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Secretaries Aspiring to Management Are Given Some Semantic Keys

April 17, 1986|KATHLEEN DOHENY | Doheny is a Burbank free-lance writer

Secretaries who want to get ahead professionally--and eventually move into management jobs--shouldn't count on getting there by typing faster, working overtime or running more personal errands for the boss.

Instead, secretaries who yearn to climb the corporate ladder should master the language of management, says Leo Graham, a Valley psychologist-turned-author who has also worked as a management consultant for major companies.

"If secretaries don't learn the language" of management, "they will never be perceived as managers," said Graham, 67, during an interview in his Canoga Park home and office.

In his book, "For Secretaries Only," a mail-order paperback, the white-haired, bespectacled Graham spells out why capable secretaries who want to advance to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay often get stuck in a secretarial pool. The book, which is used by instructors at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and has been ordered by university libraries--Harvard's among them--also tells how secretaries can overcome this on-the-job inertia.

Talking Called Significant

"Secretaries are trained to act, think, and TALK like secretaries, whereas executives and administrators have been trained to act, think and TALK like managers. The big difference is not in the acting and in the thinking: The significant difference is in the talking."

He cites this example in the book, which he said has sold about 1,000 copies since publication in 1983: A secretary who spends months gathering facts for the boss to present to the board of directors describes the finished project as "information" and points out that it is arranged in several different "ways" so the boss can present it as he or she chooses. On the other hand, a manager who gathers the same kind of information describes it as "documentation" arranged in several different "formats."

Although the secretary is likely to get a simple "thank you" from her boss, the manager is apt to be mentioned to the board of directors. The secretary and the manager have done the same work but they received vastly different degrees of recognition.

Average Salaries

As a result of language differences between managers and secretaries, Graham contends, many of the nation's 4.1 million secretaries who have managerial potential are passed over for promotions. But, by following his advice, Graham asserts, secretaries can move up the corporate ladder. Not incidentally, they can also increase their annual incomes, which now average about $26,000 for executive secretaries and $15,800 for entry-level secretaries, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

Of course, Graham is not suggesting that these vocabulary changes can be mastered overnight. Learning to talk like a manager must be based on at least a rudimentary knowledge of how management functions. But Graham contends that many secretaries already possess that know-how.

In the book, Graham gives readers a crash course in the basics of management by focusing on what he terms the five key elements: planning, organizing, coordinating, directing and controlling. These, he believes, are the "passwords" that admit secretaries into "the inner circle of management." By understanding the concepts behind the management passwords, a secretary automatically increases her chances for advancement, he said.

Sports Analogy

Planning, says Graham, is a multi-step process that ensures getting the job done on time. Organizing, in management parlance, is akin to "getting all the players on a baseball team assigned to the right position, and then getting them to play together."

Coordinating is a task often assigned to a company's project manager, although secretaries do their fair share of coordinating--making sure, for example, that everything runs smoothly so deadlines can be met.

Directing shouldn't be equated simply with giving orders. "When directing is properly done," Graham said, " . . . the other person thinks he is just carrying out his own plans, and sometimes he is. Likewise, controlling, when done properly, becomes a team effort in which employees self-police their work."

Some secretaries already practice what Graham terms the key elements of management and can easily make the transition to manager, he said. "Many already are managers but they don't know it." During his work as a business consultant, Graham said, he spoke to plenty of bosses who conceded privately that their secretaries could easily run the department or the entire company.

'Know How Things Work'

"So many employers look to the fresh MBA graduates for managerial positions," Graham said. "They should look to these gals with 10 or 15 years of secretarial experience. They know how things work in real life. And most of them know how to work with people."

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