11 Sep 2017 Story Education & environment

An insider’s guide to working with UN executives

A new UN Environment manual offers practical tips for special assistants and their bosses.

Ever wondered what United Nations “special assistants” do? UN Environment’s Special Assistant’s Manual has the answers.

Life as a special assistant to senior managers at the United Nations has many thrills and many challenges.

A special assistant acts as chief coordinator and resident knowledge manager. Most importantly, it’s their job to make sure all administrative tasks are dealt with in a seamless manner.

If you are an aspiring special assistant or a seasoned one, the Special Assistant’s Manual, put together by UN Environment, will soon become your best friend.


The manual, which is based on the experience of veteran special assistants, offers practical suggestions on how to go about fulfilling your many tasks in an effective and efficient manner.

It also offers guidance to senior managers on the ideal profile for a special assistant and how to best make the most of their special assistants.

The manual provides:

  • a list of core functions;
  • a description possible duties that might be required in a specific organization or duty station;  
  • the profile of an ideal candidate, including UN competencies, skills and expertise.

Special assistants, who often work behind the scenes, connect the dots, provide timely and results-oriented counsel, and ensure a seamless implementation of the many United Nations priorities.


Whether in the office or on the road, senior officials depend on their special assistant to juggle priorities, address bureaucratic hurdles, and come up with viable solutions. Special assistants often solve the problem before the boss finds out that a problem ever existed!


To make the most of this role and fully unlock its potential, organizations need to have a clear vision for how it should be filled. They also need to foster the creation of new cadre of special assistants by offering this function as a career move and help new assistants hit the ground running. It is our hope that you will find this manual useful. We are keen to improve it and ask you to share comments and suggestion by emailing SAmanual[at]unep.org

Download the manual here.

Keep an eye on this space for the French version.