In order to become a chief economist, an economist must develop his skills and reputation within the profession. This typically involves success in either academics or applied economics. Leadership and management skills must also be cultivated. Personal contacts and associations are also vitally important for anyone hoping to become a chief economist.
The position of chief economist is one of great responsibility. A business, association, or government agency typically has only one chief economist. He or she is responsible for formulating and articulating economic policy for the whole of the organization, and chief economist duties will usually also include managing a staff of supporting economists, researchers, and other subordinates.
An aspiring chief economist will typically begin his or her career with a formal education in business, economics, or both. Degrees from prestigious programs typically hold more value than those from less well-known institutions. Graduate work and publication in the field of economics are both helpful for a candidate hoping to become a chief economist one day.
Most candidates who go on to become a chief economist have a personal history of steadily-increasing responsibility. Such a career path might begin as a junior analyst at a financial firm, and then lead upward to a management position, before culminating in an appointment as a chief economist. Similar career paths are common in government agencies, think tanks, and universities.
Before being selected as a chief economist, a candidate will generally need to demonstrate leadership and management skills in addition to technical skill in the field of economics. These skills are normally developed at earlier points along an economist’s career path, rather than taught once a candidate has become a chief economist. Similarly, a chief economist needs to be able to shape and direct a coherent research agenda for an entire organization, as well as producing documents and opinions that shape policy-making and investment decisions.
Economics is an inherently political activity in the modern world. Organizations do not typically strictly limit which economists they hire based on the political views of those economists, but economists with certain sorts of academic and professional backgrounds fit more naturally into the administrative structures of organizations with congruent goals and purposes. A libertarian or conservative economist is most likely to become a chief economist at an organization that shares those philosophical viewpoints. Left-leaning organizations are apt to have a similar preference for economists with views that align naturally with a more liberal agenda. Likewise, apolitical organizations may have a preference for chief economists with largely non-partisan economic views.