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University of Cambridge
Secretary
A secretary, administrative professional, or personal assistant is a person whose work consists of supporting management, including executives, using a variety of project management, communication, or organizational skills. However this role should not be confused with the role of an executive secretary, who differs from a personal assistant. In many countries, an executive secretary is a high-ranking position in the administrative hierarchy. In fact in Pakistan, federal secretaries are dubbed as the most influential people in the country.

A secretary, also known as a personal assistant (PA) or administrative assistant, has many administrative duties. The title "secretary" is not used as often as in decades past, and responsibilities have evolved to much more advance skill set such as mastering Microsoft Office applications: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to name a few. The duties may vary according to the nature and size of the company or organization, and might include managing budgets, bookkeeping, attending telephone calls, handling visitors, maintaining websites, travel arrangements, and preparing expense reports. Secretaries might also manage all the administrative details of running a high-level conference or meeting and be responsible for arranging the catering for a lunch meeting. Often executives will ask their assistant to take the minutes at meetings and prepare meeting documents for review. In addition to the minutes, the secretary may be responsible for keeping all of the official records of a company or organization. A secretary is also regarded as an "office manager".

With time, like many titles, the term was applied to more and varied functions, leading to compound titles to specify various secretarial work better, like general secretary or financial secretary. Just "secretary" remained in use either as an abbreviation when clear in the context or for relatively modest positions such as administrative assistant of the officer(s) in charge, either individually or as member of a secretariat. As such less influential posts became more feminine and common with the multiplication of bureaucracies in the public and private sectors, new words were also coined to describe them, such as personal assistant.

In an effort to promote professionalism among United States secretaries, the National Secretaries Association was created in 1942. Today, this organization is known as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). The organization developed the first standardized test for office workers called the Certified Professional Secretaries Examination (CPS). It was first administered in 1951.

In 1952, Mary Barrett, president of the National Secretaries Association, C. King Woodbridge, president of Dictaphone Corporation, and American businessman Harry F. Klemfuss created a special Secretary's Day holiday, to recognize the hard work of the staff in the office. The holiday caught on, and during the fourth week of April is now celebrated in offices all over the world. It has been renamed "Administrative Professional's Week" to highlight the increased responsibility of today's secretary and other administrative workers, and to avoid embarrassment to those who believe that "secretary" refers only to women or to unskilled workers.

In the United States, a variety of skills and adaptability to new situations is necessary. As such, a four-year degree is often preferred and a two-year degree is usually a requirement. Another option is to get a professional certification from a national association.

The work of an executive assistant differs a great deal from that of an administrative assistant. In many organizations, an executive assistant is a high-ranking position in the administrative hierarchy. Executive assistants work for a company officer or executive (at both private and public institutions), and possess the authority to make crucial decisions affecting the direction of such organizations. As such, executive assistants play a role in decision-making and policy setting. The executive assistant performs the usual roles of managing correspondence, preparing research, and communication, often with one or more administrative assistants or scheduling assistants who report to him or her. The executive assistant also acts as the "gatekeeper", understanding in varying degree the requirements of the executive, and with an ability through this understanding to decide which scheduled events, meetings, teleconferences, or e-mails are most appropriate for allocation of the executive's time.

Like their civilian counterparts, EAs are also a resource in decision-making, policy setting, and will have leadership oversight of the entire military and civilian staff supporting the civilian official, general officer, or flag officer. EAs are often interchangeable with other senior military officers of equivalent rank holding the title of chief of staff in other service organizations headed by a flag officer or general officer. In the case of unified combatant commands and service major commands, the Chief of Staff is often a general officer or flag officer himself/herself, typically at the 1-star or 2-star level, but he or she should not be confused with the 4-star officers holding the title of Chief of Staff of the Army or Chief of Staff of the Air Force.