What's the difference between Chief of Staff and Executive Assistants?

What’s the difference between Chief of Staff and Executive Assistants?

Executive Assistant, Chief of Staff

Growing pains come with fast growth of a company.

You may find that you can’t keep up with your inbox. You’re working long hours, and you might have nearly missed an important meeting or deadline. Administrative staff like a Chief of Staff and assistants can help you with that. However, many companies struggle to decide if they need one or the other (or both). It’s understandable: these two roles are similar but what’s the ultimate difference between Chief of Staff and Executive Assistants?

Keep reading to find out.

Chief of Staff and EAs Have Similarities

Both of these positions are there to ultimately improve an executive’s efficiency and organization. Think of Chief of Staff and assistants as extensions of the executive: if you have ever wished that you could clone yourself to get more work done or to focus on what you do best, then hiring one of two roles would be a solution.

Another thing CoS and EAs have in common is they can both handle some of your communications for you. And they are trained to match your communication style when replying to your emails and phone calls.

You can also rely on both roles to proactively discuss challenges you are facing and provide feedback when needed. You never know, listening to their perspectives might spark a new idea and unlock creative solutions to problems that you didn’t think of!

Because of the overlap between the roles, it’s sometimes hard to decide what role you need for your company. However, there are some key differences between an executive assistant and a Chief of Staff that you should be aware of before hiring.

Let’s dive into it.

What’s the Role of a Chief of Staff?

Long story short: a CoS focuses on managing projects and assisting you with all-things strategy. Their tasks include:

  • Strategizing with you and advising on important decisions about the business
  • Relationship building
  • Communicating to internal and external stakeholders on your behalf
  • Ensuring administrative, financial, and operational aspects are running smoothly

They usually have experience in consulting, operations, and/or finance, or as department manager or director. So you can rely on them to help you establish OKRs and break down ideas into actionable steps.

This means you shouldn’t expect them to take care of administrative tasks like managing your calendar and scheduling flights. Rather, a Chief of Staff manages projects for multiple teams and takes a broader, company-wide approach in serving.

Qualifications for this role include:
• High school diploma or equivalent
• Associate or bachelor’s degree in a relevant field
• Relevant certifications
• Past experience in administration or office management
• Emotional intelligence
• Information processing
• Performance management
• Staffing
• Consultation

Let’s now look at what EAs do.

What’s the Role of an EA?

Executive assistants mainly focus on handling administrative tasks. Their ultimate goal is keeping your day running smoothly and efficiently. Tasks you can delegate include:

  • Booking flights and travel accommodations
  • Gatekeeping
  • Checking, replying, filtering and organizing emails
  • Handling phone calls
  • Managing your calendar and booking flights and trips
  • Preparing materials, invoices, agendas, decks
  • Scheduling and rescheduling appointments
  • Reminding you of important events
  • Buying gifts on your behalf

They are the first point of contact for an executive, which allows you to focus on the more important stuff. An EA will handle the communications that don’t require your direct contact. They can also attend meetings with you to take notes and organize the information into actionable steps.

But it doesn’t end here! Expert assistants can add a lot of value to a fast growing startup: for example, Headroom EAs sometimes assist our customers with strategic projects through idea generation, problem solving and anticipating their needs before they arise. They have the skills and proactivity to create processes, improve organization and maximize your time and efforts.

Qualifications for an EA include:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Document and spreadsheet certifications
  • Other relevant certifications
  • Past experience in administration
  • Research skills
  • Organization & discretion
  • Networking skills

Executive assistants don’t need a college degree, but undergoing formal training or certifications can help them stand out in a highly competitive industry. At Headroom, we train our EA team regularly through our internal Academy and a team of EA Coaches. In this way, we make sure every assistant has the opportunity to grow in their role and keep supporting their executives the best way they can.

The Ultimate Difference Between Chief of Staff and EA

So, what’s the key difference between Chief of Staff and executive assistants? It’s the type of support that they specialize in: strategy vs admin.

However, don’t underestimate the skill it takes for someone to be an EA. They need to be able to quickly reorganize your calendar as meetings change, help optimize your day and accurately assess which emails are important to pass on to you. An EA must also adjust to their employer’s work style and personality. They need to keep up with the fast pace of an executive as well.

Both roles are different from an office manager. An office manager supports the company as a whole rather than focusing on serving one person. They handle business supportive tasks like onboarding, training, overseeing, coordinating with vendors, ensuring compliance and managing budgets.


How to Know When You Need a Chief of Staff or an EA?

Whether you need a Chief of Staff, an executive assistant or both depends on your company’s goals, size and needs. How to figure that out? The first step is to list what has been overwhelming you the most lately. That can already tell you a lot about the type of assistance you need.

Examples of what may be stressing you out are:

  • Not being able to keep up with emails
  • Receiving too many emails
  • Not enough time to spend with your family
  • Inefficient systems and procedures
  • Too many meetings
  • Spread too thin with too many projects to manage
  • Wasting time on small, scattered tasks
  • Difficulty with strategizing

Then, make a list of the tasks that you enjoy about your work and would like to dedicate your time to. This will make it clear where to focus your effort and what to delegate. We know, it can be tough to let go of some of the tasks out of fear that others won’t complete them up to your standards. But rest assured that a trained executive assistant or CoS can excel in their positions and save you a ton of time.

Chief of Staff VS EA: who to hire first?

Executive assistants are usually needed first because they free up your time to focus on expanding the company. Some companies may even add both roles simultaneously. Fast growth might call for both.

You might also choose to hire an executive assistant with the intent of them becoming a CoS over time. The reason behind this is to develop a deepened sense of trust with them before they take on a CoS role. They not only earn your trust but that of others within your organization. Additional advantages of this route are they would gain a thorough understanding of the company and nurture valuable relationships. This would help them be more effective once they step into the new role.

If the complexity of operations is growing within your company, you may want to bring on a Chief of Staff. This role was once typically only seen in the government, military and hospitals. But it’s now becoming more common in companies and other industries are beginning to see the value in onboarding a CoS.

You should now know what type of professional you need to regain a sense of control and structure. If you have decided that you need an assistant, why no trying a remote EA from Headroom? You can save time and money on the hiring process and simply sign up for one of our flexible monthly memberships.

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