The CEOs of many leading companies employ a ‘Strategic Assistant’ as a right-hand. They are the CEO’s eyes, ears and problem-solver across the business. They are often called ‘Chief of Staff’ or ‘Business / Commercial Assistant’.
This sounds like a fascinating role – but it’s difficult to picture exactly what it entails and therefore whether it might be a good option for you. Fear not – help is on hand! We’ve been busy interviewing successful young professionals who are currently in this job. We’ll publish a series of articles in which they will bring the role – good bits and bad bits – to life.
Our first interview, below, is with a former management consultant.
What does your role as Strategic Assistant to the CEO entail?
I work on multiple projects (either strategic long-term projects or else taking control of urgent issues that are troubling the Board), acting as a “gatekeeper” to the CEO, trying to resolve problems that don’t need a lot of his/her attention, and finally to ensure that various departments are working collaboratively by making connections that otherwise wouldn’t be made. This is my experience but the ‘Strategic Assistant’ role is very fluid, almost by definition, and will probably vary from company to company.
WHAT COMPETENCIES / STRENGTHS ARE MOST HELPFUL IN THE ROLE?
- An ability to manage multiple projects across disciplines is very important – it’s hard to plan your workload as new projects will crop up that demand your attention.
- Interpersonal and influencing skills are vital as you don’t have the “hard power” of the CEO, while you still need to keep people moving in the right direction.
- Problem-solving and active listening – many projects crop up where the manager responsible just needs someone to listen to the problem and help them to come up with a solution.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST / LEAST ABOUT THE ROLE?
I love the varied nature of the role, the insight that it gives you into running a business as the CEO, and that you get to build relationships across the organization.
Some of the downsides are that you don’t have your own P&L, nor a large team to manage, or any direct line of control and that you can be pulled from project to project.
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAS / WILL THE ROLE OPEN UP FOR YOU?
Since taking on the role, I have much more credibility as an “industry” person rather than a “consultant”. I also have an appreciation and some experience in just about every role in a company in my industry. With this experience behind me, it makes me feel quite comfortable taking on a senior management role.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING THE ROLE?
- The CEO is as important as the company – this is a very close relationship, as you will need to understand deeply how they work, and will hopefully learn a lot from them.
- This is a fluid role, so it helps to define some expectations of your contribution upfront.
- There can be a lot of analysis required to fulfil the role – if possible, request an analyst or a small team to support you, so you can focus on the big picture and on building relationships across the company.
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