What Differentiates an Executive Assistant from a Chief of Staff?
When reading a chief of staff job description, especially as an EA, many feel as if the job description fits a majority of what they do already. There is a perceived overlap in some of the core competencies and daily accountabilities of both roles. Both roles require experience, or specific C-suite exposure, that most top-producing EAs have to some degree, although not to the extent required to become a viable chief of staff candidate. There are often some educational disparities, however, even those lines are beginning to blur as more EAs are showing up with Masters’ degrees from top universities, similar industry exposure, and business acumen that rivals even the best chiefs of staff, with the nuanced advantages of empathy and the relationships they’ve nurtured with virtually everyone in the company.
If I were to explain the core competencies of each role as simply as possible, I’d put it this way: Executive assistants keep the train moving seamlessly down the track while chiefs of staff help plot the course and ensure the train reaches its destination on time.
Handling all-things-administrative is the superpower of a great EA. Overseeing all-things- operational while leveraging those administrative superpowers is what makes the EA/chief of staff relationship a true secret weapon within any organisation. However, when there’s discord among those two entities neither can be effective nor truly perform to their potential.
There is a new breed of EA emerging who are destroying the old narrative and commanding (and getting) a seat at the table. They have a very clear understanding of the game, the players, the rulebook, and the strategy required to win, just like the executives they support. This has allowed the top-performing EA edge-cases to execute at a similar level as the C-suite, leverage their years in the seat typically in numerous industries, and provide a diverse and much-needed perspective of the business as a whole. Remember, Executive assistants have relationships up and down the chain of command, something rarely achieved by the C-suite. When empowered and leveraged correctly, they truly become that one, reliable resource who can accurately speak about the overall health of the team.
‘There is a new breed of EA emerging who are destroying the old narrative and commanding (and getting) a seat at the table.’
Unfortunately, this specific group of EAs max out professionally at EA to the CEO. While the role is fraught with unparalleled access and opportunity, more than any singular role within the company, it’s still hampered by a glass ceiling that doesn’t exist in other roles. Worse, when Executive assistants seek other roles within the organisation at the senior, director level and above, they are routinely passed over by the company and recruiters even though they have the passion, business acumen, exposure, and innate ability to figure it out and thrive. This has resulted in many high-performing EAs chained to roles below their capabilities while watching their co-workers fill the very seats they sought, with little resistance. It’s incredibly demotivating, unfair and, sadly, all too common.