Can One Person Be Both an Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff?

The conversation around the roles of Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff continues! There are so many nuances, iterations, and evolutions of both of these positions that, for me, the conversation never gets old. I’m here for it!

My current situation has got me thinking a lot recently about whether or not one person can fulfill the role of both Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff. Listen, I’ve done it, so I know it’s not impossible. Sometimes I’ve served in both roles effectively—and lately, I’ve served both very poorly. The lesson here? Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.

Why am I acting as both the Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff, you ask?

For the past month or so, we’ve been without an Executive Assistant at our company. This means those responsibilities have fallen to me until we’re able to make a new hire for that role (thankfully our new EA starts on Monday!). I’ll be honest here, sometimes I’ve cursed this position I’ve been put in, but mostly I’ve been really grateful for this experience because it has reminded me just how important the role of an Executive Assistant is at an organization of our size and scope. It has also made it abundantly clear to me that a Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant should not be the same person—with some caveats, of course.

Five or six years ago when we had half the number of employees and half the number of organizations, I may have answered that question differently. I do think, depending on the size and complexity of the organization, one person could handle the responsibilities of both an EA and Chief of Staff. I did it for a couple of years and, while some weeks were more challenging than others, I could handle it… Until I couldn’t. I probably filled both roles for about a year longer than I should have and the opportunity cost was real. I can feel that opportunity cost now as well.

The Cost of Combining Roles

The projects I had been working on prior to taking back over as EA are still in motion, but now they’re in slow motion. I also know that there are things I’m missing simply because my focus and attention are elsewhere (i.e. on the day-to-day demands of managing a nuanced web of companies and a busy executive’s life).

This is most evident in what’s getting done and what isn’t. Because the responsibilities of an EA are often more time-sensitive, I have found myself handling those tasks and projects about 80% of the time. My responsibilities as Chief of Staff (growth of current projects, new business development, writing content, creating new streams of income, etc.) have largely taken a back seat.

And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with time spent on-task or my productivity level. Believe me, I asked myself that question too! I am being extremely purposeful with my time (and working more than usual, as needed). In truth, years ago I would have simply worked 80-100 hours to get it all done, but I have learned from my previous mistakes and opted not to do that this time around. Thankfully, I have a very understanding Founder and we are working through all of this together.

All of this is to say, if you are an Executive considering whether or not to combine the role of Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff, think carefully. The President of the United States has both an EA and a Chief of Staff and a myriad of other assistants and aides to help carry out his agenda. The EA handles the immediate needs and is an organizational ninja, while the Chief of Staff may be handling a particular initiative or gathering information in order for the President to make a decision. Both individuals serve very important, yet different functions in an organization.

When one person is expected to fulfill both roles, something will give—whether that is the day-to-day administration of the office, the growth or facilitation of a particular project, or the EA/COS’s health. (Again, keep in mind that the size and scope of the company do play a big part in this. Many Force Multipliers act as both EA and COS in the early days of an organization.)

When to Employ Both a Chief of Staff and an Executive Assistant

If you are already leading or working for a large or highly complex organization, take a look at your staff, your job description, and whether or not your agenda is being executed as effectively and efficiently as you would like. If your organization is scaling and your Force Multiplier is at capacity and projects seem to be taking longer to complete, it may be time to evaluate hiring either an EA or Chief of Staff to share the work and compliment your current Force Multiplier’s strengths, as well as your own.

Bottom line, while the Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff roles share many similarities (and are often staffed by the same person in the early days of a company), they are, in fact, two distinct and important positions. Can one person be both the Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff? Sure, but not if you want to effectively grow and scale your company, successfully serve your internal and external stakeholders, or gain the full leverage you expect from these Force Multiplier positions.

Do you disagree? Can an Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff position be staffed by the same person? Join the discussion in our free LinkedIn community!

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