What is a chief of staff

What is a Chief of Staff and When Do You Need One?

What is a chief of staff

You must have noticed a new job title of COS ( Chief of Staff) popping up in LinkedIn profiles as more and more companies of different sizes are adding a chief of staff to their leadership teams. 

Since the term is relatively new, and the job profile is still not very clear, you must be having a lot of speculations and queries about what is a Chief of Staff, what he does, and most importantly who needs to hire one.chief of staf

It’s time to brush off all doubts and dive deep into the role of chief of staff.

What is a chief of staff?

Initially, the chief of staff role was only a common practice in the military, politics, and at Fortune 500 companies. But in recent years more and more startups are seen hiring a COS.

The question “what is a chief of staff?” can be tricky to answer as the role is multifaceted. A CoS is that extra support that your executive assistant can’t provide. He is the CEO or executive’s right-hand person”.

“CoS serve as an air traffic controller for the leader and the senior team; as an integrator connecting workstreams that would otherwise remain siloed; as a communicator linking the leadership team and the broader organization; as an honest broker and truth-teller when the leader needs a wide-ranging view without turf considerations; and as a confidant without an organizational agenda” – CoS, Patrick Aylward, CoS at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield.

A great chief of staff can assist in planning and implementation of long-term and short-term goals in your organization. In short, a COS maintains momentum within the organization to multiply the efforts of the CEO.

“A great CoS enhances and raises the game for the entire leadership of the company.”Influitive CEO Mark Organ

Now that we know what is a chief of staff, let’s look at

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Chief of staff roles and responsblities

What does a chief of staff do?

After being clear on what is a chief of staff, the next question which arises is What does a chief of staff do?

Why not hear first from a COS himself!

“I organize and align strategic priorities with members of the senior leadership team, making sure the right people are talking about the right things at the right time”  Alison Washabaugh, Chief of Staff, Year Up.

Although the function and responsibility of a COS vary as per the industry or organizational needs- which can change over time.

“To help [a leader] make and execute great decisions, the chief of staff serves as analyst and decision-framer on one hand and project manager, change agent, and coach on the other.” ( Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organization, by Tyler Parris)

 Here are some of the common responsibilities of a Chief of staff-

1The buffer between the CEO and other executive leaders

One of the main functions of a COS is to build strong relationships throughout the organization.

They make sure that the information flow inside the organization is smooth and cristal by acting as a communicating arm for you.

They are also responsible for communicating the needs, new ideas, opinions, and concerns of both the employees and the executive members.

They take care of the first drafts of company newsletters, speeches, emails, and presentations on behalf of their boss.

This is an important aspect of ensuring internal communication in your organization.

They align the senior leaders and the CEO’s decisions.

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2Project management

They act as the mediator between important stakeholders and team members to reach decisions most appropriate for your organization’s success.

They manage and lead large-scale cross-departmental projects.

3Strategic planner

They strategically put into place the processes and practices for the smooth operation and functioning of the organization.

They will help you set strategic priorities and manage your time strategically.

They benchmark the key performance indicators.

They are often seen leading the annual strategic planning process of the company.

They just don’t plan strategies but keep track of the progression made in achieving goals and implementing key initiatives.

They delegate responsibilities and track the employee actions.

4Hiring Support

They organize and draft the hiring process in collaboration with the HR team.

They make changes in the existing hiring policies wherever needed.

They can also hire projects managers, executive assistants, and other members of the office of the CEO.

5Metrics overseer

They are responsible for keeping track of the changing metrics of the company, analyzing these metrics, and making data-based decisions based on these metrics.

In addition, they become the connecting bridge between the customer and employee feedback and the CEO.

They also keep a pulse on the existing company culture, areas that need improvement, and how other companies are doing great on the culture front.  

They do research, data analysis, make data-driven actionable recommendations, and document key outputs.

6Meeting organizer and planner

They do weekly calendar audits sync the works on the basis of your priority.

They are also in charge of organizing company events, and special meetings on your behalf.

COS will also attend meetings and calls on behalf of you when your schedule is too packed.

COS organizes and schedules quarterly, monthly, and weekly meetings and follow-ups for the CEO and coordinates their agendas.

7CEO’s advisor

With a comprehensive 360-degree view of your business across teams and departments, a COS gives you a different perspective while taking major decisions to help you put two and two together. 

They will guide you to foresight the long-term impacts of your decisions and initiatives.  

COS will also note down important points from your meetings and advice you on actions to be taken.

Click here to read more about Spoken and Unspoken Responsibilities in Chief of Staff Role in 2022

Is it time to hire one in your organization?

chief of staff for CEO

“Having a chief of staff has been critical to my success as a leader.” 

Aimée Eubanks Davis, the CEO of Braven:

Here’s a checklist before you hire a chief of staff-

  • 24 hours a day doesn’t feel enough

You are showing clear signs of burn-out. You are exhausted with the overwhelming amount of work you are supposed to finish as a CEO. You are frequently missing deadlines.

You feel tired all day long and you just want someone to take the reins for you.

  • You are finding it difficult to prioritize

There is a lot on your plate and prioritizing one over another is getting difficult.

You need someone to share the workload with. So that you can focus on the most important things for the growth of the company.

  • Your performance is not up to the mark anymore

You are dissatisfied with how you are spending your time. Your teams’ performance is not top-notch even after hiring top talents. There are positions vacant for a few months, disagreements are a constant occurrence in your organization

  • You are lacking systems

You don’t have proper structure processes to streamline your operations. As your team is getting bigger, the existing systems and structure are not enough to manage them anymore.

  • You are scaling

You have many new ideas to work on. You are a company that’s scaling quickly, you are likely to feel the need to upscale your strategies, operating styles, board meetings, hiring process, and other aspects of your organization.

If you have ticked yes in one or more than one of these boxes, it’s the right time for you to hire a Chief of staff.

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Whom should I hire as my Chief of Staff?

Identify the skills you want in your chief of staff depending on the needs of your organization.

Looks for the following traits to hire the best-suited person as the COS-

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Strategic Skills
  • Experience in data analysis
  • Loyal and Ethical
  • Decision maker

Bonus Tip: Whether you hire internally or externally, make sure the person you choose fits well with you personally.

Click here to read about 16 Important Chief of Staff Interview Questions

How will I be able to make the most out of this new partnership with the COS?

Definition of the chief of staff

Start with over-communication. Shape a relationship of trust to keep both the parties aligned and accountable.

Since COS will also work as your information bearer at times, decide on your medium of communication beforehand. You can then discuss major updates, upcoming projects, progress so far through the mail. And hop on a 1 on 1 call to discuss hurdles that need to be dealt with immediately.

You can also assign a “focus area” for the Chief of staff. For example, In Zappos, the COS takes care of the company culture and community along with other basic responsibilities. And At Rolls Royce, COS communicates with the board members and shareholders on the behalf of the CEO.

Click here to read about how to power up your first 90 days as Chief of Staff


Now that you have a clear idea about what is a chief of staff, their responsibilities, and their role in an organization’s success. 

It’s time for you to take a step forward and decide whether hiring a chief of staff will be the right move for your organization or not. 

Hope you got a clear picture of What is a chief of staff and when do you need one. You can read more blogs about the chief of staff here.

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