This post is co-authored by Madeleine Niebauer of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service.
A detailed, accurate position description is critical for any position. For the chief of staff role, this is especially true given how different the role can vary from organization to organization. It can also be challenging to capture because some portion of your role because it is typically reacting to the day-to-day needs of your leader and can’t always be identified in advance.
While it can be challenging to write, having a detailed position description for your role is important. Oftentimes, if you are the first to assume a Chief of Staff position within your organization, you may be tasked with writing it yourself. Your position description captures your role’s various functions and provides these details in writing to you, your leader, and the broader organization for better alignment. Here are some tips on drafting an effective chief of staff position description based on our experience doing so.
Steps to write the position description
- Write a position summary, including the key functions of the position
- Outline the role’s duties and responsibilities
- Detail your qualifications
- Review the position description with your leader and team
Craft the position summary
We include a position summary with every description, which defines the key mission of the chief of staff role and gives an overview of its functions and the benefits it will provide to the leader, office of the leader, and the entire organization. We usually also include who s/he will work most closely with (e.g., the Board of Directors, leadership team, executive assistant, etc.).
In developing the key functions for your role, consider the various functions and those that make most sense in your context. For example, are you the operator (creating structure and process for a visionary leader) and advisor (providing strategic thought partnership) or are more of the integrator (acting as glue, creating cohesion and alignment) and implementer (getting stuff done, driving priorities and/or special projects on behalf of the leader)? You often have aspects of ALL in your position, but focus the summary on where you will likely spend the majority of your time.
Specify your responsibilities
From the archetypes identified, outline the key duties, tasks, and responsibilities for the role. Be specific with what you know, leaving room for what you don’t. Many of your duties should be outlined, but approximately 10-20% of the role may be left undefined until you assume the position. These responsibilities are likely derived from your conversations with the leader and others within the organization.
Below are some sample items that might be included in a CoS role description:
- Help leader identify priorities, strategically align his/her time with those, and revisit them regularly to assess progress
- Act as a key thought partner, brainstorming & identifying solutions to challenges
- Manage a variety of long-term, cross-organizational projects (include specific examples)
- Plan leadership team retreats, developing objectives and agenda, coordinating with executive assistant on logistics
- Oversee meeting preparation and planning for Board of Directors; support CEO in managing interactions with board chair and committee leaders
- Provide communications support: drafting emails, reports, memos, presentations, internal and external communications, and/or social media posts
Note that these examples specify the kind of work the chief of staff will do, rather than simply using a vague statement like, “Oversees communications.”
Stipulate the qualifications
Though the use of your position description is not to actively begin a search, it is important to still note the key qualifications for the role for the next Chief of Staff. Your qualifications and skills should match those required for the position. This is also a helpful exercise to take inventory of your skills and abilities, and where you may need additional training or coaching.
There are particular skills we’ve identified that many chiefs of staff possess; however, other qualifications will be dependent on the duties of your specific position. For example, if you will be tasked with providing more structure, process, and administration to the office of the leader for improved efficiency and operations, you will need process and systems thinking.
Here are some qualifications we often look for in a chief of staff:
- Jack-of-all-trades, with experience in wide-ranging or cross-functional areas, and an eagerness to learn new skills
- Strategic thinker, data-driven and analytical in approach to solving problems
- Strong written and verbal communication; listens well and can easily learn to communicate in someone else’s “written voice”
- Excels at building relationships and networks; influences others to achieve outcomes
- Systems and process-thinker; loves creating order out of chaos
- Comfortable behind the stage, supporting the person in the spotlight; thrives on helping others be their best selves and anticipating their needs before they are spoken
- Deeply loyal and a steel-trap with confidential information
Review with your leader & team
Your leader should be involved in drafting the position description from the start – outlining the mission of the role and the overview of its functions. S/he should also try to be very specific in its known duties and responsibilities. The HR team may help round out the rest of your position description, but the leader should do a final approval. This way you ensure alignment from the start.
Though the chief of staff role can be hard to fully capture and define, a thorough and detailed position description can help ensure you, your leader, and your team are all on the same page regarding expectations for the role. With a strong position description in hand, you are able to begin your new position on the right foot!
Catherine Berardi is the Founder & CEO of Prime Chief of Staff, which provides high-performing Chiefs of Staff to high-performing companies. They work with fast-growing startups to established corporations across industries to identify, onboard, develop, and coach exceptional talent for this critical role.
Madeleine Niebauer is the Founder & CEO of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service, which offers part-time and interim chief of staff support to start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes.