Would You Make a Good White House Chief of Staff?

President Obama announced on Oct. 1 that the White House chief of staff position would be filled by Pete Rouse while he searches for a long-term replacement. But what exactly does the chief of staff do, and what makes a person good at this job?

As the highest-ranking member of the president's executive office, the White House chief of staff acts as a senior aide to the president, and may be his right-hand man. The chief of staff's duties vary, depending on how involved the current president wants the chief of staff to be.

However, the five traits below are always crucial for the White House chief of staff to posses:

Political judgment

A firm grasp of current political issues and policies is one of the most important traits that the White House chief of staff should possess, said Bruce Cain, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. Understanding the president's policies and stance on issues from health care reform to education is crucial. The chief of staff must be sure that he or she is always on the same page as the president, or else they risk misrepresenting the administration's agenda.

Confidence in the president

Support and belief in the president's agenda is key to being a successful chief of staff, as the position often calls for crusading to implement the president's causes and ideas, Cain said. If the chief of staff doesn't agree with the president's stance on issues, he or she may have a hard time advocating and promoting the president's ideals.


The White House chief of staff is often required to keep the president's schedule on track and manage the overwhelming flow of information that enters the oval office on a daily basis. From overlooking the hiring of White House staff to setting up meetings, the chief of staff must constantly stay on top of things, Cain said. This calls for solid organizational skills, and a knack for always being one step ahead.

People Skills

"Though not essential, people skills — interpersonal skills — are important for the chief of staff to possess," Cain said. "He deals with a lot of people, day in and day out, and he should be comfortable with doing that."

A chief of staff with poor people skills would probably not last long, he said. As an overseer of much of the White House staff, the position calls for communication, patience and knowing how to deal with and manage many people at once.


Working as the president's No. 1 helper requires being able to organize many activities and making sure that everything goes smoothly throughout the president's day.

"The chief of staff always has a lot of balls in the air, and has to juggle a lot of responsibilities," Cain told  Life's Little Mysteries.

If he were to drop one of those balls and forget to remind the president about an important appointment with another member of the executive branch, the minor slip-up could put a major dent in the political relationship, he said.

This article was provided by Life's Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.