It takes two! The Wonder Twin team of Executive Assistants and the Chief of Staff!

The Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna

Whether your reference is the popular hit song “It takes two” by Rob Base or even further back to remember the two featured in this picture. The Wonder Twins of the Justice League are the perfect parallel to explain the critical nature of the relationship between the Senior Executive assistant and the Chief of Staff (COS) to the CEO. Ultimately to fully support your CEO the camaraderie between the two managing these roles is important. Even more critical, as did the characters Zan and Jayna, the EA and the COS, has to know and understand their scope, what their “super powers” are and how they MUST be in agreement in order for the office of the CEO to function efficiently.

Spending over 10 years as an administrative professional, one thing I can say with all confidence is that a Chief of Staff is NOT a glorified executive assistant. It’s one of the biggest misnomers concerning this, so I thought it best to address it front and center. Nothing or no role can take the place of a good EA. One of the worst mistakes a leader can make when adding the position of Chief of Staff to its ranks is to try to combine the two roles. It’s a recipe for disaster. Been there, done that.

Typically, the EA is responsible for administrative duties such as scheduling, managing appointments, travel arrangements, expense reports, follow up phone calls, helping with logistics, polishing presentations, sending flowers and gifts, handling the mailing lists, updating contacts and assisting with major events. Usually the EA reports directly to the CEO. Because of their access and scope the EA and the Chief of Staff will work congruently but independently. The EA needs the COS to assist with understanding strategic corporate priorities and the COS needs the EA to assist them with understanding the demands on the CEO’s time and attention.

The compatibility of the two roles is crucial to the success of the Office of the CEO. If an EA understands to a degree that the Acme Company is a part of an overall strategy to develop the PR & Marketing department, when Acme calls for the CEO they will not simply “gatekeep” them away from the CEO but instead will punt the contact to the COS or Marketing team for follow up. A COS who knows that the CEO will be traveling most of June with his family and handling the wedding of his daughter will know to steer crucial meetings away from that time, yet be certain in their absence to schedule relevant one on one meetings to keep all parties accountable for action items due upon his/her return.

If these two roles are combined the only thing “pro” that I can truly give is that you have saved one salary out of your budget. However, the cons are blaring:

• The EA role is a full time job plus some. To try to add the duties of a COS (which we will review in depth in future articles) to that role will overwhelm even the most experienced professional.

• The COS will (and SHOULD) spend time out of the office and away from constant emails and phones. To try to function in this capacity as an EA will be detrimental to the running of the office as their accessibility will be hindered.

• Eventually the EA will find that they are not doing either role effectively and in frustration make the error in judgment that the corporation is not a good fit. You will most likely experience consistent turn over in this area losing both continuity and resources.

In order to effectively ensure that both roles succeed there must be clear delineation “lines in the sand” if you will, outlining the scope of both positions. If not, the organization will be hindered with dysfunctional gridlock at the C-suite level and the trickle-down effect could be disastrous.


Excerpt from an upcoming Book by Camille Jamerson The Navigators | How to capitalize on this underused position and multiply the effectiveness of the CEO’s office. *working title* All Rights Reserved 2016

Camille D. Jamerson is the CEO and Senior Principal Consultant for CDJ & Associates a boutique business management consulting firm specializing in communications strategy, content (writing and copy), crisis management and event management.

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