How to Become The Chief of Staff

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Given there can only be one president of the United States at any given time, the chief of staff role may seem like a position where the opportunities are highly selective. In reality, the services of this prestigious role are needed in offices far beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Whether it’s reporting to the CEO, vice president of a Fortune 500 company or corporate leadership team, chief of staff is an increasingly common role that more people are pursuing in a variety of public, private and nonprofit sector organizations. The Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University’s online Master’s in Political Management program can supply you with the competencies and connections you need to succeed in this career path. Here is more background information into what this role is all about and the necessary skill sets to be a great chief of staff.

African American male in shirt and tie working on laptop at desk

What is a chief of staff?

As its description implies, a chief of staff acts as the point person for all the individuals who work on behalf of someone in a position of high authority. These include CEOs, COOs, CFOs, deans, board of directors members and other senior-level leadership titles. Serving in any of these capacities can be high stress, given the amount of responsibility and decision-making they have to do on a day-to-day basis. A chief of staff tries to make their job easier by ensuring a leader’s staff works as efficiently and effectively as possible.

What does a chief of staff do?

No two days are exactly the same for a chief of staff. Their daily responsibilities can vary significantly depending on who they’re working for and the needs of the organization. Thus, although their typical workday may fall within traditional 9 to 5 business hours, there is nothing routine about what a chief of staff does. Forbes summarizes what some of their tasks frequently include:

  • Attend meetings on behalf of their boss and report back with relevant information
  • Draft correspondence, speeches and official statements
  • Provide insight and feedback to leaders to assist with the decision-making process
  • Act as a sounding board to help with brainstorming relevant subject matter
  • Schedule and prioritize appointments so leaders can make the most of their time
  • Oversee staff and handle problems before reporting them up the chain of command

Above all else, their most important job function is time management. As noted by the website Prime Chief of Staff, it’s impossible for CEOs to handle everything that is asked of them in a given day. A chief of staff must zealously protect their boss’ time so they can be more effective and productive. In short, their job is to make their boss’ job easier and more manageable

How many chiefs of staff are there in the U.S.?

While small businesses continue to account for the vast majority of companies in the U.S., corporations – where chiefs of staff are predominantly found – are rising in prevalence. According to the most recent statistics available from Tyler Parris, author of “Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organization,” approximately 68,000 people in the U.S. alone work as a chief of staff. This total excludes governmental and military organizations.

How much does a chief of staff earn?

Much like their responsibilities, the income level of a chief of staff can be wide-ranging. Those who have worked in this capacity for a number of years tend to make more than those who are new. According to Salary.com, the typical chief of staff nationwide stands to earn approximately $214,670 annually, with a range between $175,808 and $265,496.

How do you become a chief of staff?

In addition to knowing what principals or leaders are looking for a chief of staff, you have to come to the role with a mastery of the competencies to be truly effective in this capacity. According to Prime Chief of Staff, these include excellent organizational skills, the ability to strategically delegate authority, empowering staff to do their jobs well, increasing the lines of communication and serving as a complement to your bosses.

Since a chief of staff’s overarching job function is to be the “right-hand person” to the leader they’re working for, some misconstrue “complement” as someone who thinks or acts in the same way. In reality, being a complement means to complete or to fill in where their boss may be lacking, the website noted. This requires a chief of staff to be good at problem-solving and remain situationally aware. In this way, chiefs of staff largely function as executive coaches by holding their bosses accountable.

How does a chief of staff differ from an executive assistant?

In some ways, the roles and responsibilities of a chief of staff overlap with those of an executive assistant. But as Harvard Business Review points out, the biggest difference between an executive assistant and a chief of staff is authority. Whereas they both work at the pleasure of their boss – CEO, COO, CFO or otherwise – a chief of staff typically has more independence and decision-making authorization than does an EA. Additionally, while an EA may handle routine correspondences and clerical work, a chief of staff is frequently tasked with more consequential job functions and is considered a contributing member of a leadership team.

Where else do you find chiefs of staff working?

These days, corporations may be the most common employers of chiefs of staff, but their services are needed in the nonprofit sector as well. Alison Washabaugh, who works as chief of staff for the Boston-based nonprofit Year Up, told the Bridgespan Group that her foremost aim is to help the nonprofit and its CEO deliver on the strategic goals and objectives of the moment.

“My goal is to see around corners so that our president and CEO can always say, ‘Yes, I was just talking about that yesterday. Let me share what we discussed for your input,’ to a board member or funder,” Washabaugh explained. “I also shape our internal leadership communications, so that our staff is informed and inspired and see how their day-to-day work connects to our mission and the Opportunity Movement.”

African American male in sport coat and tie smiling at camera

Whether you see yourself working as a chief of staff on Main Street, Wall Street or Capitol Hill, an online Master’s in Political Management from George Washington University can get you well on your way. Download our free brochure and see why more people turn to the Graduate School of Political Management to realize their professional ambitions.

Recommended reading:
How to Begin a Career in Politics
What Can You Learn from the Master’s in Political Management Core Curriculum
Top 5 Reasons to Earn a Master’s in Political Management

Sources:
Forbes
Harvard Business Review
Salary.com
The Bridgespan Group