Chief Operating Officer (COO)

A corporate leader who is in charge of managing a company's business operations

Author: Manu Lakshmanan
Manu Lakshmanan
Manu Lakshmanan
Management Consulting | Strategy & Operations

Prior to accepting a position as the Director of Operations Strategy at DJO Global, Manu was a management consultant with McKinsey & Company in Houston. He served clients, including presenting directly to C-level executives, in digital, strategy, M&A, and operations projects.

Manu holds a PHD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University and a BA in Physics from Cornell University.

Reviewed By: Adin Lykken
Adin Lykken
Adin Lykken
Consulting | Private Equity

Currently, Adin is an associate at Berkshire Partners, an $16B middle-market private equity fund. Prior to joining Berkshire Partners, Adin worked for just over three years at The Boston Consulting Group as an associate and consultant and previously interned for the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Senate.

Adin graduated from Yale University, Magna Cum Claude, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics.

Last Updated:October 24, 2023

What Is A Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) is a corporate leader who is in charge of managing a company's business operations. The Chief Operating Officer is often considered to be the company's second-in-command and reports to the CEO.

Chief Operations Officer, Operations Director, and Director of Operations are additional titles for the Chief Operating Officer: 

  • The Chief Operating Officer provides leadership and management to help the company reach its goals. 

  • The COO is responsible for making sure that the company operates efficiently.

  • Generally, the COO handles the internal affairs of a company while a CEO functions as the face of the company and handles all the external affairs. 

An Operations Director's job is typically defined in relation to the specific CEO with whom they work, given the close working relationship between these two people. 

This is in contrast to other C-suite positions, which typically have their job definitions based on commonly designated responsibilities across most companies.

Key Takeaways

  • The COO is a corporate leader responsible for managing business operations, reporting to the CEO.
  • They provide leadership to achieve company goals and ensure efficient operations.
  • COO focuses on internal affairs, while the CEO handles external matters.
  • Operations Director oversees daily operations and may act as CEO's successor.
  • Key skills for a COO: altruism, communication, tactical thinking, delegation, financial management, and leadership.

Understanding Chief Operating Officer (COO) 

Depending on the operational demands and requirements of the firm itself, as well as the sector in which it operates, the director of operations' daily tasks may vary. 

There is no uniform set of duties associated with the Operations Director position, as The Balance and other publications point out. Depending on the company's objectives and needs, duties may alter. 

For instance, the COO may have a greater role in some firms when it comes to creating an operational plan and preserving the business's financial stability. 

However, in some businesses, the CEO, the team leader of the accounting department, or another senior executive may be responsible for these duties.

The following are just a few of the director of operations' duties:

  • Maintains and oversees the company's daily operations, including liaising with the departments of human resources, law, sales, marketing, manufacturing, accounting, and IT.

  • Reports to the CEO on the firm's daily operations and any impending changes or developments to the business operations strategy or other corporate goals and objectives during meetings with the CEO.

  • Represented as the CEO's likely successor and may act in the role of the CEO if this top executive is unavailable or otherwise occupied. To help a new CEO become used to the company's operations and strategy, the Operations Director may also help train and mentor the individual.

  • Supports other top leaders and staff, offering advice on promotions among other things.

  • Creates and executes policies for day-to-day operations, and informs department managers of any modifications.

  • Ensures compliance with current business rules and objectives, including those the Director of operations develops on their own and those created by the CEO and other executives.

In certain businesses, the Operations Director is also in charge of managing the activities of the legal and human resources departments. This is typical in businesses when the position of COO is one with an internal focus.

Overall the Operations Director supports and enhances the CEO's position. According to Margaret Rouse, a TechTarget writer, the COO's responsibilities are comparable to those of the vice president of the United States since the vice president is a crucial component of the president's job.

Strength and skills of a chief operating officer

The COO's effectiveness is derived from a diverse range of strengths and skills, including exceptional communication, strategic thinking, delegation, financial acumen, and strong leadership abilities.

An efficient COO has the following skills:

1. Altruistic

An altruistic COO is essential for prioritizing the company's overall welfare over personal interests. By fostering a positive work culture and making ethical decisions, the COO contributes to organizational success, improved employee morale, and long-term sustainability. This approach ensures that the company's operations align with its objectives and stakeholders' interests, leading to enhanced performance and growth.

2. Communication 

Chief Operating Officers need to be excellent communicators, both with other executives and the CEO as well as with the teams and departments they are in charge of. They must be able to broker agreements, settle disputes, and negotiate with internal parties. 

Additionally, they must be equipped to serve as a spokesman for the company's C-suite and workforce. Attention to detail and reliability are essential since they frequently manage the communication that passes through different tiers of a firm.

3. Tactical Thinking 

They must be strategic thinkers who can translate the CEO's vision into actionable outcomes. They must ensure that all business processes are aligned with the same plan and objectives.

4. Delegation

Tasks must be strategically assigned to various teams and departments by Chief Operating Officers.

For everyone on the team to be productive and driven toward the same vision, delegation requires an understanding of how to align departments' strengths and abilities with the tasks and goals at hand.

5. Financial Management

A Chief Operating Officer is in charge of budgets, resource allocation, and financial reporting in the absence of a CFO. They must therefore comprehend every facet of their company's financial situation. They can maintain the company's financial stability thanks to this.

6. Leadership Skills

As a senior executive, a Chief Operating Officer leads the employees within the organization to make sure that their efforts align with the goals of the company. 

For this, you may need to delegate tasks, ensure collaboration within departments and ensure that interdepartmental issues are resolved effectively. Leadership skills are therefore vital for this role.

Types of Chief Operating Officers (COOs) 

There are generally seven types of Chief Operating Officers:

1. The Executor

When most individuals hear the phrase, Operations Director, they immediately think of the executor. The CEO concentrates on corporate strategy, public relations, and more significant choices while executors oversee the company's daily operations.

By reducing the need for the CEO to closely monitor the company's operations, the Director of operations can simplify the CEO's duties in this job.

2. The Change Agent

This kind of COO is frequently seen in businesses where the vision or market performance has stagnated. To reinvent or rekindle the public's interest in the firm, change agent operations directors are hired. 

They occasionally come from different sectors and bring a distinctive set of abilities and experiences.

3. The Mentor

The CEO of a corporation may occasionally lack industry knowledge. The CEO's skills may not go much further if they are the creators or founders of the item or service the business offers.

A mentor operations director is frequently an experienced expert who will assist the CEO in making challenging business choices.

4. The Other Half

The CEO and Operations Director have a relationship in this position that is comparable to the left and right sides of the brain. 

The CEO could be hasty, erratic, and flighty. But in light of this, what does a Director of operations do? They are often logically based and grounded. 

The CEO is now able to think more creatively. By adhering to a workforce's requirement for constant training, knowledge, and communication, the COO helps the CEO maintain balance.

5. The Heir Apparent

This Director of operations could come across as being "groomed." Having the CEO's successor follow them about as they learn the ropes may be a terrific method to speed up the transition if the CEO is preparing to retire or transfer ownership of the business.

6. The MVP

If a former employee proves to be highly valuable to a firm, they may advance to the position of operations director. By giving them greater status and salary, you may keep them on board by decreasing their likelihood of accepting a better offer.

7. The Partner

Some CEOs do better while working in a group. They value the opportunity to share ideas with others and to learn from others' experiences and knowledge. In these situations, a COO in the partner model may be ideal. 

How to Become a chief operating officer

The position of an Operations Director is highly respectable and can help you grow professionally.

If you aspire to become one, here are some steps that you can follow:

1. Earn a degree in Management

To be eligible for the post of Director of operations, you must possess a management degree. If you currently hold a BBA in business administration, you might choose to pursue an advanced degree with a management focus, such as an MBA or PGDM.

It is advised to select a specialization that focuses on business and strategy while making your decision.

2. Gain work experience 

For the Operations Director job, businesses employ individuals with at least 10 to 15 years of expertise. 

Work in a given industry for a variety of companies to gain experience. You can choose to continue with a specific business and advance through the ranks until you are the COO. 

It is advised to obtain practical experience in each department as you train to become a Director of operations as you may be required to oversee the operations of various departments.

3. Develop your skills 

When handling the obligations that come with holding the post of COO, soft skills are crucial. Interacting with stakeholders across the firm may be necessary, therefore having people skills could be advantageous. 

Focus on developing your leadership abilities, engage in strategic thinking, and hone your analytical abilities. As you gain experience, take on leadership roles that will prepare you to manage teams as an Operations Director in the future.

4. Look for suitable vacancies

When you have the required education and job experience, choose a profession you'd like to work in and explore the requirements for it. Find businesses that fit your profile or check to see if the Director of operations position at your present business is open. 

Create a compelling cover letter outlining your qualifications and outlining why you're the ideal candidate for the position. You might also try to arrange a meeting with the CEO after choosing a company to apply to.


Despite some parallels between the two positions, there are some key distinctions:

1. Corporate Ranking

Their position inside a corporation is the main distinction between a CEO and a Director of operations. The Operations Director reports to the CEO, who typically has the highest position inside a corporation. 

The CEO is the organization's leader and has the last say in all corporate decisions. The COO can help guide those decisions by providing knowledgeable guidance.

2. Job Responsibilities 

Their respective tasks are another difference between CEOs and Operations Directors. CEOs place more emphasis on a company's long-term planning, including developing its goals, budget, and policies. 

COOs focus on daily operations by implementing and monitoring the policies and procedures developed by the CEO.

CEOs also have a greater outward focus and they work as a liaison between the company's employees and its investors, partners, or shareholders. 

By regularly meeting with each party and talking about ways to develop the business, they aim to make sure everyone is content. 

To make sure the business is running well, operations directors concentrate on the internal environment by collaborating closely with department heads and staff.

3. The position's importance 

Although not all businesses have a COO, most do have a CEO. This is because CEOs of smaller businesses frequently execute the duties of a Director of operations in addition to their regular duties. If the business expands, they might think about hiring an operations director to assist the CEO.

4. Shares and Ownership 

Many CEOs are big shareholders or owners of the company they are leading. This enables them to choose the most effective strategy to manage the firm. Less frequently do COOs own the business or own a significant amount of stock.

5. Salary 

According to an Indeed report from March 2022, the average base CEO salary is $128,016 per year in the US. While the average base operations director salary is $117,189 per year.

Is the COO still relevant?

In 2018, only 31.5 percent of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 businesses employed a chief operating officer, a decrease of roughly 17 percent from 2000, according to a recent analysis by executive search company Crist Kolder Associates.

The chief operating officer's position has undergone significant transformation and, in some ways, lost considerable importance over the past 20 years. Some of the explanations are as follows:

1. CEO Reluctance

It might be challenging to fill the job of operations director since the Director of operations must be someone the CEO trusts and feels comfortable having as a second-in-command and future successor. It indicates that the CEO would prefer to operate alone in many businesses.

2. Board Expectations 

Corporate board members have started to hold CEOs more personally responsible for the performance and issues of their companies over the previous 20 years. 

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was established to make sure that businesses, as well as their officers, were functioning ethically and in compliance with the law.

Boards typically demand CEOs to actively monitor operations daily and remain involved in tasks that previously belonged to the Operations Director due to increased external scrutiny.

3. Technology

Many operational functions that have historically been the Director of operations' purview are being replaced by technology. This involves all aspects of business process management, as well as hiring and tracking staff development and performance. For their survival, operations directors must adjust to this shifting climate.

4. Costs

A small business or start-up may find it difficult to afford the cost of recruiting another executive. Some businesses may decide not to hire a Director of operations if their CEOs or other employees can perform the role's responsibilities.

Researched and Authored by Hitesh SardaLinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by Tanay Gehi | Linkedin

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