Building Relationships – Get to Know The Gatekeepers

In most organizations we assume that the real power lies in the hands of the individuals with the big titles, the large offices and the huge salaries.  While it is true that these people often have big responsibility for taking the major decisions about the organization’s future they are not the only ones that wield real power in businesses.

In every organization there are people whose job involves primarily managing the access that other people want to have to their boss.  These individuals usually have titles like Administrative Assistant, Secretary, Executive Assistant or Executive Secretary.  Their primary role is to assist or support the person who they report to in achieving the organizational objectives assigned to them.  There are also people who have the responsibility of ensuring that the support services in the building work as they are supposed to and when these individuals do not do what they are responsible for doing, everyone suffers.  These folks usually have titles like cleaner, custodian, office assistant, security guard and telephone operator.

Why this matters?

  1. Whether you accept this or not, the measure of a person’s character is shown in how they treat others who they do not think have any power over them.
  2. Every human being deserves to be treated with respect.
  3. No one is solely defined by their job title or organizational ranking. Everyone has more to them than meets the eye.
  4. Everyone has the potential to have an impact, positive or negative, on another person’s ability to achieve their goals.

The role of secretaries and admin assistants is usually a very important one because it allows their executives and managers to be able to get the time and head space they need to think and operate at the level that they need to achieve.  Custodians, cleaners, attendants and support staff of all kinds, ensure that things happen seamlessly as they are supposed to occur.  Toilets work. Coffee machines have coffee. Paper and stationery is where it is supposed to be. Carpets and windows get clean when they are scheduled to be done.

So one secret to your success is to get to know the gate keepers.

  • Show respect. People don’t usually need you to kiss-up to them or flatter them with false praise or empty words.  They generally just need you to treat them with respect and to acknowledge the importance of the role they play in the organization.  Most people in this role are usually very experienced, highly skilled and extremely qualified.
  • Be clear about what you want. If you are clear about what you want to know or the result you are trying to achieve, you may sometimes find that the Executive Assistant or Secretary you are speaking to already has the information and can give you an answer.
  • Ask, don’t tell. If you would like someone to help you, it is better if you ask for help rather than demand it.  Sometimes, people might be tempted to assume that their title or role gives them the right to be disrespectful to an assistant or secretary.  It is even worse if the person you are disrespecting does not report to you and works with someone higher up the organization chart.  You will have a greater chance of getting support if you ask for help rather than demand it.

The most successful people in organizations know and respect these individuals.  When you want to get access to the decision makers in the organization, you need to have a good relationship with the gatekeepers.  When you want to know what is going on in the building and when you want to be able to find where things are outside of working hours, it helps if you have a connection with someone who can assist you.


Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance.  She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados.  For more of her writing visit




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