Awards Q & A Spotlight – Meet Sandra Wainwright

Tell us about your career path that got you to where you are today.

I started out as a shorthand typist and in my early days moved around for progression. After my first child was born, I didn’t want to go back to full time employment. We’d bought a brand new house and thought I’d actually like to get into selling houses so I tried my hand at a Sales Executive. I loved it, but I always knew I would go back to a PA role. A colleague told me about the advert in the Liverpool Echo for a PA at the Fire Service – I was 1 of 500 applicants. I still to this day cannot believe how lucky I was to be chosen!

Tell us about your current role and your responsibilities?

I am the Executive Assistant to the Chief Fire Officer and have held this post for 24 years. I have supported 5 Chief Fire Officers; all with very different personalities and references. I know I have learnt a great deal from each and every one of them. Aside from my day to day role, I have been fortunate to have been allowed the freedom and flexibility to be involved in many projects – to name but a few; being part of a team in organising the World Firefighter Games; Awards Ceremonies; large operational exercises, leading on Business in the Community; refreshing uniform for non-operational personnel; and restructuring the Strategic Leadership Team meeting format. I have the ethos that no job is too big or too small, I am here to support and do the very best I can, and that is what I strive to do each and every day.

What do you love about the role?

I love the feeling of belonging to an organisation which really makes a difference. I know my contribution is appreciated and valued which is very important to me.

What are your strengths as an assistant?

I would say personality and honesty plays a huge part in the role of the assistant. You need to be confident in your own beliefs and have the ability to adapt to your audience. We have to be many things to many people.

How important is learning and development to you?

Extremely important. I have never been one to sit back and coast. As a Service our internal courses tend to be mixed between operational/non-operational personnel which I believe is key to understanding as it gives insights into both sides. I have recently undertaken a coaching course, which I thoroughly enjoyed and will hopefully lead to an academic qualification. I continue to learn new things every single day.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career as an assistant?

Think about what path you want to take. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an assistant but there are also so many opportunities open to you. Is there an area of the workplace you are particularly interested in and could you explore that further? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Tell us something unusual you have had to do as an assistant.

I once had to look after a visitor’s pet dog whilst they were in a meeting with my boss!

On a more exciting occasion I had the privilege of flying in an RAF helicopter and dressing up like Tom Cruise from Tom Gun as a reward for my efforts in arranging a large scale operational exercise. I have the photos to prove it!

We love that! We do need those photos!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to your younger self starting out?

Treat other people as you would want to be treated yourself. I have never agreed with the ethos of an assistant being unapproachable and scary! Who wants to work with a dragon, and you never know when you need a favour!

You have a great business relationship with your boss – what is the secret to this & what advice can you give to others to help them build on their work relationships?

Yes we do. I think it is taking time to listen and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses – it’s a partnership. Knowing when to approach and hold back is key – on both sides!

How did it feel to be nominated for Lifetime Achievement?

If I am being honest I was a little taken aback because I still think I am 21! I don’t know where the years have gone. I was quietly thrilled to think that someone thinks I am worthy of such a prestigious award and that my contribution to the profession is something to be recognised.

How does it feel to be the winner of this award?

I was absolutely over the moon. I was actually away for a few days following my beautiful daughter’s wedding and I started to get texts to say congratulations. I never in a million years thought I would win.

How did your colleagues and boss react when they found out you had won?

The Service is very proud indeed of individual and team performances as this quite rightly reflects on the values of the Service. I now have an article for Hot News to write!

You are an active member of The PA Hub – what do you enjoy about being a member?

I am a big believer in fate and I was approached by a member of the Hub to join a few years ago. I was at a low point in my life and it was just what I needed. I cannot stress how professional The PA Hub is. The quality of speakers is exceptional and it goes without saying that the members are the nicest people you could wish to meet.  You never need to be afraid to turn up to an event not knowing anyone because there is always someone who will make you feel welcome.  I cannot tell you how much I have gained from being a member of The PA Hub and would highly recommend becoming a member.

Finally – what is next for you?

I continue to love my job, which is not something I take for granted. I hope that continues and I will continue to give 100% each day. As I have previously mentioned the Service is embedding a coaching ethos. I have undertaken some training and the next steps are to explore some form of qualification. The PA Hub has also introduced a Connections Scheme which operates in a similar manner, sharing best practice, listening to colleagues – I would like to strengthen the group and hopefully share some of my ‘Lifetime Experience’.

Thank you to the PA Hub and its amazing members.

Thank you Sandra for sharing your thoughts and huge congratulations again for winning the Lifetime Achievement Award.
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