How is a Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant different?

The modern executive’s calendar is a deodorant commercial. Even with your next-level work ethic, you can’t help but sweat a little (or a lot) when you see time constraints piling up. How much more valuable would you be, and how much more would you accomplish, with an extra hour or more a day? 

The search for support and the increased efficiency that comes with it has more and more executives trying to decide if an executive Chief of Staff is right for them. 

So, let’s dive into one of the most common questions executives pose when trying to make that decision — what does a Chief of Staff do that an Executive Assistant doesn’t?


How they are similar Chief of Staff vs Executive Assistant – service.

At the core of both roles is an innate desire to see others succeed, and the skills to make it happen. Both contribute mostly behind the scenes, committing to the executive they serve and aiming to see them flourish.

Among the most critical skills in both Chiefs of Staff and Executive Assistants is exceptional attention to detail, as they are tasked with providing administrative coverage to keep the executive they serve organized and prepared.

Tactically, both provide messaging and scheduling support. As an executive, your inbox and calendar alone would overwhelm the average employee. It would be impossible to focus on the most critical elements of taking your business to the next level without some degree of administrative support. Both Chiefs of Staff and Executive Assistants provide that support.


How they are different – servant leadership.

While the Executive Assistant is intensely focused on the aforementioned tasks, the Chief of Staff is an executive-level strategic partner whose ultimate purpose is to deliver time and peace of mind back to the executive they serve. 

The Executive Assistant may identify problems that need to be addressed. A good Chief of Staff implements proactive solutions before problems arise and they manage projects that impact the entire organization, working hand-in-hand with each member of the leadership team.

The Chief of Staff is completely in tune with the executive’s goals for the business. They help ensure existing resources are utilized more effectively. They also play a huge role in measuring results, assessing staff, and introducing growth initiatives where they can better serve the executive.

The Chief of Staff will stand in when their executive is unavailable for a meeting. This goes well beyond note-taking and reporting. A properly utilized Chief of Staff is trusted to make judgments and decisions the executive would have made if available. 

In addition to being a strategic partner, the Chief of Staff is also a skilled communicator who is responsible for writing emails and reports in the executive’s voice and style.


How they are different – Gatekeeping vs Efficiency.

Managing traffic for an executive is critical to the success of an organization due to the number of people, both externally AND internally, vying for their time. An Executive Assistant spends a tremendous portion of their day prioritizing calls, emails, and Slack messages from colleagues and clients who “just need 15 minutes.” This form of personal gatekeeping is designed to make the executive more efficient, to help manage their time and allow their focus to be maintained.

True to form, a Chief of Staff approaches similar situations with strategic responsibility. They meet with vendors or potential partners, communicating what is important to the organization to ensure more productive future meetings with the executive.

The Chief of Staff helps manage the organization by providing the feedback, guidance, or approval the executive was being sought out for. This serves two purposes – managing the executive’s bandwidth and keeping important projects and initiative moving.


Which do you need?

Once you know and appreciate the differences between a Chief of Staff and an Executive Assistant, you can decide which is the better fit for your organization. And don’t be surprised if the answer is both.

Large organizations, or those experiencing rapid growth, are increasingly led by executives who rely heavily on a Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant that work together, with the Chief of Staff playing a critical role in organizational strategy and managing the Executive Assistant who is focused on executing logistics.

The best way to see where your organization falls on the Chief of Staff spectrum is to do an ROI assessment. This Executive Needs survey is a great tool that shows how many hours you could get back with a Chief of Staff based on your current workload.

Ultimately, the right fit for your organization is dictated by the demands on the execs’ time and the ambition of their goals. As the demands on an executive and their organization grow, so does the value of a strong deodorant and a good Chief of Staff. 

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