To be sure, this is not a technical term, but a chief of staff often has a unique seat allowing them to have insights across the organisation. With some experience, the ability to anticipate problems or see gaps needing to be filled grows to a point where they can propose and help create solutions before an issue reaches critical mass. This can include mediating potential and actual disputes between parties; navigating uncertainty and exercising the adaptability required to get from start to finish; and perhaps, most importantly, handling issues before they rise to the principal by resolving matters early.
Interpersonal Communication & High EQ
This set of skills are far-ranging, but have served you well in your role and will in subsequent roles. To start, your written, verbal, and non-verbal skills have been honed over time in carefully crafted emails and memos, phone conversations, and meetings. Learning, and later knowing, how to read a room—or table—of people has become a valuable input for how you interact. You’ve also learned the value of listening first and speaking last, especially when you are representing the principal to others.
As a chief of staff, you are exposed to and interact with a wide variety of stakeholders. You have gained the ability to influence others up and down the organisational chart—not only because you happen to be the chief of staff, but because you’ve learned that relationships matter. This extends to your role when representing the principal to external stakeholders, including when respectfully relaying what they may not want to hear.
The collaboration required in your role, and future roles, is key. Again, this includes across the organisational chart, including for initiatives or projects which don’t have a clear home. When charged with something by the principal, it is also incumbent upon you to discern what to funnel, filter, and curate for what the principal needs to know and when—which can certainly vary by principal. For instances when the principal is engaging on a matter at hand and collaborators are seeking their time, gatekeeping on your part can also play a role of what to gather and relay or whether time for direct collaboration is needed.
‘You act as a needed sounding board—with the ability to disagree.’
Finally, you’ve convincingly become comfortable with the uncomfortable situation of ‘speaking truth to power.’ You are a confidant to your principal, including knowing and understanding what is confidential and what is not. Moreover, you act as a needed sounding board—with the ability to disagree. To be sure, any disagreement you may have becomes secondary to what decision the principal eventually makes. Yet before that, during their decision-making process—where you also hone your decision-making ability—you play the crucial role of the traditional Devil’s Advocate, even when you personally agree, to help anticipate issues, stress- test arguments and assumptions, and ask questions no one is asking or doesn’t want to ask.
When advising principals, and sometimes considering the organisation as a whole, helping prevent mission creep into non-critical areas can take courage to address what might otherwise be a drain on time and resources, no matter how much of a pet project it may be in the eyes of the beholder.