What Is a Chief Operating Officer?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Definition

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. The COO typically has overall supervisory responsibility for all of the entity's operations.

A day in the life of a chief operating officer (COO): Providing leadership, management, and vision to help grow the company, execute strategies developed by the top management team, complement a CEO's experience or management style, promote someone they don't want to lose
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The Balance / Jo Zixuan Zhou

How Does A Chief Operating Officer Work?

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.

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.

Example of a COO

Some of the most well-known chief operating officers include Tim Cook, who served as Apple's COO before stepping into the CEO role in 2011, and Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Meta.

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's 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. They also typically earn compensation that isn't tracked by annual wage data, including stock options and access to company-owned amenities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks COO data as part of the "top executives" category:

  • Median Annual Wage: $179,520
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $208,000
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $43,260

Note

There were roughly 292,500 chief executives (including CEOs, COOs, and CFOs) working in the U.S. in 2020.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a chief operating officer position also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

  • Financial Managers: $131,710
  • Sales Managers: $127,490
  • Administrative Services Managers: $113,030

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.

Note

COOs often work 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 soft skills such as leadership, decision-making, and communication. Here are some of the most important qualities:

  • 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 a 6% decline in chief executive jobs between 2020 and 2030. This includes COO, CFO, and CEO positions. This negative job outlook doesn't reflect the situation for top executives more generally. Top executive jobs are expected to grow about 8% in the same time, putting the career category on par with the broader job market.

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

Top executives often work more than 40, including weekends and evenings. As with other details of the job, this will vary depending on the needs of the company.

How To Become a Chief Operating Officer

Here are a few steps to consider if you'd like to become a COO.

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, Monster, and Glassdoor for available positions. You may have better prospects by gaining COO experience at smaller companies before applying to larger, more established organizations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does COO stand for?

"COO" stands for "chief operating officer." This person is the chief executive in charge of a business's day-to-day operations.

Who reports to the COO?

Nearly everyone within an organization will report to the COO, although they may not do so directly. The COO has wide-ranging responsibilities, and they oversee every area of the company aside from other chief executives, the board of directors, and the owners.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Maryland. "The Role and Responsibilities of the Chief Operating Officer."

  2. Apple. "Tim Cook: Chief Executive Officer."

  3. Facebook. "Sheryl Sandberg."

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives: What Top Executives Do."

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives: Pay."

  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives: Job Outlook."

  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Managers."

  8. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Sales Managers."

  9. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "11-3012 Administrative Services Managers."

  10. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives: How To Become a Top Executive."

  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives: Work Environment."

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