Erin Lawson’s natural flair for proactive problem solving and her superior people skills made her the perfect candidate to move from her PA role into management. We find out more
EVER THOUGHT of making the move from PA or EA to a management role? Feeling a bit lost in terms of how to go about it? Our Up and Coming PA of the Year 2016’s Erin Lawson of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu in Sydney has done just that. Recently taking on a new consultant role with Deloitte, she shares her advice on what it takes and how to position yourself to make that leap.
Growing up in the far north coast of NSW nearby Byron Bay, Erin started her career in the hospitality industry working as a restaurant supervisor at the age of 20. In this role she managed a team of 10-15 before packing up about 5 years ago, moving to Sydney and trading in long hospitality hours for a job as a personal assistant.
“My initial career goal was to become a PA,” she says. “Managerial roles have always been a natural progression for me due to my enjoyment of and ability to work with and support many very busy people. I also have quite a structured and task-driven approach to work,” she adds.
Erin began her role at Deloitte as a team assistant supporting a group of PAs and taking on a variety of responsibilities and tasks including financial engagement management, engagement setup, invoicing, and financial reporting.
“Before I started working at Deloitte in 2013, becoming a business analyst and project manager hadn’t occurred to me,” Erin says. She adds that within the first 12-16 months of working at Deloitte, in their management consulting practice, she knew project management would be the next step in her career.
“After my first few months working as a team assistant, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to support a Partner in the Deloitte business, which is similar to supporting a CEO in a small to medium sized business,” she says. “This was the start of being able to work towards my dream of becoming a Personal Assistant, and led to my promotion in June 2014.”
While working as a PA, Erin supported an Asia Pacific Lead Partner, as well as a digital Partner, who later became a mentor helping her move towards client facing work. Later on she transferred to work with three Partners supporting the wider customer practice and giving her the opportunity to transition to her role as Consultant in Deloitte Digital. “By being exposed to a variety of roles and responsibilities within Deloitte, I was able to take control of my career and determine the path I wanted to follow,” she says.
Erin says that having excellent project management skills is an essential for transitioning into a management role. However, as entry level roles are harder to come by for those just starting their career, we asked which skills were essential to take forwards.
Erin said having an agile mindset was of great benefit. “PA roles are very system focused, they follow a clear structure and process, whereas client work is never the same twice,” she explains. “Being able to adapt and tackle any task or issue that comes up will be your greatest trait.”
One of the Partners Erin supported in Deloitte Digital for three years before transitioning to her new role was Esan Tabrizi. Esan agrees that it was Erin’s determined focus that made her the perfect candidate to move into the new role.
“It was Erin’s relentless focus to go above and beyond the parameters of her role, and support the practice in any way possible,” says Esan. “Getting involved in the support of financial management of projects, helping manage smaller internal projects, and supporting other PMs in her role, on top of her day-today work, was key to demonstrating her potential.
“In addition to the above she invested the time required to both upskill herself, as well as build the necessary network of support around her,” he added.
Esan says that for any assistant keen to make the leap, it’s vital they display the right skill set. The skills essential for making the move, he says are proactive problem solving skills and an ability to network and connect with the wider team. This ‘softer’ skill, he says, “resulted in her having many advocates and people who were willing to step in and support her in her transition, because at some point she had supported them. Investing time in relationships and supporting the wider team helps with the goal of transitioning into a different career track,” he adds, saying that it also helps being upfront with your immediate manager on any desire you might have to move into a different career track so that they can assist you as best as possible.
Once Erin’s desire and commitment to move into the new role was clear, Esan says it was simply a matter of finding her the right role to give her a softer landing, and the support network around her to succeed.
“At Deloitte we are very committed to people’s careers, so ensuring she received the right training before the transition, as well as the support network and on-the-job training post-transition, were critical,” he says.
Progressive organisations such as Deloitte often have programs in place to identify specific skills and talents for certain roles and as an assistant seeking a management role, it’s vital to align yourself with companies with strong and supportive human resources departments.
Esan says that’s the case at Deloitte where, at every round of reviews, they look at top talent and identify the best for a variety of roles, irrespective of where the person may come from or which role they’re currently in.
“It is always a great story to see people move career tracks and really have a go at what may seem a difficult transition. We are very proud of Erin having put the time and commitment into everything that was needed for her to transition into a client facing role.”
Erin says that being named the Executive PA Up and Coming PA of the Year in 2016 was one of the biggest rewards in her career as the recognition that came with it was noticed throughout her organisation. The award helped grow her network, ultimately aiding her transition to her current role. She says that it’s a role she looks forward to being challenged in and having the opportunity to continuously learn, reach new heights and achieve more goals. As far as her advice for someone just starting out on their career path, she says it’s important to connect with the people who will support your goals.
“Network with those who can support and mentor you, listen and learn,” she says. “Own your career direction, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.”
Esan agrees, saying that transitioning from an assistant’s role to a management one is certainly achievable.
“At Deloitte we pride ourselves on our track record of bringing in people at various life stages and helping them build and progress a successful and fulfilling career,” he explains. “We also don’t set arbitrary boundaries around people. So if someone has entered as a PA, there is nothing stopping them from changing career tracks and focusing on their next adventure,” he says.
Erin won the 2016 Executive PA Awards Up and Coming PA of the Year category. Nominations close on the 31st of July. Click here to nominate now and get recognised.