Challenges faced by secretaries in the performance of their duties in an organization


A secretary is a person employed by an individual or in an office to assist with correspondence, keeps records and appointment. In other words, a secretary is a person that has undergone secretarial training and can operate office machine such as the typewriter, computer, franking machine, photocopier, addressing machine, duplicating machine, etc.

According to Sheelah (2013), the secretarial profession was thought to be less of importance to both business and industries all over the world in previous times. But now it is known that the secretarial profession is one of the oldest in the world and that, when there was a man of action there too was a man of pen to record his deeds.

The Dictionary of Occupational Title (2010) defines a secretary as a person who schedules appointment gives information to callers, takes dictation in shorthand or on machine and transcribes relieves officers of clerical work deals with incoming and outgoing mails, locates, attaches appropriate correspondence to files to be treated by the employer, takes care of reports, keeps personal records and minutes of  meetings.

From the above, it could be seen that a secretary is a versatile business generalists who understands the language of modern business and not just the skill of shorthand and typing alone. Secretarial efficiency or perfection lies in his/her intelligent presentation of business communication in a manner that enhances the image of the organization. It can be rightly stated that because of the versatility of the secretarial functions, he/she becomes the life wire of any organization.

Secretaries are of different categories, the researcher’s concern in this research is mainly on those who have acquired the professional secretarial skills. The secretarial profession is challenging on demanding knowledge of office skill senses of responsibility initiative and administrative ability. Therefore, the secretary has an unquantifying vital function to play in every aspect of any profession. There are numerous challenges faced by secretaries in the performance of their job in an organisation, these ranges from lack of modern day facilities, non functional equipment, insufficient motivation, lack of uniformity in incentives, lack of training, provision of communicating equipment, etc.

Who is a secretary?

One way to start considering the meaning of any word is to vividly look at the origin of the word or the words in other languages from which it evolved. The Merriam Website Dictionary (1915) defines a secretary having administrative duties; especially an official responsible for administrating the activities and business affairs of an organisation.

The Oxford Advanced Learner Dictionary of Current English defines secretary as an employees whose main function is to assist another in handling of correspondence of confidential nature and giving information to his/her employer. The definitions obviously show that a secretary is an administrative official and employee whose main function is to assist another in handling of correspondence of confidential nature, responsible for administering the activities and business affairs of an organisation and giving information to his/her employer obviously from the records kept by him/her.

Casey (2010) describes a secretary as a person, usually an official, who is in charge of the records, correspondence, minutes of meetings, and related affairs of an organization, company, association, etc. the job of the secretary may depend on the nature and size of organisation. These might include managing budgets and doing bookkeeping, attending telephone calls, handling visitors, maintaining websites, and making travel arrangements. Secretaries might manage all the administrative details of running a high-level conference or arrange the catering for a typical lunch meeting. Often executives will ask their assistant to take the minutes at meetings and prepare meeting documents for review.

According to National Secretary Association International (2013), a secretary as an assistant to an executive, possessing mastery of office skills and ability to assume responsibility without direct supervision, who always display initiative, exercise judgement and make decision within the scope of her authority. From this concept, a secretary is a highly qualified person who possess not only mastery of office skill but also the requisition personality. A secretary must accurately know the scope of authority and as well must be able to discharge the responsibilities that are given within the sphere.

Furthermore, the secretary must judge accurately and know when to consult the employer on how to handle a job. He/she must be a person that is capable of making decisions, composing routine correspondence and independently supervising other clerical staff in the organisation. A secretary is the boss silent partner who shares in the secrets of his business (Noyes, 1995).

Duties of a secretary in an organization

A secretary provides both clerical and administrative support to professionals, or boss hence a secretary is been seen as a power house or life wire of any organization. According to Desmond (1979) the secretary’s duties have been significantly enlarged in recent years resulting from the advent of information technology, changing economic and social climate. A secretary performs the following duties in an organization.

  • As a subordinate to the boss: The secretary is often at right hand of her principal acting as an extension. The secretary has access to confidential information and the total subordinate duties require a high degree of discipline.
  • As a supervisor: The secretary serves as a supervisor to junior staff in their organization; that is the secretary watch and direct the performance of a task or the work of junior staff. They always give good examples and are accessible to their staff.
  • As an organizer: The secretary helps in organizing meeting as one of the vital duty of a secretary. Organizing and attending meeting includes preparation of agenda and minutes of meeting, they keep the work of their employer up to date, organizing their employer’s office which involves controlling his paper and files. They also ensure that itinerary is prepared when necessary, book hotels accommodation, organize conference and seminar for the organization.
  • As an assistance: In addition to the secretary routines duties. He/she work as an administrative and personal assistant to the boss.
  • As a receptionist and filers: They work as receptionist in an organization. They also create a good impression of image on the organization hence, they are referred to as “image makers” they exhibits diplomacy in relating to visitors, client and customers.
  • Executor of tasks: The secretary duties mostly lie in written and oral communication. They produce and process malleable document for office use.

Qualities of a secretary in an organization

Ejeka (2006) states that a secretary must possess some qualities. These qualities are divided in two major categories which include: business and personal qualities.

Business qualities

  • Secretarial skills: A secretary should be highly and well skilled in shorthand, typewriting, secretary duties and communication skill.
  • Punctuality: Punctuality is the sole of business. Hence, the employer expects secretary to be punctual which is applied in the discharge of his/her duties particularly to the submission of work, the arrangement of appointments and attendance of meetings.
  • Discretion: Discretion is very vital to the profession of the secretary. It makes the secretary capable of working on her own initiative without having to wait on her employer’s instruction.
  • Tact/diplomacy: Tact confidentiality and diplomacy in handling inquiries telephone call and visitors. She must be able to communicate with people at all levels; to gain their co-operation is his/her entire endeavour.
  • Patience and tolerance: The secretary must be patience and cheerful under varying circumstances.

Personal attribute

  • Appearance: An efficient secretary must be ready for meetings at all time, tidy and suitable dressed for the office.
  • Personality: A good secretary must have good and approachable manner both on the telephone and in greeting visitors as well as having a good sense of humour.
  • She/he should not frown when strangers visits, and must be always courteous to the visitors who come to see his/her boss or on the telephone, above all he/she should be very accommodating.
  • Adaptability: A good and efficient secretary should be willing to  help always and especially in times of stress. Specifically he/she should be able to adapt to change that may arise as a result of the nature of his/her duty or job.
  • Interest: He/she must have the desire to add to his/her general knowledge by his/her employers business and the world in general.
  • Courtesy: A courteous and sympathetic manner of the secretary engenders the approval and co-operation of all who she/he comes in contact with.

Challenges faced by secretary in the performance of their duties in an organisation

According to Abanide (2006), the secretary is faced to several problems in the performance of their duties which hinders their performance in the organization which include:

  • Lack of equipment
  • Lack of fund
  • Professional inequality
  • Job satisfaction
  • Working hour
  • Salary and incentive scheme
  • Promotion
  • Social behaviour
  • Working environment
  • Inadequate professional training
  1. Lack of equipment: Lack of equipment affect some secretaries in performing their duties to  marginal levels. This has been recognised as the major cause of low-level performance of secretaries in the organisation.
  2. Lack of funds: Most organisations have problems relating to fund which hinders them from effective training and development of secretaries efficiently and effectively. Fund is needed to pay secretaries, maintain the organisational facilities and infrastructures, providing training and development and keep the training programmes going.
  3. Professional inequality: There is lack of sense of dignity for labour as regards misconception, assumption and disposition. A secretary is erroneously seen as nothing more than a helper of his/her boss. Moreover, a secretary does not attend meeting  to partake in decision making and policy execution rather he/she attends as a recorder of deliberations. This in fact suggests that secretaries are poorly regarded in their profession and this affects their morals in the presences of other co-professionals bodies in the course of training and development.
  4. Job satisfaction: Straus and Sayles (1980) said that the concept of job satisfaction can be defined as a persons effective response to work pay, leadership style, benefit etc. Depending on the employees view from the above definition one can be astonished at the level of pay a secretary receive when compared to other colleagues in the other profession. Also from the situation of our country many employers of labour cannot distinguish between a secretary and other allied staff, like stenographers, typist etc. this often lead to their refusal to entrust secretaries with managerial position. More so, secretaries expect their job to offer those challenges and opportunity, but where these never materialize there is opportunity, but where these never materialize there is bound to be job dissatisfaction.
  5. Working hour: In terms of working hours, most secretaries because of work schedule, stay late in the office in order to complete the days job. When the secretary is tired, the quality of his/her work is hindered and the quality of her will can be affected. A woman in Watch Tower Magazine (1985:113) expressed discontentment in view of her extra-ordinary hours spent in the office and exclaimed “I love my job, my boss is great, my office is beautiful, but I hate when that office takes more of my time than I can give it. I am too tired to perform after long hours at work.
  6. Salary and incentive schemes: A workers income determines his standard of living. In all fairness, workers salary grade should be commensurate with job contents. It is however painful when one realizes that the salary paid to the secretary is not commensurate to the duty she performs. It is obvious to see graduates of secretarial administration ending up as principal secretary on grade level 15 and 16. The effect of this makes the secretary to feel cheated and discouraged.
  7. Promotion: Promotion system in modern day organization worth to be desired. A good system whereby seniority is recognized and considered as major bases of promotion in an organization is hardly practiced especially in the secretarial cadre. The urge to work is killed and difficult when one knows that no matter the hard work and when that is absent, it result in a felling of frustration for those who are ambitious.
  8. Social behaviour: Based on this point, when clearly viewed and outline the secretaries faced or encounters series of problems in the course of performing their duties. To mention but a few some of these problem socially are: the attitude to the boss to work, a boss who encourages his visitors to disregard appointed time of visit, contribution of official and private work for the secretary to do and sexual harassment from some male boss to their female secretaries either married and unmarried respectively. Rationally from the above-listed social behaviour problems the secretaries terms to be over laboured by their bosses which implies that at the end of the day the secretary ends up doing much work which includes some work that is meant for the boss. This may affect her annual performance appraisal which may consequently hinder her elevation and promotion
  9. Inadequate reward: Inadequate reward to trained secretaries is an economic problem which secretaries have been battling with over the years. This had reduced the interest of many people’s interest in the field as many people are looking up for higher earnings to live and meet their economic and social demands in order to live to their expectation.
  10. Inadequate professional training: The job of the secretary requires several skills which include both professional, interpersonal, language and ICT skills. These are some of the necessary skills that the secretary needs. The absence of any of the above-mentioned skilled will lead to inefficiency of the secretary.
  11. Working environment: In most organization, if not all, you find out that the secretary’s office which is supposed to be a confidential place is being shared by other workers. More so, the office of the secretary should be separated from other staffs and close to office of the boss and, it should be far from where he/she receives his/her boss visitors to avoid leaking of information and office secret. This may caused embarrassment to the secretary and may demand explanation when there is problem.

Solutions to the challenges faced by secretaries in the performance of their duties

  • Provision of adequate equipment and facilities
  • Recognition of the importance of the secretaries
  • Participation
  • Advancement managerial position
  • Conducive working environment
  • Remuneration
  1. Provision of adequate equipment and facilities: The job of the secretaries can be made easier if adequate equipment and facilities are provided and the organisation should ensure that these equipment and facilities are in good conditions at all times.
  2. Recognition of the importance of the secretaries: The secretary should be accorded the required recognition that is due to him or her in the organisation and should not be looked at as a mere help to the other members of the organisation. This will act as a morale booster and also encourage others to venture into the profession with pride and dignity.
  3. Adequate reward: The secretary should be accorded an adequate reward which is commensurate with other members in the organisation. This will reduce the apathy which is experienced by some secretaries in the carrying out of their duties.
  4. Specialized training for secretaries: All secretaries should be given adequate training in all the areas that can help them in their day to day job. This should include the training and retraining of the secretaries. This can also involve sending them for refresher courses, seminars, workshop, etc. in order to make them professionally fit in carrying out their duties in the organisation.


Abanide, L. (2006). Secretaries’ Responsibilities: A Comprehensive Review.  Ibadan: Eagle Books Limited.

Casey, J. (2010). Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: Occupational Outlook Handbook : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics”.

Desmond, W. E. (1978). People and Communication. London: Pitman.

Dictionary of Occupational Title (2010). “Secretary” New York: Sage Publications.

Ejeka, C. A. (2006). Office Practice II Made Easy, Qualities of Secretaries. Benin City: Justice Jeco Printing and Publishing Global.

Guinness Yearly Bulletin (2014). Our People. Lagos: Ambia Pres.

Meriam-Webster College Dictionary (1915). Spring Field, M.A.: Meriam-Webster.

National Secretaries Association (2013). Our Duties and Challenges: A Review of the Responsibilities of the Modern Day Secretaries. National Secretaries Association Yearly Bulletin 9(14), 16-17

Noyes, N. B. (1995). Your Futures as a Secretary, (2nd ed). New York: Publishing Coy Inc.

Salim, P. & Toren, G. (2013). “The Functions of the Secretary”, Secretarial Functions, Jakarta: Modern English Press.

Scott, B. (September 29, 2008). “Secretaries wanted across the Atlantic”. The Glasgow Herald. p. 9.

Sheelah, K. (April 4, 2013). “Where Have All the Secretaries Gone?”.New York:  Bloomberg Businessweek.

Straus, G. & Syles, L. R. (1980). Human Challenges of Management. Massachusetts: G and C Merriam.

White, S. (1985). How can I get along with my office work? Watchtower Magazine, 15th January, New York, 96(7), 15-16.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x