Communicating Your Role as an Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff to Your Colleagues & Leadership Team

I’ve been working with Adam for about 10 years now and a couple of years ago the CFO for one of our companies said, “You realize no one has any idea what you do, right?”

I laughed. How could it be possible that someone in our organization didn’t understand everything I do day in and day out? I mean, I’m holding the world on my shoulders and no one cares! Cue tear emoji. My question back to our CFO was this, “What do you think I do?”

He basically said, “You take care of Adam’s schedule and do this and that and some other things,” as he waved his hands in the air.

“Oh, you mean magic?” Yes. Yes I do.

Okay, all humor aside, does anyone really know what you do at the office all day? If you’re an Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff chances are they have very little, if any, clue. And should we blame them? Not really. This is on us.

“What do you do here?” – Explaining Your Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff Role

It is not that our colleagues or leadership team don’t care what we do, it’s just that they have their own stuff to handle and concern themselves with. While we may know all the detailed responsibilities of our team members throughout the organization (it’s part of our job to know those things!), our job description isn’t necessarily at the top of their lists.

It would be easy to just shrug it off, keep our heads down and keep doing our thing. But it is vitally important that we communicate our role to our organization – especially those that we work the most closely with. Why–you might ask? Would they even understand or appreciate the nuances of our role? If communicated effectively and often, then the answer is yes. Here’s how.

Know Your Role In and Out

I don’t know about you, but my role has changed quite a bit in the ten years I’ve worked at our company. While in theory, I’ve been a Force Multiplier since day one, my title has changed three times and my day-to-day responsibilities have changed drastically between 2010 and today. You may be in a similar boat. More than anyone else, you need crystal clarity on your role. Here are a few tips to help get you ready to communicate your role to others.

1. Keep Your Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff Job Description Up to Date

As your organization has grown, maybe your responsibilities have too. Are you managing additional staff? Maybe a director left and you and two other team members have inherited some of their projects. Perhaps you are supporting two VPs instead of one Executive. Are you running a division? Job descriptions evolve as the needs of your Executive, the industry, and the organization change.

I recommend you start by updating your job description at least once a year. This is also a great time to review not only what you do each day, but what specific contributions you have made to the organization. What new ideas, cost savings plans, streamlined systems, or project implementation have you brought to the table? What impact did those have on the overall organization? Keep a running list. You never know when you will need it, for example, to explain your role to new business partners or when you are negotiating a raise or promotion.

Get access to our Personal Assistant, Chief of Staff, and Executive Assistant job descriptions.

2. Know Your Value and How You Benefit the Company and its Leadership

Now that you have an updated job description, take it a step further. Next to each task, project, or responsibility you have listed, outline how that specifically benefits your leadership team (or colleagues or board – whoever needs to understand your role). After all, most people don’t really want to hear about the minutia of your day, but they do want to know how you can benefit them and how your role helps them be more successful. For example, next to “manages the CEO’s calendar” I might add, “I manage the rhythm of the business through strategic calendar management and meeting planning. I ensure the CEO’s time is spent on the most important activities that will help the business grow while making sure you have time with the CEO as needed. In addition, I will help keep the channels of communication open when he is busy so that your projects continue to move forward and you have the information and answers you need in a timely manner. I also help plan, organize, and prep meetings with the CEO to make sure the right people are in the room at the right time ensuring decisions are made and we can continue to move forward quickly and effectively.”

Here’s another example: Next to “conducts meeting follow-up on behalf of the CEO”, I would add, “I track all relevant information, data, action items, decisions, and deadlines during meetings so you can stay present in the conversation. I will then help remind you of project deadlines as needed. In addition, if you need time with the CEO, another set of eyes on your pitch, or to brainstorm the best ways to communicate the vision via a new marketing campaign, then let’s set up a meeting to discuss. I’m here to help you stay on track and successfully complete your most important projects.”

You get the point. Next to each responsibility – get very clear on what you do, why you do it, and who it benefits. These points may be adjusted and tailored slightly to the audience that you are communicating to. The leadership team may get one explanation of your role, while external stakeholders get another. The key here is to be able to explain the value you bring and how what you do benefits them.

3. Create a Quick List of Tasks You Can Help the Leadership Team With

In addition to the job description, I would recommend creating a brief, one-sheet list that outlines the questions or tasks that the team can come to you for, the problems you can solve, and your general area of expertise. This may need to be tailored to each department or group of stakeholders, but the premise is the same. If the team is unclear of what they can ask you or what requests are acceptable to make of you, they may not come to you at all (or on the opposite end, grossly overstep). List whatever makes sense for your role.

My list includes:

  • Questions about recruiting and hiring talent
  • Reviewing new marketing campaigns
  • New business ideas that you want to discuss to determine their viability before scheduling a meeting with the CEO
  • Requesting the CEO present at a company retreat
  • Discussing your team’s hiring needs and resource allocation

This may seem a little redundant with the job description, but I still think our roles are largely misunderstood, or just not understood at all. It is up to us to provide that clarity. The more information we can equip our team with, the better. Not to mention, I think that this exercise alone shows just how much impact you bring to the company, and that’s before you even show them what you are capable of!

4. Set a Time to Communicate Your Role to Key Stakeholders

Now that you are armed with this enhanced job description and the one-sheet of how you can help, it’s time to take it to the team. It will likely be a team effort between you and your Executive to share what you do and the impact you have on your Executive, the leadership team, and the company. Explain to your Executive why you want to share your role more publicly and put yourself on the agenda for the next leadership team meeting. Bring your enhanced job description and your “how I can help” document (tailored to the specific group) to the meeting. Distribute the materials, briefly explain your role, ask if anyone has any questions, and then follow it up with an email so they can reference these documents wherever they are.

Now, this will not be a one-and-done type activity. After you provide that initial clarity, you may still need to reinforce and remind your team for a while. And with each new team member that you may be working closely with, you’ll want to have this same conversation and distribute the documents. I would also recommend reminding the team with a quick email every quarter, or at the very least, every six months. Your job description will likely evolve, and when it does, make sure that your documents are updated and that this information is communicated to the team.

5. BONUS – Create More Understanding for Your Team by Including a User’s Manual

Another approach would be to combine the job description and “how I can help” document with the User’s Manual exercise (get access to our user’s manual template). This is a great tool to use with new team members or simply if our Executive team hasn’t touched base on their communication preferences, expectations, or work styles in a while.  

The User’s Manual is a quick start guide for how others can best work with you. It is great if others know what you do and even how you can help them. It is equally important for those you work closely with to understand your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, how you approach problems, etc. The User’s Manual covers the following categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Quirks, Values, Expectations, and Processes. Download a copy of the User’s Manual worksheet here.

Complete this document and encourage your team members to do the same. Then sit down and discuss each person’s categories. It’s a great exercise to do individually as it gives you time to reflect and get clear on how you show up and what you expect from others. It is also great to hear these things about others. You may be holding on to a lot of assumptions about another team member and meanwhile, they have drastically different expectations than you do. Now you know! Or you may have the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses from one of the VPs. Now you know! No one is right or wrong. Starting with this common framework facilitates a necessary conversation about how you can all work better together and ultimately achieve more.

Value Yourself and Your Role as an Assistant or Chief of Staff

Whether you work for a two-person start-up or a multi-national conglomerate, as a Force Multiplier, it is your responsibility to explain your role to your leadership team and colleagues. In addition, you must share the value and impact you can have on their success and the success of the organization. And, of course, the more you can go above and beyond and make your Executive’s life easier and help support your leadership team to accomplish their goals – they will see just how valuable you are. I think that is what we’re after, after all.

Do we really care if the CFO can recite our job description? No. Do we want her to understand our ability to solve problems and how we contribute to the overall success of the company? That’s definitely a yes!

Need clarity on your role or looking to hire an Executive Assistant or Chief of Staff? Schedule a consultation call with me here.

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