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The Evolution of the Office Manager

The Evolution of the Office Manager

Twenty years ago, Erin O'Hara Meyer was working as a secretary, typing as fast as she could to keep up with a demanding boss who also required her to make the morning coffee, schedule all of his appointments and run his clothes to the dry cleaners.

These days, O'Hara Meyer is the president of Administrative Excellence, a nationwide training and consulting firm specializing in personal and professional development of administrative professionals. At one time, all administrative/support professionals would have been called secretaries, and even the most experienced were typically kept out of leadership roles. But now the landscape has changed, and experienced administrative pros can become office managers, who handle whatever it is that's necessary to keep the company going. Although the exact job description changes with each employer, duties can include training staff in the latest software programs, conducting interviews or terminating employees, balancing the budget and handling payroll duties.

"We've come a long way," says O'Hara Meyer. "And we are still evolving, still changing, but as the corporate world changes, so [do] the roles and duties."

"Office managers oftentimes are the go-to person for many issues, personal as well as professional," she says. "It's not uncommon for an OM to be a counselor, supervisor, mentor, parent and Ann Landers all rolled into one. OMs are one of the most critical and visible employees, because their job touches almost every aspect of the business. Therefore, they oftentimes determine the tone and culture of the organization by their efforts alone."

In their 25 years in the business, Marni Hockenberg and Lissa Weimelt, owners of The Hiring Experts, have also seen the evolution.

"The office manager role has dramatically changed," says Hockenberg. "Gone are the days of being the messenger and supervisor of tasks. Today's office manager must think and act like a revenue generator. An effective office manager needs to be aligned firmly with the management team, yet be approachable to hear the ideas and suggestions of subordinates. Gathering information, creating solutions, presenting and implementing action plans are skills that an office manager must constantly demonstrate."

Required Skills

Office managers play an integral role in many businesses. Weimelt says office managers must "think up" to be partners with the executives who lead today's companies.

"The value of the office manager is their ideas that save costs, increase profits, help customers directly or motivate employees to increase company profits," she says.

Jim Lynch, executive director of the Association of Professional Office Managers, says the following traits are key to becoming a successful office manager:

  • Proficiency with Current Technical Programs: This includes MS Word, Excel, Access, Web management, etc. It's also important to understand sophisticated phone systems, copy centers and equipment, faxing software, computer back-ups, cell phones and PDAs.
  • Knowledge of Human Resources: This is particularly important in smaller or emerging offices, where office managers must stay on top of laws, regulations, safety and/or industry stipulations, and may be the first stop in the interview process for many employees.
  • Project Management Skills: The ability to manage special projects, such as office design or office moves, is a necessity. The office manager might be the only person who knows all the aspects of such projects, enabling him to identify cost savings and minimize the disruption to other workers.

An Office Manager by Any Other Name

While duties have evolved and job descriptions have changed, titles vary greatly for these positions, depending on the type of organization, says Lynch.

"Small and midsize offices that are not large enough to have separate human resource, information technology and contracting departments will often have someone responsible for office management," says Lynch. "Office management is a broad job classification and some smaller offices may break up the duties of an office manager among numerous administrative staff. The title ‘office manager' is not uniform from company to company."

Titles for this role include administration specialist, administrative services manager and vice president of operations.

More Information

Check out these Web sites to learn more about office manager careers:

For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.

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