Administrative Professional Skills 2011 Benchmarking Survey

Download the complete Administrative Professional Skills 2011 Benchmarking Survey (PDF, 505KB)


In 2011, members of the International Association of Administrative Professionals were asked to participate in a benchmarking survey designed to gather current data on job titles, key responsibilities, average salaries, job satisfaction, technology usage, training needs and other key issues relating to today’s administrative professionals. A total of 3,376 members submitted their survey answers, a seven percent increase over the 2009 survey.

Key Findings

Administrative professionals continue to face real challenges as a result of the Great Recession. In 2005, IAAP started noting a significant increase in its members’ job responsibilities. The 2011 survey suggests that trend may have transitioned into a new normal. At the same time, however, administrative professionals report a high level of satisfaction with their work and employers. There’s evidence that compensation rates stunted by the economy may be on the mend. Certainly, being an administrative professional has proven to be an economically steady  career choice over the last two decades. And there’s reason to believe that administrative professionals will be vital for corporations and organizations well into the foreseeable future. Admins remain the pulse of the office.

Job Responsibilities and Workload

This year marked a resurgence of the “secretary” job title in IAAP after decades of decline. Though the top two job titles for IAAP members were “executive assistant” (29 percent) and “administrative assistant” (25 percent), the third most common job title was “administrative secretary” (seven percent). That’s the first time in several years that “administrative secretary” has made it into the top three job titles. In fact, the number of admins with “secretary” in their titles jumped from eight percent in 2009 to nearly 15 percent in 2011.

Exactly why there are more admins with “secretary” job titles is unclear, though it may be due to a “Mad Men Effect.” It’s possible the popular AMC series could be stoking a certain nostalgia for 1950’s-era culture in general and the classic image of the American corporate secretary in particular.

Regardless of their titles, IAAP members certainly weren’t relegated to the steno pool and coffee makers. Their work has become more complicated, demanding and technical. Admins are integral and professional members of their office team.

In 2011, administrative professionals were expected to support an increasing number of executives or managers. Fifty-two percent of the survey respondents indicated they support three or more. That’s a slight uptick from the 2009 survey and a continuation of a decade-long trend. In 2002, 57 percent said they support just one or two executives or managers; that figure is now 45 percent.

Nearly half of the respondents said the number of support staff at their companies has decreased since 2008. The number of admins who reported support staff cuts increased six percent compared to the 2009 survey. Fifty-four percent of admins who work for companies that have reduced support staff said their workload has increased, and a plurality of the survey takers blame the economy. It’s worth noting that most of this year’s respondents work at companies or organizations with more than 1,000 employees, which could be an indication of how the economy has impacted large corporations.

Admins are definitely feeling more pressure at work as a result of the economy. “Juggling multiple priorities” was listed as the most significant daily challenge. That was followed by “dealing with difficult people and personalities” and “not having enough time to complete work.”

The trend towards fewer admins doing more work is likely to continue. When asked to rank the most significant issues facing admins in the next five to 10 years, they said (in order of importance):

  1. Keeping up with changing technology
  2. Increased workload
  3. Doing more with less resources/cost reductions
  4. Balancing work and family
  5. Corporate downsizing

This list is largely the same as that compiled in 2009, though it’s noteworthy that “corporate downsizing” moved from third to fifth place. “Changing technology” and “increased workload” have been the top two since 2005.
On the upside, an increased workload has also meant that admins are having a greater impact on their employers. Approximately two-thirds report that their level of workplace autonomy and authority has increased in the last five years. About 80 percent say their overall contribution at work has also increased during the same period. Only three percent of IAAP members say they want to change careers.
About 77 percent of respondents recommend purchases and/or make purchasing decisions for their employers, and they spend about $15,000 annually on average. In addition, 52 percent said they at least sometimes receive and organize email addressed to their supervisors.
Survey results suggest that administrative professionals are more important than ever before. The respondents listed “general office management, coordination and supervision” as the area where they’ve seen their responsibilities increase the most since 2006. That was followed by “travel planning,” “meeting planning” and “long-term project management.”


Salaries for administrative professionals appear to be rebounding after taking a hit over the course of the recession. There are, though, some mixed signals. Admins may have to adjust to a long-term decline in overall compensation and benefits as a result of the new economic normal. All in all, though, it remains a career where people can make a decent living.

Fifty-three percent of IAAP members make $35,000 to $55,000 as their annual base salary, with $45,000 as the median average for all survey respondents. Roughly 80 percent received a pay raise in the last two years, and the vast majority reported raises of less than five percent, which is in line with national averages. About 56 percent are hourly wage earners, and 80 percent work a standard 37- to 42-hour week.

The most important factor which contributed to their most recent salary increase was merit. That was followed by “annual/automatic” raises and “greater responsibility.”

As with their workload, the recession has also had a negative impact on compensation for many administrative professionals. Nearly half of all admins had their salaries frozen at some point during the economic downturn. Another third worked for companies that reduced expenses for things like holiday parties and other amenities. Most admins seem convinced that this marks a long-term shift in how their companies operate. Less than 20 percent predict their companies will reinstate even a portion of pre-recession salaries and benefits. The rest believe compensation will get worse or remain the same.

Sixty percent of IAAP members have been administrative professionals for at least 19 years. At the same time, there seems to have been a significant shift in employee tenure at individual companies. When asked how long they’ve worked for their present employer, 20 percent said three or fewer years. That was a 17 percent increase for that number of years compared to the 2009 survey. Plus, all of the categories for 15 or more years saw large drops in the number of admins who checked that response. In other words, there’s been a major jump in employee turnover among administrative professionals. It appears the recession has forced many experienced admins to pick up their stakes and relocate to new companies.

Years at Employer Percent Change v. 2009
0-3 20.02% +17%
4-6 19.28% +13%
7-10 16.94% +7%
11-14 14.57% +4%
15-18 8.65% -5%
19-25 10.72% -13%
26+ 8.98% -25%

IAAP members do have reason for hope when it comes to salary and benefits, according to the survey results. There was a five percent increase in the percentage of members who reported salaries in the upper end of the pay scale, $50,000 to $70,000 or more annually, compared to the 2009 survey. That suggests that companies are rewarding valuable employees.

Over the long term, being an administrative professional has proven to be a financially steady career. In 1992, only six percent of IAAP members made $40,000 or more annually. That number has risen steadily over the last 20 years, so that 67 percent of IAAP members now make $40,000 or more annually. Another way to look at this progress is by comparing it to annual inflation. The average salary of an admin in 1992 was about $27,000. Adjusted for inflation, that same salary should be about $44,000 in today’s dollars ( That means that this year’s average of $45,000 actually beat the rate of inflation.

Professional Development

Professional development has been a core mission of IAAP since the association’s birth in 1942, and 2011 was no different. Administrative professionals actively seek the training they need to stay sharp and to cultivate their own careers. Eighty percent of IAAP members work for companies that provide employee training. Those companies averaged five to 10 hours of annual training. Those figures are little changed from the previous survey.

Technology tops the list of areas where admins say they need the most training, as it did in 2009. “Computer software applications” was the number one choice, followed by “technology applications, such as Web conferencing” and “IT systems/hardware/system networks.” IAAP members also expressed a need for more management-level training. Rounding out the top six were “supervisory/management skills,” “time management” and “public speaking/presentation skills.”

The fact that technology and management training dominates the training wish list is an indication of how the profession has changed. Their jobs demand these skills. Admins commonly use word processing, spreadsheet, database management, scheduling, presentation and email software at work. Almost 60 percent are also responsible for troubleshooting those applications and training co-workers how to use them. So admins have become not just lifelong learners, but also teachers.

Administrative professionals have a very admirable record in formal post-secondary education. Forty-two percent hold an associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate-level degree. Only 10 percent have no post-secondary education at all. About 36 percent plan to attain a college degree. Two-thirds of the respondents said they’re interested in online education and training. Developing and providing access to that type of e-learning could help a significant number of admins achieve their educational goals.

Companies seeking to attract and retain highly-skilled administrative professionals should note that respondents listed “opportunity to learn, grow” as one of the top factors they consider when looking for a new job.

Workplace Culture

IAAP members represent virtually every major type of business and industry. The top three, representing 39 percent of the total, are “education/training,” “government” and “healthcare.” “Manufacturing,” “non-profit,” “finance/banking,” “insurance,” “utilities,” “engineering/architecture” and “technology” rounded out the top 10. The remainder were distributed across 15 other choices. Nearly half work for national or international companies. The rest work for local, state or regional employers. There are few, if any, parts of the economy not impacted by admins.

Given the economy and the financial pressures of modern life, it’s no surprise that “salary/benefits” was the most important factor for administrative professionals looking for a new job. A near second, though, was “good working relationship with my supervisor and co-workers.”

Given those parameters, it appears most admins are working for companies that treat them well. Nearly 80 percent say they’re satisfied in their current positions. In addition, about 70 percent give their immediate managers and supervisors good marks. Finally, 82 percent are happy with the level and effectiveness of communication between themselves and their supervisors. Being an effective communicator was the most important quality for a manager or supervisor. Being approachable, having a vision for success and giving clear directions were also highly valued traits for supervisors.

When it comes to technology in the office, administrative professionals are expected to master a wide range of cutting-edge software and hardware. About a quarter of IAAP members at least sometimes telecommute, a number in line with national averages for all workers. Plus, nearly 90 percent said their employer provides sufficient tools and resources for them to do their jobs effectively. Finally, 85 percent say their companies are highly or somewhat innovative.

There are signs that admins may be lagging in the digital economy, particularly when it comes to mobile tools. While more than 80 percent have access to the basics (networked PC, scanner and color printer), only 46 percent are provided with a laptop computer and 54 percent have wireless Internet access. A tiny two percent have access to a tablet computer through work.

The top three technological tools admins would like to have at work are a “faster, more powerful computer” (38 percent), “additional software/upgraded software” (34 percent) and a “larger computer monitor.” These are all fairly fundamental in any office. It suggests that companies have delayed spending on new equipment and upgrades as a result of the recession. Admins may simply being playing catch-up when it comes to their technology in the next couple of budget cycles.

Download the complete Administrative Professional Skills 2011 Benchmarking Survey (PDF, 505KB)

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