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Chief of Staff Career Guide

What is a chief of staff?

A chief of staff serves as a critical bridge between an organization’s leadership and its operations. Typically positioned alongside a CEO, President, or other executive, the role aims to enhance the effectiveness of the leader and the company as a whole. Unlike a traditional secretary or executive assistant, they often assume a broader scope of responsibility, strategizing and coordinating actions across various departments.

This role is designed to free up the executive’s time from day-to-day management so that they can focus on long-term vision and decision-making. By streamlining communications, improving operational efficiencies, and assisting in high-level decision-making, they help to optimize organizational effectiveness.

Duties and responsibilities

A chief of staff takes on many responsibilities both strategically and tactically. On the strategic end, they often craft the organizational goals and may even participate in board meetings. They advise the executive on various issues, including policy, staffing, and operations. On the tactical end, they may handle internal communications, coordinate projects across departments, and even stand in for the executive in meetings or discussions.

One of their key responsibilities is prioritizing the many issues and tasks that compete for the executive’s attention, ensuring that the leader focuses on the most critical aspects of the business. This role differs from a general manager or operations director, as it is more directly tied to the leader’s agenda and often involves more sensitive or high-level tasks.

Work environment

The work environment for a chief of staff is usually an office setting, often within close physical proximity to the executive they are serving. The nature of the job demands a high level of discretion, trust, and confidentiality. As the role involves interacting with various departments and possibly external stakeholders, they must be highly adaptable and adept at dealing with diverse personalities and situations.

Because of the broad scope of their responsibilities, they often work cross-functionally, liaising between the executive and other key personnel in the organization. This may require them to be skilled not only in management but also relevant to their industry, be it technology, healthcare, finance, or any other industry.

Typical work hours

Work hours for a chief of staff can be long and often extend beyond the typical 9-to-5 workday. Given that they are closely aligned with an executive who may also have irregular hours, these individuals might need to be available for urgent matters outside regular working times.

The role often comes with a high level of responsibility, which can lead to extended hours during critical project timelines or important organizational changes. However, the exact hours can vary significantly depending on the organization’s size, sector, and specific demands. The nature of the job requires a considerable time commitment, but some flexibility may be allowed.

How to become a chief of staff

Becoming a chief of staff requires a specific set of skills, education, and experience. This section outlines the likely steps to achieve this high-level executive position.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

Achieving a bachelor’s degree is the first essential step. While a specific major isn’t necessary, degrees in business, political science, public administration, or a related field can provide a solid foundation. The focus should be developing strong leadership, analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills.

Step 2: Acquire professional experience

The role requires a broad range of skills, so many get their start in entry-level positions, steadily working their way up through various roles within the organization. This experience period is important for building a network of connections, enhancing communication skills, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of business operations.

Step 3: Earn a master’s degree (optional)

Acquiring a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or a related field can significantly enhance your credentials. This degree can provide strategic business and leadership skills, which are crucial for this position. Not all organizations require it for the role, but it can give you an edge over other candidates.

Step 4: Gain leadership experience

Aspiring candidates need to occupy oversight positions before becoming chief of staff. This can mean running a major project, supervising a team, or overseeing a department. These opportunities allow candidates to practice decision-making and managerial skills and understand the dynamics of influencing organizational strategy and policies.

Step 5: Keep updating skills and knowledge

It’s important to remain current with market trends, changes in the industry, and advancements in technology or management strategies. Continuous learning can occur through professional development courses, conferences, seminars, or reading industry publications. This step will keep you competitive and ready for the role.

Step 6: Apply for the position

Once you’ve gained sufficient experience, sharpened your leadership skills, and updated your knowledge, the final step is to seek opportunities for a chief of staff position. Deliver a strong resume highlighting your leadership experiences, problem-solving skills, and ability to manage projects or policies. Prepare thoroughly for interviews, emphasizing your ability to manage and support an executive team.

How much do chiefs of staff make?

A chief of staff’s compensation can be influenced by location, company size, industry, and experience. Generally, jobs in metropolitan areas tend to command higher salaries due to the higher living costs associated with such regions. Compensation in bigger companies tends to be higher due to the complexity of tasks and responsibilities associated with managing larger teams.

The type of industry in which the company operates also plays an important role, with certain sectors, such as technology and finance, typically offering higher salaries. Aside from these, experience and level of education often matter, with individuals who possess profound industry knowledge and education often earning more.

  • Securities and Other Financial Activities – $181,960
  • Computer Systems Design – $180,800
  • Software Publishers – $179,580
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $178,590
  • Scientific Research and Developmental Service – $177,550

Highest paying states

  • New York – $220,380
  • Virginia – $199,810
  • Nevada – $198,980
  • Connecticut – $196,200
  • California – $194,300

Browse chief of staff salary data by market

Types of chiefs of staff

In this career guide section, we’ll explore the types and specializations within the chief of staff profession. Their role can vary greatly depending on the organization’s size, industry, and specific needs.

Corporate chief of staff

A corporate chief of staff operates within a business setting, usually reporting directly to the CEO or another top executive. They play a crucial role in strategic planning, coordinating different departments, and ensuring smooth communication across the organization. They often act as an extension of the CEO, making sure that their directives are implemented correctly and efficiently.

Governmental chief of staff

These professionals typically work for elected officials, such as a mayor, governor, or senator. They manage the office staff, help develop and implement policy initiatives, and represent the official in various capacities. Their responsibilities often involve navigating the complexities of government structures and political landscapes.

Nonprofit chief of staff

These chiefs operate in the nonprofit sector, assisting the executive director or CEO in managing the organization. They often help with strategic planning, staff coordination, fundraising efforts, and community outreach. Their role is pivotal in aligning the organization’s operations with its mission and goals.

Educational chief of staff

Working in an educational institution and reporting to a superintendent, principal, or university president, they facilitate communication between various departments, help implement policies, and assist in strategic planning to enhance educational outcomes.

Military chief of staff

In a military context, the chief of staff serves as a senior officer who supports the commanding officer in managing the staff, executing orders, and planning operations. They play a critical role in facilitating communication and coordination among military units and divisions.

Startup chief of staff

These professionals wear multiple hats, providing support to the CEO in a variety of areas, such as strategic planning, business development, HR, and operations. Given startups’ fast-paced and often unpredictable nature, they need to be adaptable and ready to tackle a wide range of tasks.

Top skills for chiefs of staff

Success as a chief of staff demands a unique combination of skills – from being an exceptional communicator and having a good sense of project management to possessing a comprehensive understanding of business operations.

Exceptional communication

As an intermediary between the CEO and other staff, these professionals have to communicate clearly and succinctly. They need to articulate the CEO’s directives appropriately and provide clear interpretations. In addition, they are responsible for facilitating a two-way communication process, ensuring that the concerns and feedback from the staff are passed on to the executive team.

Versatile project management skills

In a role where priorities change swiftly, possessing proficient project management skills is necessary. Being organized, setting realistic deadlines, and ensuring adherence to these timelines are some attributes that can enhance effectiveness .

Robust business acumen

Mastering the art of thinking ahead is essential for influencing strategic decisions. Chiefs of staff must have a comprehensive understanding of the business, grasp the nuances of its market, and foresee potential opportunities and threats. This awareness helps them guide the organization’s strategy in a productive direction.

Discretion and confidentiality

As confidantes of CEOs, professionals in this role must show exemplary discretion and confidentiality. Given their access to sensitive information about the organization, they must handle this responsibly, maintaining privacy and confidentiality.

Influential leadership capabilities

Leadership is not just about managing people, it’s about influencing people. As the right-hand of the CEO, the chief leads teams, drives key initiatives, and steers critical projects to successfully achieve strategic objectives. Their ability to motivate and engage the team directly impacts the organization’s success.

Chief of staff career path

One career path often pursued by those who have served as a chief of staff is chief operating officer (COO). The comprehensive understanding of operations acquired allows for a smooth transition into a COO role. The COO ensures the company’s operational efficiency, making those with experience well-prepared for this advancement.

Others will gravitate toward becoming a chief executive officer (CEO). Those possessing the leadership skills, management experience, and exhaustive understanding of a company’s operations required of a CEO are often individuals who have previously served as a chief of staff. Proximity to the top executive introduces them to decision-making at the highest level.

Besides transitioning into C-suite roles, some choose to specialize in a specific business area, such as finance, human resources or marketing. For instance, if they gained significant exposure to finance-related activities during their time as chief of staff, they might decide to progress toward becoming a chief financial officer (CFO). Similarly, with extensive involvement in marketing strategies and campaigns, the role of chief marketing officer (CMO) could be an appealing and suitable progression.

One noteworthy trend is the growing importance of the role in tech and startup companies. In these fast-paced environments, the need for a versatile professional who can switch seamlessly between roles as strategic advisor, project manager, and internal consultant is vital. The rise of remote work has further intensified the demand for effective coordination and seamless communication, escalating the relevance of the chief of staff position.

A chief of staff frequently operates as an organization’s operational glue, keeping all parts of the business working harmoniously toward common objectives. However, this has seen a shift toward acting as a strategic partner to the CEO, helping shape the company from a high-level perspective. The trend toward further digital transformation in the business sphere also anticipates a more tech-savvy chief capable of driving digital strategies and innovation in today’s digital reality.

Employment projections for chiefs of staff

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growing demand for high-level management occupations, including the chief of staff role. Employment in these managerial categories is projected to grow 6% annually through 2031, about as fast the average for all occupations.

Chief of staff career tips

Understand your purpose

This role requires a deep comprehension of the company’s operations, missions, and values. To widen your perspective, routinely engage with different department heads, participate in major decision-making meetings, and work closely with the executive team.

Act as a strategic advisor

Your role extends beyond management and administrative duties to implementing strategic priorities. Engage in strategic planning with the CEO and other executives, offer insights on organizational efficiency, and help develop new strategies to drive company growth. Your ability to offer a fresh perspective can help shape the organization’s future.

Build a solid professional network

Build and maintain strong relationships with internal teams, stakeholders, and external partners. Investing time and effort in your professional network can open up opportunities for personal growth and can also benefit the organization greatly.

  • Chief of Staff Network
  • Chief of Staff Association (COSA)
  • Association of Chiefs of Staff in Education (ACSE)

Engage in continuous learning

Staying updated with the latest industry trends, leadership strategies and management frameworks is essential. With continuous learning, you sharpen your skills and increase your value to your organization. This can be achieved through a variety of methods:

  • Attending relevant webinars and seminars
  • Enrolling in executive level courses focused on leadership, strategy, and management
  • Reading up-to-date publications pertaining to your industry
  • Seeking mentorship from experienced executives

Pursue relevant certifications

Certifications can validate your knowledge, skills and experience, and help you gain credibility in your job. While not mandatory, they can provide a competitive edge when it comes to promotions or other career advancement opportunities. Certifications such as Certified Manager (CM), Project Management Professional (PMP), or Executive Leadership Development programs are worth considering.

Practice strong diplomacy

Professionals in this role are often privy to sensitive information and complex situations. Navigating these intricacies requires diplomacy. Strive to be fair, transparent, empathetic, and tactful when dealing with sensitive matters. Your ability to balance varying interests, alleviate tensions, and foster harmony in the workplace can significantly affect your success in this role.

Where the chief of staff jobs are

Top employers

  • Amazon
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Facebook
  • Netflix

Top states

  • California
  • Washington
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Massachusetts

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • SimplyHired


What are the key duties of a chief of staff?

The chief of staff serves as the right hand to the CEO or executive team, coordinating and overseeing a company’s operational projects. They ensure alignment between various departments, lead strategic initiatives, and sometimes supervise other staff members. This role often includes managing communications and decision processes.

What skills are most beneficial for a chief of staff?

Exceptional organizational skills are vital, as the chief of staff coordinates multiple projects at once. They need strong leadership and team-building abilities to lead teams and initiatives effectively. Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal, are crucial for presenting ideas and updates to teams and stakeholders. Strategic thinking and problem-solving capabilities are also paramount in this role.

What qualifications do chiefs of staff need?

Most chiefs of staff have a bachelor’s degree, often in business administration or a related field. Many have also earned an MBA or other advanced degree. Prior management or operational experience, typically of 5-10 years, is generally expected. Knowledge of the specific industry and company can be advantageous as well.

How much demand is there for chiefs of staff?

The demand varies by industry, company size, and market. The role is becoming more popular, particularly in tech and startups, thanks to its broad utility and potential to enhance a CEO’s effectiveness. However, it remains less commonly seen than other executive roles.

What steps can one take to build a career as a chief of staff?

Starting in a related position, such as project management or operations, can provide the necessary experience and exposure. Earning an advanced degree in business administration or a related field strengthens one’s knowledge and credibility. Developing leadership and teamwork skills through practical experience is also key.

What personality traits make someone successful in the chief of staff role?

Those who succeed are highly organized individuals with intense attention to detail. They are strategic thinkers, capable of seeing the big picture and anticipating future needs or obstacles. They must be diplomatic, approachable, and adept at building relationships. Above all, they are flexible, adaptable, and capable of juggling multiple tasks simultaneously.

Will I need to travel frequently as a chief of staff?

The amount of travel required largely depends on the specific company and industry. In organizations with offices or clients spread across different locations, some travel may be necessary. However, in many cases, this is primarily an office-based position.

What is the work-life balance for a chief of staff?

As with many senior roles, they often work long hours and are expected to be available for emergencies or critical situations. The role can be highly demanding, with a need to manage and oversee multiple projects and tasks at the same time. As such, maintaining work-life balance can be challenging and may require careful planning and prioritization.

What are some challenges that a chief of staff may face?

A significant challenge for many is ensuring smooth communication and alignment across different departments and stakeholders. The role may entail managing complex projects with competing interests and timelines. Another potential challenge is the array of tasks and responsibilities that can lead to work overload. Finally, the role is inherently tied to the performance of the entire team, meaning outcomes outside the chief of staff’s direct control can impact their success.

Is the chief of staff role a stepping stone to other executive positions?

Yes, many see the chief of staff position as a stepping stone to other executive roles, such as CEO or COO. The vast exposure to different aspects of a business and the strategic decision-making experience can be invaluable for those aiming for a higher executive role.