What Does a Chief People Officer (CPO) Do?

Learn about the salary, required skills, and more

A chief people officer talks to company employees
•••


Cavan Images / Getty Images

At some organizations, the role of the human resources (HR) department goes far beyond handling compensation, benefits, and performance management. These companies see HR as a leader in organizational culture, diversity, inclusion, and growth.

The chief people officer (CPO) is the head of this more multifaceted HR department. Their job is to create the strategy and vision that help the company achieve long-term success. Reporting to the CEO, the CPO acts as the architect for the company’s talent strategy and corporate-culture initiatives.

Chief People Officer Duties and Responsibilities

A CPO is generally required to perform the following duties:

  • Think strategically about employee recruiting, hiring, and retention
  • Optimize the use of people analytics software to manage talent
  • Conduct executive coaching and leadership training
  • Lead benefits and retirement plan administration
  • Develop and implement compensation strategy and planning
  • Create and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion programs

Chief people officers typically have more high-level leadership functions than traditional heads of HR. Unlike a chief HR officer or HR manager role, CPO jobs have a strong focus on strategy and leadership.

CPOs function as advisors on HR issues for other C-level executives and drive the development of all programs related to “people” issues. In practice, this means they have a hand in everything from recruiting and retention to leadership coaching.

Chief People Officer Salary

A CPO’s salary varies based on location, experience, and industry, but most earn six figures as shown below: 

  • Median annual salary: $152,000
  • Top 10% annual salary: $232,000 or more
  • Bottom 10% annual salary: $84,000 or less

Education, Certification, and Experience

Chief people officers typically need extensive leadership experience in human resources, including roles such as HR director or vice president of human resources. Some employers will give preference to candidates with certain levels of education, certifications, and experience that are relevant to their industry.

  • Education with a focus on HR: Like most chief executives, CPOs generally have at least a bachelor’s degree in a discipline related to their role. Many have advanced degrees such as a master’s degree or an MBA, often with a focus on HR.
  • Certifications: Some employers will give preference to candidates with HR certifications such as SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) or SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). These certifications typically require a certain level of educational attainment or equivalent experience. For example, to take the SHRM-SCP exam, a student with an HR-related bachelor’s degree would need four years in an HR role, while a student with an HR-related graduate degree would need three years in a similar role.
  • Experience: All CPOs will have gained extensive experience in HR jobs of progressively increasing responsibility before joining the C-suite. Successful candidates can demonstrate that they can develop and direct strategic HR initiatives.

Chief People Officer Skills and Competencies

Chief people officers are more than just the heads of HR. They’re responsible for developing the strategic initiatives that support the company’s most important asset: its employees. CPOs must show they can hire, retain, and develop talent as well as stay on top of compliance issues and manage compensation and benefits. You can expect to see these skills and competencies in job listings:

  • Leadership experience: CPOs must be able to lead not only their department but also the organization’s culture and talent strategy.
  • Analytical ability: The keywords “people analytics” and “agile” will show up frequently in job descriptions and in cover letters, resumes, and job interviews. CPOs must have a mastery of the technical requirements of the role as well as the ability to change course when the data indicates it.
  • Emotional intelligence: A successful CPO must understand their own emotions and those of their teammates in order to develop a healthy company culture. High emotional intelligence will help you manage conflict, promote equity and inclusion, and develop talent.
  • Communication skills: CPOs must be able to communicate with the people they lead. Excellent verbal and written communication skills are vital for this role.
  • Commitment to diversity, inclusion, and justice: Diversity programs are more important to organizational success than ever before. The CPO is often the point person for these initiatives.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of top executives such as CPOs is expected to grow 4% between 2019 and 2029. This is about the average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Chief people officers typically work in office environments. Depending on their employer, they may be able to work from home part of the time, or they may be required to come into the office. Their jobs often require a great deal of sitting and typing on a computer.

Work Schedule

Top executives like CPOs often work long hours, including evenings and weekends. Their jobs are frequently stressful and they may be required to juggle a number of different responsibilities and priorities.

How To Get the Job

Recruiters and headhunters

While job search sites and social networks like Indeed and LinkedIn can help you find listings, you may find that these ads refer you to executive search firms or recruiters for the hiring process.

Interview questions

Be prepared to answer executive interview questions about your successes with previous HR initiatives as well as those about soft skills like emotional intelligence.

Resumes and cover letters

Match your qualifications to the job listing. Be sure to call out keywords from the job ad when you’re writing your resume and cover letter for each role.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Chief people officer isn’t the only high-level HR job. Here’s a list of similar jobs, along with the median annual salary:

  • Chief Human Resources Officer: $151,000
  •  Human Resources Director: $90,000
  • Vice President, Human Resources: $140,000