Dear Ron, My boss has proposed adding some responsibilities to my existing job so that I'd become something like a chief of staff to him, supporting his initiatives across the company. I've seen people at my company make roles like this work for them, but my boss hasn't been able to define exactly what I'd be doing. I'm not sure I can decline his request, but the company's going through some major restructuring and I don't want to be left high and dry if this doesn't work out. What should I do?
First off, I'd say that you probably can't decline the request, given the still difficult job environment. So the question is, if your boss can't exactly define the job, how can you step into the vacuum and define it yourself? The risk if you don't is that the role degenerates into non-essential work that serves neither you nor him very well.
So my first piece of advice would be to thoroughly research the role. Look at the people who may have had this position before and focus on the most successful ones and how they utilized the role. If you're able to talk to them, you want to ask them the best things about the role and the worst, and how they handled it.
Then try to define the role in a way that would take into account your strengths and goals. Your asks should include access to key people and key meetings, as well as having a role in making important decisions. You also want to have ongoing engagement with your boss and higher level folks in your company. And you'd want access to important data and to be privy to the financial aspects of major decisions. Finally, you want to ensure that the role gives you access to a range of important players across your company. You want to be able to build relationships with people outside your function, and not be boxed in by your responsibilities.
Of course, when you make these requests, they have to be in context of what granting these privileges and responsibilities will do for your boss. That will be the incentive for him to support all the aspects of the role you're outlining and go to bat for you. So you need to approach your boss in a way that shows how defining the role in the way you've laid out will really help him achieve his goals. Once you've got this buy in, you should be in a good position to make this new role work well for you. Good luck.