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Interviews

Tanya O’Sullivan

Tanya O’Sullivan is responsible for leading Channel 4’s airtime management and ad ops division, helping the broadcaster maximise ad revenue from its commercial airtime. She looks after airtime management, inventory, VOD and online operations. Previously Head of Airtime and Sales Ops at Channel 5, she’s also worked in Ad Sales and in TV planning and buying at two major agencies.

What educational qualifications do you insist on / Do you require your PA to have a degree?

My time at university was great fun, but it taught me very few, if any, skills about what it takes to be a good employee or team worker.  Common sense, proactivity and a can-do attitude are not something you get from a text book, so I certainly wouldn’t require my PA to have a degree.  Clearly, being able to communicate effectively verbally and in writing, is a key prerequisite for being a good PA, so this is going to indicate at least a basic level of education, but I certainly wouldn’t insist on further or higher education qualifications.

Would you agree that behind every great business leader is a great PA?

Absolutely. Many of the best leaders I have worked with would have only achieved a small proportion of what they did achieve on a daily basis if they hadn’t had a great PA anticipating their needs in advance.

What makes a great PA over a competent PA?

Someone who is completely vested in helping the leader succeed, and who takes time to understand what the leader is trying to achieve and why.  Someone who when faced with a problem keeps their chin up and looks for a solution, rather than gives up and admits defeat.

(A great PA is) someone who when faced with a problem keeps their chin up and looks for a solution, rather than gives up and admits defeat.   

Do you think the importance of emotional intelligence in a PA is sometimes overlooked for a strong skill set?

I agree that historically there was a stronger focus on skill set, i.e. how fast can you type and can you take shorthand, but I have seen that change significantly over the last 5 years or so.  Attitude is now seen as much more important than ability. I work on the principle that I can send my PA on a training course for pretty much any technical skill I would like them to have, but I can’t send them on a training course that will make them care more about what we are trying to achieve, or take more pride in doing their job as well as they possibly can.

Would you agree that chemistry is the key ‘ingredient’ for a successful long term working relationship between a PA & Principal?

It’s crucial.  I have seen a number of mismatched leader/PA relationships, and they’re not a pretty sight.  Inevitably it ends up in tears…………and usually on both sides!

What key attributes, traits and skills do you look for above all others when employing a PA?

A can do attitude, underpinned by common sense, and a desire to succeed.  Loyalty, discretion and trust are all hugely important qualities – as well as having a solutions-oriented approach to life.  But they’ve got to be able to have a laugh as well, at the end of a really crappy day it’s about the only thing left to do!

Is your PA a confidante and sounding board for you?

Yes, I really appreciate hearing their thoughts and opinions. Often it’s an extra layer of perspective, which gives me a broader insight into the challenge and possible resolutions.

Do you empower your PA by allowing autonomous decision making in any key areas?

We’ve worked out the areas where we both feel comfortable with autonomous decision making. But it’s not rigid, in that if there are new situations that occur within any of these areas, then we’ve both agreed it’s worth a double-check before taking action.

How do you keep your PA motivated?

Remembering to say thank you, supporting flexibility in how they work and acknowledging the importance of their contribution.  White wine also has a role to play…..!

Do you encourage ambition in your PA by offering a structured career path into an alternative role within your organisation?

If my PA felt they would like to explore alternative roles, I would support them 100%, as much as I’d hate to lose them from my team.  If someone is good, then ultimately you want to keep them in your organisation, even if it is in a different role.

Would the lack of a PA impede your everyday output?                                 

I would literally spend all my time just managing my diary, so I’d be a lot less productive or valuable!

(If I didn’t have a PA) I would literally spend all my time just managing my diary, so I’d be a lot less productive or valuable!

Are you conscious of boundaries where a task may be classified as beyond the call of duty?

I am really reluctant to ask my PA to do personal stuff for me. I know lots of leaders use their PA to organise their work and personal life but I’ve heard PA’s being asked to do things by other leaders which have made me cringe in the past, so I just don’t go there. I also don’t think it’s the best use of time for your PA.

Is your PA an ambassador for you and your office?

Yes they are, and the relationships they have are crucial to helping things move smoothly and to getting the best results for their leader, so I always encourage my PA to meet their counterparts from other key organisations that we regularly interface with, so they can build effective relationships which can be more easily leveraged.

Do you give your PA access to your inbox / Do you allow your PA to answer e-mails on your behalf without vetting?

Yes and yes – although again you both need to set clear expectations and boundaries, so there are no misunderstandings.

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