Our independent school partners often ask us about the latest developments in higher education operations and management, as university trends often foreshadow how independent schools will evolve in the not-so-distant future. The most progressive independent schools frequently adapt ideas from higher ed, which is what we’re seeing with the rise in the number of chief of staff roles.
As independent schools’ operational complexity begins to mirror that of universities, a chief of staff can help heads move beyond daily tasks and effectively manage competing strategic priorities to focus on the work that only they can do to successfully lead their institutions into the future.
One of the key principles of EAB’s latest research “Applying Design Principles to Evolve the Independent School Leadership Model,” is that heads must recalibrate their workloads and delegate tasks that are no longer head-worthy to effectively lead schools in today’s market. Some heads are employing a chief of staff, rather than an executive assistant, to support this work. Here are two reasons why:
- New technologies mean that many heads no longer need executive assistants for daily tasks that can be automated; instead, a chief of staff helps with bigger duties like managing key schoolwide initiatives.
- A chief of staff also manages important relationships with the board and senior leaders, freeing up some time in the head’s busy schedule.
In our conversations with schools that employ chiefs of staff, heads describe the role as being more generalist than specialist: the chief of staff must possess excellent critical thinking and communication skills and be able to manage an array of key projects and stakeholder relationships across the school community. Due to the increased responsibilities of the role, a chief of staff typically requires more education and work experience, and higher pay, than an executive assistant.
What does a chief of staff do, and how is this role different than an executive assistant?
For schools that want to employ a chief of staff, the role typically replaces that of an executive assistant by automating office tasks where possible, unless budgeting allows for two distinct roles.
To outline the differences between an executive assistant and chief of staff, the table below provides a comparison of how much time each role may devote to different tasks.
|Executive Assistant||Chief of Staff|
|Manage day-to-day operations of head's office||Primary responsibility||Secondary responsibility|
|Coordinate calendar, travel, etc.||Primary responsibility||Secondary responsibility|
|Greet visitors and help them navigate the office||Primary responsibility||N/A|
|Manage projects for key schoolwide initiatives||N/A||Primary responsibility|
|Act as administrative liaison between leadership team, board, and head||N/A||Primary responsibility|
Think a chief of staff role may be helpful at your school? Consider the following:
Whether you are reorganizing your leadership team, rethinking the role of an executive assistant after a vacancy, or reexamining how best to prioritize your time, heads may want to consider the benefits a chief of staff could provide to their schools today or in the future.
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