional role. It allows you to be a strategic partner for your executive and to make decisions that best reflect the choices they would make.

Business acumen means you have a deep understanding of the business, its processes, and the wider industry. You’re able to take a leadership role, make suggestions, and generally add value to the organization.

If there’s one final thing to leave you with, it’s “always be learning.” Roles, industries, and technologies evolve over time and they wait for no one. If you adopt a view that there’s always something to learn, you’ll stay on top of any changes and be invaluable for years to come.