Chairperson vs. President: Differences and Similarities
Updated March 31, 2023
Companies typically offer various leadership opportunities for senior-level employees, such as those of a chairperson and president. While some companies employ the same individual for both roles, a chair is usually in a higher position. Understanding how these two jobs differ can help you establish career-oriented goals for yourself and determine which role you'd like to eventually enter.
In this article, we define the roles of a chairperson and president and explain how they differ and relate.
What is a chairperson?
A chairperson or a chair is the head of a company's board of directors or board of trustees. While they technically work outside of a company's daily operations, they oversee and set the company's direction and overall strategy. As a company's leading representative, chairs present an organization's goals and policies to prospective clients, partners and the public. They also determine the structure of the board they lead, strategize with other board members and engage in clear communication with the company's shareholders and other relevant parties.
Typically, the board appoints a chair in a full-time or part-time role depending on the board's needs. Smaller companies may combine the role of a chairperson with another leadership position. For example, a chairperson may also work as a chief executive or managing director. Within a large corporation, the chair's responsibilities only include overseeing other members of the board and supervising a company's activities.
What is a president?
A president is often the most senior-level employee in an organization who leads a group of executives. They work alongside a company's board of executives to provide the organization with strong leadership and direction. Presidents also create short-term and long-term goals and participate in strategic planning for their place of employment. Once the president establishes a company's objectives, they ensure that other company leaders and employees abide by them.
A president's relationship with the CEO may vary depending on the company's structure. For example, when an organization has a CEO, the president serves as its second in command. Otherwise, the president can assume the primary leadership position for a company's day-to-day operations.
Chairperson vs. president
Where a chairperson is a company's leading representative, a president serves as an internal leader. Here are the main differences and similarities between the two executive positions:
While a chairperson and president have senior-level roles within a company, their duties differ greatly. Here are the common duties of a chairperson:
Review company profits and growth
Create board meeting agendas
Provide leadership to a board of directors
Vote on a CEO's strategic ideas
Ensure the board remains focused on key duties
Supervise the implementation and development of a new board of directors
A president's duties often vary by the type of business that employs them. Here are some of a president's general duties:
Oversee and lead a team of managers
Make recommendations to a company's board of directors
Provide feedback to a board of directors regarding a company's successes and failures
Manage a company's budgeting and finances
Ensure an organization stays on budget and maintains its current goals
Related: The Role of the Board of Directors
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't report an individual salary for the role of a chairperson or a president, it cites a median pay of $98,980 per year for top executive positions. Since a chairperson has a more senior-level role compared to that of a president, they may have a higher salary.
According to the BLS, top executives are among the highest-paid employees in the country. Therefore, you can expect a lucrative salary, whether you're a chairperson or president. Your salary in these positions may also vary based on your employer, your experience level and your geographic location.
As with salary, the BLS doesn't provide individual job outlooks for chairperson and president positions. According to the BLS, all top executive positions can expect an employment growth of 6% from 2021 to 2031, which is about as fast as the average for all other jobs in the workforce. The BLS states that the specific employment growth depends on the occupation. Therefore, a chairperson may see a higher or lower job outlook compared to a president and vice versa.
While chairpersons and presidents may have overlapping skills, they also have some that help distinguish their roles even further.
Here are some common skills for a chairperson:
Ability to lead board meetings: As a chairperson, it's important to know how to lead board meetings effectively. Using this skill, you can ensure board members address all key topics and confirm that every member gets to share their opinion before making a decision.
Knowledge of the business: Chairs require an in-depth knowledge of their company, including familiarity with its culture, people and processes.
Communication skills: As a chairperson, it's important to have strong communication skills to establish good working relationships with shareholders and other relevant parties. Effective communication also helps chairs provide clarity to the rest of the board.
Here are some common skills for a company president:
Communication skills: A president uses their communication skills to develop good relationships with the public and industry leaders.
Decision-making skills: Presidents require strong decision-making skills to help them make important decisions for the company's benefit. To make these decisions, they refer to the views and reports from both the vice president and directors.
Financial knowledge: As a president, it's important to have strong financial knowledge so you can properly analyze budgets and financial reports. This skill also helps you better understand how to implement a company's goals within reasonable financial limitations.
While both a chairperson and a president enter their positions via an election, which is unlike how a traditional employee acquires their role, different parties vote for their positions. A chairperson enters their position by receiving votes from shareholders, and the individual can convince shareholders of their competency by persuading them that they have the shareholders' best interests. Alternatively, a president enters their position by receiving votes from the existing board of directors, which includes the chairperson. A board of directors may deem a president worthy of being a presiding officer based on past work experience and professional successes.
A chairperson maintains their position for a specified term, and shareholders have the chance to reelect them for future leadership if they enjoyed their guidance and decisions. A board of directors can review a CEO's employment periodically, like every year, to determine if they're qualified to continue in their position.
Chairperson vs. president vs. CEO
A chairperson, president and CEO are all vital positions in many companies. While they may seem similar, their roles within their organizations are different. For example, a chairperson leads a board of directors, a CEO has the highest position within a corporate setting and a president executes the CEO's vision for a company.
In addition, a CEO mainly communicates with industry leaders and a board of directors, while a president has a more inward role, as they supervise a company's daily operations. Therefore, the duties of a chairperson, president and CEO all vary based on their unique roles and company hierarchy. While they're all different, they all help a company achieve its unique goals and overall vision.
Other leadership roles in an organization
Here are some other leadership roles you may find in an organization:
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