How to Make the Jump from Executive Assistant to Chief of staff?

December 20, 2021


CEOs have sweeping responsibilities to help them achieve company objectives. However, day-to-day management is a hectic process that may distract from establishing growth strategies. Fortunately, two primary roles help them focus on their core objectives: The Executive Assistant (EA) and Chief of Staff (COS). Their services are critical to optimizing an executive's time and productivity. While the two roles have some similarities, they also have crucial distinctions.

Differences Between an Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff

While the EA job is tactical, the COS role is typically strategic. As an Executive Assistant, your core responsibility is to handle various administrative duties that ultimately enhance the executive's day. They include preparing for meetings, following up on past resolutions, and managing calendars, expenses, and travel.

These roles make you the executive’s gatekeeper, which minimizes interruptions to their workflow. Experienced EAs may handle more strategic projects, such as creating processes and cultivating relationships with company stakeholders.

As a strategic partner, the Chief of Staff helps executives fulfill their key priorities. This role entails cultivating relationships, project management, planning, and communication. Unlike executives with departmental duties, a COS typically takes on company-wide responsibilities, including managing multiple team projects.

This position involves close cooperation with the executive to create actionable steps, OKRs, and strategies. As COS, you’re responsible for communication between the executive and other stakeholders.

Factors to Consider Before Transitioning From EA to COS

Chiefs of Staff don’t always earn more than Executive Assistants. Your remuneration depends on factors such as the type of organization and your particular job description. For instance, an EA in a Fortune 500 company might earn more than a COS in a growing startup. Before making the transition, it’s advisable to have a higher motivation than money.

Another misconception involves the assumption that a COS is the next career step after being an Executive Assistant. Although it sounds logical, you can explore other suitable options before settling on the most appropriate. Compatible C-Suite careers include Director of Public Relations, COO, and VP of Business Development.

Some organizations make it sound like the positions are interchangeable. That's because they don't always outline a clear distinction between the two roles. Before making the jump, ensure you understand the expectations, especially in a separate company or industry.

How to Transition from Executive Assistant to Chief of Staff

Now that you have your sights on the COS position, the following tips will help you achieve your goal:

1. Identify additional skills and industry knowledge

While your EA responsibilities are more specific, a COS position requires a broader understanding of your company and industry. To guide various decision-makers, you need to understand their roles and business functions. It’s also advisable to hone your leadership, change management, decision making, conflict management, and communication skills.

2. Interact with your leadership team

Is the Chief of Staff position new in your organization? Are you seeking to replace the current holder? Who is best suited to replace you as EA? Do you prefer a new title with additional responsibilities while retaining your EA tasks as well?

It's vital to have this conversation to avoid confusion among executives and other company stakeholders. Most organizations rarely need an EA and a COS. In most instances, the latter becomes necessary if the founder oversees multiple businesses or the organization is a complex structure.

3. Consider other organizations

If the COS position doesn’t exist in your current company, you may expand your horizons. The steps include updating your resume, signing up for relevant professional courses, and intensifying networking activities.

Job applications in your current industry present opportunities for a smoother transition, as are startups, founders, and family enterprises. Any fast-growing company with multiple divisions needs a Chief of Staff for a smoother operation.

4. Study successful COSs

The Chief of Staff is a leadership role with constantly evolving requirements ranging from strategy formulation to execution. Success requires high adaptability and coordination. It will be easier to settle into your new career path by studying influential COSs.

Considerations include the type of certifications suitable for their role, daily schedule, growth plans, and the books they read. This information helps you provide value when you transition into the role.

Although a COS position offers new career opportunities, it’s also a high-pressure role. That’s because you’ll be overseeing multiple personalities, expectations, and changes. You’ll also need to master data analysis because it helps you spot irregularities, build new initiatives, and make informed decisions. A COS role is slightly more demanding than your current EA designation, but you'll settle into it in no time.

Final Thoughts

As an Executive Assistant, you're already familiar with some of the roles required for a Chief of Staff position. The transition can be bumpy but manageable, depending on your organizational structure. The American Society of Administrative Professionals offers countless valuable tips on career growth. Our training resources include webinars, articles, downloads, and videos.

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