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What is the difference between Chief Operating Officer, Chief Of Staff and Executive Assistant?

What is the difference between a Chief Operating Officer, Chief Of Staff, & Executive Assistant?
Great question – LOTS of employers are looking for these roles specifically – oftentimes fractional, others full-time but remote. Here’s SUPER high-level/generalized distinction.
  • Chief Operating Officer – Your role is to support the organization (think inner=workings of the entire business). Especially in smaller businesses, COOs run the business and are an inner-facing when the CEO (their parter in crime) is external facing – marketing, PR, thought leadership. A COO is responsible for systems, processes, execution & much more. COO reports to the CEO and a COO can have her own team.
  • Chief of Staff – Your role is to support the CEO. Instead of supporting the entire company, you are supporting the CEO’s vision.  How do you make that vision come true for the CEO? You are strategizing for the future team, you are putting into place stepping stones for the CEO to get visibility, you are meeting with potential business partners. You report to the CEO and do not have direct reports.
  • Executive Assistant – Your role is also to support the CEO, but more in the “here and now” vs a COS who is thinking months/years in the future. Quick rule of thumb, COS thinks 3 quarters (or more) out, an executive assistant is working a month out. Your job is to coordinate, problem-solve, task-manage what is happening that DAY to support leadership. Personally, I believe that the EA is THE most influential role in the entire business, as the gatekeeper to the leaders, you manage what gets done/seen and what doesn’t.
Ok, got it, but what about an Online Business Manager? 

As an Online Business Manager, you are a cross between the COO and a Virtual Assistant (VA, the client is the business vs. an EA where it’s the CEO).  You must be able to shift from strategy to tactical QUICKLY. Typically, you work for smaller businesses than a COO would.  Lastly, you have to LOVE technology to be an OBM.  You will be thinking about how the business can scale and be more efficient with the use of technology tools (especially AI) – then implement it.  If you are a utility player, if you like change in your role, if you like building strategy and being the one to see it to fruition. An OBM is for you! 

Of course, these roles (especially COS & EA) are very interchangeable at many organizations. Whether you are a hiring manager or a jobseeker, it’s very important to get clear on what you NEED/WANT from the role and what is going to set yourself/the other party up for success. 

Anything I’m missing here? Would love to hear from you. 

Until next time!

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