What Is a Vice President?

Definition & Examples of a Vice President

VP meeting with team

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A vice president (VP) is a senior-level executive in an organization who reports to the president or the CEO. They usually function as the second in command within the organization.

Learn more about a vice president's responsibilities within an organization.

What Is a Vice President?

The vice president usually serves as the second or third employee who is in charge of the overall business, organization, agency, institution, union, university, government, or branch of government.

In government, the vice president is usually second in command and has a responsibility to take over presidential duties on the event of the president's death, resignation, or incapacity.

In the U.S. government, the vice president resides over the Senate and takes over as president in the event that the president is unable to fulfill their duties.

In business, the duties of vice presidents vary with the organization. When an organization has a CEO and president, the VP is usually third in command. In other organizations, the same person may have the title CEO and president. In these instances, the VP is second in command.

Vice president is also a title used to designate the leader of portions of the organization or functions within organizations. These functional areas are often called departments or groups. For instance, someone can be the VP of human resources or VP of marketing, VP of finance, or VP of customer service.

In large organizations, vice presidents may also have ranking titles. The executive VP is usually the highest level, followed by senior vice president, vice president, assistant VP, and associate VP. All are management-level positions with responsibilities that vary from company to company.

Acronym: VP

The number of VPs and their job responsibilities vary considerably between organizations. A smaller organization may have fewer managers at the VP level but the managers may have extensive responsibilities and status. Larger organizations may have many layers of executive leadership at the VP level.

How a Vice President Works

In business, the VP of an organization is widely recognized as significant and important to an organization's functioning. They serve as a member of an organization's senior leadership team along with the CEO, the president, and other senior directors.

The responsibilities of a vice president can closely mirror those of a president or CEO, and they vary depending on the needs of the organization. In cases where the vice president serves as the second in command to the president with responsibilities over a total organization, the VP may lead particular goals or hold leadership roles within all of the strategic goals of the organization.

The VP may also make commitments and sign important documents, help form strategies, evaluate the work of other leaders, and evaluate the success of an organization.

The vice president would also normally fulfill the role of the backup decision-maker in a president or CEO's absence.

Vice President vs. Director

Vice President Director

Usually considered a senior-level executive

Usually considered at least a level below senior-level executives

Often reports to the president or CEO Often reports to the VP
Duties are more strategic Duties are more tactical
May manage a whole organization, several departments, or a specific department Manages one department or team

Vice presidents and directors can both be part of an organization's management team. While duties and hierarchy can vary among companies, directors are not considered part of the senior executive team, and they're usually at least one level below a VP. In addition, a director usually manages one department or team, while VP may manage a whole organization, several departments, or a specific department. So a VP may be a director's boss, but not vice versa.

In general, a VP's role is more strategic, while a director's role is more tactical. In other words, a VP will usually set goals and objectives, and a director will ensure the department is doing what it needs to meet them, including planning, directing and coordinating efforts.

Key Takeaways

  • A vice president is a senior-level executive in an organization and has significant responsibilities.
  • There may be only one or many VPs within an organization, depending on size and structure.
  • If the company has one VP, then they're usually second in command after the president or CEO and would take over the role in their absence.
  • A VP is usually a level above a director, and can be a director's manager.