By Nick Hamilton
Governors’ offices across America vary greatly — sometimes reflecting external factors such as what authority has been assigned to them via constitutional or statutory law, sometimes based on custom and tradition within each specific region. However, it’s worth considering not only these differences when assessing a governor’s performance as an executive officer but also the personal style with which he or she chooses to govern.
Staff members are the backbone of any office. They help to get things done, provide support for the boss’s decisions, and act as a voice in meetings with other staff or legislators. But one position is arguably more important than all others: chief of staff. Chiefs oversee operations across departments and agencies; they manage crises large and small; they shepherd legislation through committee hearings into law – there simply isn’t anything that can happen without them knowing about it first. Most recently, an advertising campaign named “Tell Your Story” launched by The California Department of Public Health had to be approved through the Chief of Staff’s office.
One iconic chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, served in the office of Governor Schwarzenegger. She is an expert at connecting people with power across many sectors and organizations and has a long and illustrious career in the government. She also has an extensive background as a lawyer and environmental activist.
Ms. Kennedy has been involved in nearly every major project to protect the environment, including slowing global climate change from pollution caused by fossil fuels like coal or natural gas for energy production. The most notable example is what many consider to be the State’s most extensive efficiency program- called Renewables Portfolio Standard– explicitly designed to reduce carbon emissions.
Here are some critical roles of a chief of staff in the governor’s office:
1. Managing time
Time is a governor’s most precious resource. Many people compete for the governor’s time, including family members, friends of the administration, and constituency members needing help. Agency heads from various departments within government organizations, including party leaders and interest groups looking into how legislation gets passed through state law, may also need some time with the governor. There must be clarity around priorities to manage this responsibility – knowing when certain tasks should take precedence over others based on different criteria such as the level of importance vs. deadline date.
2. Managing policy agendas
The chief of staff must devote substantial attention to ensure the governor’s staffers and administration officials focus on priorities. The role of a Chief’s assistant is administrative and an important political position as they provide insight into how state employees can best advance their Governor’s vision through implementation.
The chief of staff’s role in this regard includes:
- Ensure the governor’s vision is understood and implemented
- Liaising between administration officials and state employees to make sure they understand their roles
3. Managing administration
In many states, the chief of staff runs daily operations with state agencies and makes timely decisions at appropriate levels. The governor’s primary responsibility may be to ensure that citizens are being served well by these departments without any difficulties or mistakes. This position can have a significant impact on how their constituents perceive them as leaders making good decisions for those they represent.
In many cases, if the Governor is not present, it will fall to the second-in-command, the chief of staff, to handle much of the day-to-day responsibilities ensuring all activities function correctly.
Chiefs of staff are responsible for ensuring that agencies and operations work effectively and efficiently. They also ensure decisions are being made at the appropriate level by making sure things get done on time. It’s an increasingly demanding job with ever-growing demands from constituents who need better services.
4. Managing the team in the governor’s office
The governor and chief of staff work together to build a team that can effectively tackle the state’s problems. The role of a chief is crucial, as they are responsible for building this strong group into one cohesive unit through motivational skills and constant communication with all members.
5. Managing the unexpected
The governor’s chief of staff is the coordinator during an emergency or disaster. They establish a clear understanding and communication for roles, responsibilities, expertise needed to handle any situation. When key cabinet officials are making up the state’s standard crisis team, they make sure these individuals have what it takes to respond, when necessary, with their expert knowledge and resources available at all times.
The chief is an indispensable part of the governor’s team because they share both successes and failures. This bond creates a relationship that links them together in ways not found between many superiors and subordinates.
Every governor has a chief of staff, but the job is much more than just being their boss’s right-hand man. The two share not only in leadership responsibilities and shouldering many of the same burdens, but they also have to be able to relate on an emotional level. This bond gives them both strength during difficult times. Although chiefs may not always make decisions independently from governors like most subordinates do with their superiors, sharing each other’s highs and lows creates bonds between these two people unlike any other found elsewhere in government positions. The power structures involved can never potentially leave one side feeling alienated by circumstances outside their control.