What’s the Difference Between an Executive Business Partner and an Executive Assistant?

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In the executive support and administrative professional world, titles are always a topic of conversation. From secretaries, coordinators and assistants to strategic partners, managers, business partners, force multipliers, and more, there seems to be an endless combination of titles available for these roles. And if it wasn’t already complicated enough, these 100+ different title variations often mean very different things across the globe, leading to mass confusion about the function and impact of the individuals in these positions.

Thankfully, there are many industry leaders, like Lucy Brazier and The World Administrators Alliance, who are taking up the cause for a standardization of titles and responsibilities in the administrative profession. We take our hats off to you all!

But in the meantime—while we anxiously await this universal standardization—let’s highlight one very common title (Executive Assistant) and a relative newcomer to the profession (Executive Business Partner). What is the difference between an Executive Business Partner and an Executive Assistant? And does it matter?

What does an Executive Business Partner Do?

An Executive Business Partner (EBP) works closely with a CEO or other senior leader, as well as an organization’s internal and external stakeholders, to implement the Principal’s vision through strategic executive support, project management, change management, and communication management. The operative word here is partner. An EBP is a strategic business partner to their Principal, providing thought leadership, creative problem solving, organizational efficiencies, workflow management in the c-suite, and more, to ensure that the Principal’s agenda is implemented. The EBP and the Principal have one mission, one vision, and one job. They are just completing different parts of one high impact role, rooted in their strengths.

On any given day, an EBP may handle calendar management, communication, information management, travel and meeting coordination, project management, relationship management, strategic support, problem solving, event planning, supporting the team at large, overseeing strategic initiatives or special projects, and serving as a sounding board and advisor to their Principal.

Executive Business Partner roles span administrative and strategic functions, while acting as a right-hand partner to their Principal.

What’s the Difference Between an Executive Business Partner and an Executive Assistant?

If we subscribe to the above definition of an EBP, then the next logical question is, “What is the difference between and EBP and an Executive Assistant?” The roles sound quite similar, and they are.

I believe that the Executive Business Partner title has emerged as a replacement for the Executive Assistant role due to several reasons, including:

  1. The lack of respect for, and understanding of, the “assistant” part of the Executive Assistant role. Due to the title, high impact individuals are still being marginalized and therefore are not always able to operate at their full potential.
  2. The continued evolution of technology, which has provided the opportunity to automate many of the EA’s tasks. This has increasingly allowed individuals in these executive support roles to take a more strategic role.
  3. The desire to emphasize and grow the “business partner” aspect of the role. The power of the partnership between a leader and their force multiplier is undeniable. Why not have a title that reflects that?

Much like the title of Executive Secretary has largely fallen by the wayside (at least in the United States) to be replaced by that of Executive Assistant, I think the next evolution of this role will be moving from an Executive Assistant title to that of Executive Business Partner. Along those same lines, I also think we’ll continue to see Administrative Assistants become Administrative Business Partners.

Why Do Titles Even Matter?

Aside from the fact that clarity is important in any business setting, force multiplier titles are particularly important. These roles are still largely misunderstood, and the more clarity we can provide to the public and various business sectors, the better. Titles can affect promotions and compensation, the ease of internal and external communication, and future career growth. For more information about why titles matter, click here.

I do want to emphasize that the Executive Business Partner title is relatively new. There is still research to be done, as well as observation on how organizations adopt this title. Will it replace the EA title all together? Or will it emerge as another level, with a slightly different job description, on the executive support career path?

Talk to me! What titles are you seeing in your organization right now? What do you think about the Executive Business Partner title? Should we strive to keep the Executive Assistant title alive and simply do more education around the impact of the role? Or something else all together?

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