What Does a Chief Operating Officer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Image by Jo Zixuan Zhou © The Balance 2019

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) is a member of an organization's executive team. They handle the day-to-day administration and operation of a business. With the proper training, experience, and skills, an individual can fill this role in a variety of organizations, such as a for-profit business, non-profit organization, government entity, or school. The COO typically has overall supervisory responsibility for all of the entity's operations.

A COO may alternatively be called Vice President of Operations. As second in command to the CEO, the COO position is tasked with providing leadership, management, and vision to ensure that the business has effective people, operational controls, and administrative and reporting procedures in place. The COO must help effectively grow the company and ensure its financial strength and operating efficiency.

Chief Operating Officer Duties & Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of the COO vary, depending not only on the organization for which they work but also on how that company defines the position. There isn't one agreed-upon list of what the job entails, and the role may also have different titles depending on the organization.

A COO may be hired to accomplish some or all of the following tasks or objectives:

  • Execute strategies developed by the top management team
  • Lead a specific strategic imperative
  • Show the ropes to an inexperienced CEO
  • Complement a CEO’s experience or management style
  • Provide a partner to a CEO who does not work well alone
  • Groom the organization’s next CEO or test the individual to make sure he or she is right for the job
  • Promote someone they don’t want to lose

Often, companies turn responsibility for all areas of business operations over to the COO, and this typically includes production, marketing and sales, and research and development. In some firms, the COO job is to be internally focused, while the CEO is externally focused. In other firms, the COO's mission is focused on a specific business need.

Chief Operating Officer Salary

A chief operating officer's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

In the United States, approximately 309,000 people work as chief executives, including COOS, CEOs, and CFOs. They earn a median annual salary of $183,270, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but individual earnings can vary greatly based on the size of the organization and the industry, as well as the individual’s responsibilities.

Education, Training & Certification

To be considered for a COO position, one needs a combination of education and significant experience.

  • Education: The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree in business or a related subject, but many organizations prefer to hire someone with an MBA.
  • Experience: A COO typically needs to have extensive experience within the industry or field in which the firm operates. The individual has often worked their way up through the company ranks for at least 15 years, with at least five of those years spent in a senior management role.

Chief Operating Officer Skills & Competencies

In addition to the educational and experience requirements, organizations look for COO candidates who also have the following soft skills:

  • Leadership: A COO must have excellent leadership skills, business acumen and ability to effectively manage, lead and supervise a multidisciplinary team
  • Strategy: They must excel at strategic thinking, be open to new perspectives and better ways to do things; and be creative, a visionary, and manage innovation well
  • Completion-oriented: A COO must be results-driven
  • Understands finance: The COO must have a track record of successful financial management
  • Decision-making skills: A successful COO must have superior decision-making skills
  • Delegation: Must have the ability to delegate effectively
  • Communication: The COO must possess executive-level communication and influencing skills with the ability to resolve issues, build consensus among groups of diverse internal/external stakeholders, and have proven skill in negotiating and mediating conflict

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts there will be about an 8% decline in executive jobs between 2016 and 2026. This includes COO, CFO, and CEO positions. This undesirable job outlook can be attributed to the fact that fewer new firms are expected to be created during this period and the improved office technology that makes it easier for CEOs to manage business operations without the need for as many executive positions. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.

Work Environment

COOs and other chief executives work in every type of business, from small to large, with few employees or thousands of employees. Their work often involves a high degree of stress because they bear the responsibility of making the business successful.

They risk losing their jobs in a poorly performing organization. Chief executives often travel to conferences, meetings, and different business units of their company. They also interact often with many other high-level executives.

Work Schedule

Chief executives often need to work many hours, which includes weekends and late weeknights. According to the BLS, in 2016 about half of chief executives spent more than 40 hours per week working.

How to Get the Job

GAIN EXPERIENCE

A chief operating officer job requires many years of experience in various facets of a company's operations. Look for jobs in companies that allow you to move around and gain experience in different departments, or companies that have a management-training track that helps you gain more exposure to all of the company's various operations.


FOCUS YOUR RESUME

If you believe you have the work experience and educational background for the position, read COO job descriptions and highlight relevant work experience that can qualify you. Gearing your resume in this way can also reveal other areas in which you may need to broaden your experience before applying for COO jobs.


APPLY

Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You may have better prospects by gaining COO experience at smaller companies before applying to larger, more established organizations.

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