building from within
Leadership Development Center’s Exceptional
Photo by Michael Bailey
Harmon (above) says the program increases employees’ morale
and work efficiency. Upon completing the program, she
received a promotion. She is now an assistant to University
Librarian Karin Wittenborg.
By Charlotte Crystal
How do you spell success? For administrative assistants at U.Va., the answer
The Exceptional Assistants’ Network is a growing group of administrative
assistants who have completed professional training to be all they can be.
Run by the University’s Leadership Development Center, the network and
its affiliated Exceptional Assistants Program are designed for administrative
assistants and support staff who report to senior-level supervisors. Supervisors
or a graduate of the program nominate participants. The four-day, comprehensive
programming includes time and stress management; interpersonal relationship building;
self-assessments, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; communication skills;
training programs are designed to sharpen the skills of
administrative assistants who work hard behind the scenes
to keep U.Va. running smoothly,” said Holly
Heilberg, program coordinator. “Their organizational and interpersonal
skills are vital to the University’s mission.”
Participants who complete the program receive a certificate
of achievement and become members of the network,
which provides ongoing professional
the program was established in 1998, 140 administrative assistants have
completed the training.
Cathy Tyree Willis, office manager with the Office
of Educational Technologies,
completed the program a few years ago and currently serves on the advisory
board of the Exceptional Assistants’ Network.
learned about myself and how to improve my organizational
said. “Usually, it’s hard to meet with other people who do the same
kind of work I do and exchange ideas. But the network has been great for learning
what other people are doing and to learn what I’m doing well. I get fresh
ideas from the classes about how to handle people and situations.”
John Payne, director of the Office of Educational Technologies
and Willis’ boss,
said that Willis was “pretty exceptional” even before she began the
program. “Her level of customer support is simply amazing,” he said.
since she took the program, I see a proclivity to take
on new things,” he
said. “She is more confident about taking on new responsibilities, which
has been important as the shifting sands of the budget have forced us to make
additional demands on our staff.”
Hoke Perkins, associate University librarian for philanthropy,
also has seen the program’s positive impact on his former employee, Jennifer Harmon.
library very much believes in professional development
for the staff, so Jennifer’s participation in this program was a natural for us,” he
said. “It was great to have her out there as an ambassador for the library.
She brought back new ideas for us in organizational structure and planning. She
got some exposure to strategic thinking and writing experience.”
Since completing the program, Harmon has been promoted
from her position as administrative and office
specialist III in Perkins’ office to a position as assistant
to University Librarian Karin Wittenborg.
program taught me how to work more efficiently, more
effectively and to be more organized so that I can spend
my time on things I need to work on,” Harmon
said. She also believes the program offers important intangible benefits to participants.
“It’s good for managers to do this for their employees,” she said. “Even
though it’s a financial commitment, it’s worth it because it increases
morale and efficiency, especially when the budget is tight and there are not
enough raises to go around. It shows employees that the boss cares about them
and is interested in their careers.”
Sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Management
and Budget, the Leadership Development Center works to
workplace productivity by developing leadership skills,
easing organizational transitions and promoting
The center offers a series of integrated programs and
services to University participants, ranging
and including supervisors and managers. Limited services
are available to outside clients.
After completing the training program, participants
may join the Exceptional Assistants’ Network, which offers an opportunity to establish and maintain
relationships throughout the University. Network activities include training
programs, annual seminars, joint sessions with other University leadership networks
and publication of a quarterly newsletter.
Employers generally cover the program cost — $300 for U.Va. employees and
$500 for non-U.Va. participants.
information on the next session, contact Holly Heilberg,
Exceptional Assistant Program coordinator,
by phone at
924-7727 or by email
at firstname.lastname@example.org, or
visit the program Web site at www.virginia.edu/ldc/index.html.