Attending the Empowered Administrators Conference (EAC) gala dinner on 7 September, Professor Marcus Ramogale, Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) welcomed all delegates from DUT, MUT, UFS, UWC, UFH, UNISA, VUT, UKZN, UNISA, UNIVEN, as well as from the State-Owned Enterprises, Transnet and Umngeni Water.
“Your presence here shows the confidence that you have in the EAC. I am heartened to see the attendance of Univen which has a formal partnership with MUT, and we are learning a lot from them. I am also happy to share with you that I was a Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs at UNIVEN, 12 years ago,” said Professor Ramogale.
Noting the progress made by the EAC over the years and its ability to stay ahead as a game changer in empowering office administrators, Professor Ramogale was quick to note the ‘Bayede’ theme of the gala dinner which was inspired by how the Department of Basic Education in KwaZulu-Natal had rallied “to acknowledge our heritage and the role of the Zulu monarch. As an Institution of higher learning, we support this endorsement by the Department of Basic Education. This is part of the transformation that needs to happen at universities. As office administrators, you are in a better place to assist leadership efforts to drive the transformation agenda,” Professor Ramogale
Professor Ramogale spoke about the power that office administrators have “which I do not think you realise and are using optimally. You have power over many people because you know more things than some of your colleagues or even your senior people within departments. This power should be a springboard for your success. To make an example, your future growth within organisations is based on what you know and how you use that information to help your office succeed and for your professional development. The fact that you have access to privileged information is power. Let people respect you for the information you know. Do not ever share confidential information. It is your power, your gateway to being respected for being trustworthy and having integrity.”
Being an honourable representative of your organisation
Addressing delegates on the first day of the conference, which sat at Gateway Hotel, in Durban, Toni Gumede from Brand South Africa, reminded participants that they represented their organisation in all that they do regardless of their positions. Gumede added that office administrators were required to know everything about their organisations as they are important sources of information and drivers of organisational efficiency.
“You are the stakeholder person, you are the communication person,” said Gumede. “You need to know more about the organisation than the leadership of the organisation.”
She cautioned delegates about engaging in unethical behaviour such as inviting friends to listen to confidential virtual meetings. Gumede added that it was important for office administrators to build professional relationships and collaborations. She said office administrators had to be up-to-date with what is happening in their organisations and it was their task to ensure that organisational databases are up-to-date and accessible.
Getting a promotion
One of the more popular sessions was presented by Dr Thandeka Ellenson, Chief Executive Officer of the Moses Kotane Institute. Dr Ellenson, who is a MUT alumna, reminded office administrators that they were an extension of their managers, and were required to have the necessary skills and emotional backbone that is required in their environment. Dr Ellenson, whose session was on empowering office professionals with advice on getting a promotion, took delegates through an exciting presentation on various career tracks that they could follow. She informed delegates that she also started her career as an administrator, and took every opportunity that came her way. She singled out online learning as an opportunity that all should take advantage of and register for qualifications.
Planning for the unknown
Another speaker, Thando Radebe, the Turn Around Project Manager at the University, advised delegates to have a well-defined character that would make it easy for others to identify with them. This will make the interaction between the office administrator and their stakeholders easier. Radebe also told the delegates that it was important for them to be able to have foresight and visualise what could happen in the future. Radebe said it was important for the delegates to plan how they could deal with challenging situations like the return of Covid-19.
She reminded delegates that it was important for them to understand their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses when planning for various scenarios.
“This is the time for you to find your specialisation. When you are outside your strength zone and comfort zone you must expect mediocre performance. The best for me is being outside my comfort zone in my strength zone. The difference is knowing the difference,” said Radebe.
Leading without the title and engaging stakeholders
Mthokozisi Luthuli, a Lecturer from the Durban University of Technology’s Department of Entrepreneurial Studies and Management, reminded delegates that they could influence their stakeholders even though they were in positions that may not have authority. Luthuli said that office administrators should positively influence their stakeholders.
Liile Lekena, a Director in the University’s Directorate of Institutional Planning and Research (DIPR), reminded the office administrators that their efficiency translated to their office’s performance. She said a weak office administrator resulted in a weak manager’s office. Lekena said the office administrators should be ambassadors of their organisations.
Being an expert in adopting technology
The delegates of the 2022 event were also empowered by the University’s members of the Department of Information Technology and Networks at MUT, Danie Venter and Pritham Seethal. Venter and Seethal reminded delegates that deal with lots of personal information that they needed to comply with the applicable government regulation so that they, and their organisations, did not get in trouble with the law.
One of the highlights of the conference was presented by MUT alumnus, Sandile Mahlaba of Microsoft, who took delegates through Microsoft 365 and Teams. The tutorial was the result of anticipation that the need for remote communication will continue even after Covid-19. Mahlaba said the tutorials would continue after the conference to give delegates further training.
Dealing with workplace prejudice and bringing back office decorum
Senamile Masondo, from the Department of Human Resources and Development at MUT, informed delegates about the importance of being aware of the dangers of prejudice. Masondo told delegates that they needed to check their own prejudices, reflect upon where they come from, and intervene when others are prejudiced.
On the second day of the conference, delegates were given a chance to respond to questions that sought to find out how they applied what they learnt in their real situations. One delegate said she had to take charge and devised new measures to ensure that her line manager’s signature could not be copied or abused during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Lebo Sibisi, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said what the speakers told them was “really hitting home, Iyasibuyisa endaweni (it brings us back to where we need to be). Sibisi said what they were being told was renewing their knowledge after two years of Covid-19. She also expressed her gratitude to the conference for addressing topics that enriched office administrators.
Mkhize thanked delegates for supporting the conference. “We have been running the EAC for more than 10 years. However, the need for the conference to continue is still there. Office management, as a business activity, evolves; now office administrators need more skills and assurance to run their offices,” said Mkhize.
The necessity for the appropriate skills to cope with the challenges that are associated with Covid-19 was also highlighted by most of the speakers at the event.
Mkhize said the programme of the two-day conference that took place from 7-8 September 2022, focussed on what the office administrators need most.