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Learn About Being a COO (Chief Operating Officer)

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What does a chief operating officer do?

The chief operating officer oversees the manufacturing, production, sales and personnel matters of an organization. A COO is a member of the executive team in organizations including government entities, charities, educational organizations and for-profit businesses. The COO reports to the chief executive officer and might also be called the director of operations, operations director or chief operating executive.

Other duties of a chief operations officer could include:

  • Working with finance executives to create an organization’s budget, monitor accounting and banking processes and prepare financial performance reports
  • Delegating responsibilities to ensure team members grow in their experience and capabilities
  • Completing staff performance reviews
  • Collaborating on marketing initiatives and strategies to direct the company toward growth
  • Introducing initiatives to address company losses
  • Overseeing the implementation of occupational health and safety standards 
  • Motivating the company to surpass client satisfaction and retention

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Average salary

The chief operations officer is a role with a great deal of responsibility and is usually full-time with overtime as necessary. The salary depends on the candidate’s experience, level of education and other professional qualifications. Industry sector and company size may also affect salary.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $118,154 per year
  • Some salaries range from $23,000 to $286,000 per year

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Chief operating officer requirements

There are various routes you could take to achieve a COO position. 

Education

Most employers require a COO to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field. An aspiring COO should focus on management-related subjects. Consider a Bachelor of Business Administration, which is a four-year degree that can provide you a strong foundation in accounting, economics, information systems, mathematics and management.

Many companies may prefer candidates with advanced education, such as a Master of Business Administration degree or a relevant graduate degree. These specialized degree programs offer further foundational knowledge of business principles. Some degrees focus on a single element, including finance. Consider an advanced degree in business or a field related to your intended industry to improve your qualifications.

Training

Many employers will expect you to be fully competent in all aspects of the role before offering you an executive-level position, including COO. On-the-job training for a COO may include learning about the company, such as their methodology, processes or current standing in the areas your role would manage.

Certification

If you have considerable experience in the field but have yet to gain a formal certification, consider the Graduate Certificate in Operations Management, which is offered by several universities in person or online. Subjects covered in the course include information analysis, finance, accounting and budgeting, production control strategies, business trends, and how to plan for supply and demand. This course could give you the formal qualification you need to advance through to a senior position in your current business.

Skills

A COO uses their extensive experience to drive a business toward success. You must continually develop your skills and understanding of business principles to be an effective COO. As an executive leader, you must have sufficient and proven soft skills to handle the team and direct them and the company toward their goals.

In addition to extensive work history and proper qualifications, a COO must possess the following soft skills:

  • Leadership: A COO must be an excellent leader with sharp business acumen and the ability to manage and supervise a multidisciplinary team. Employees look to them to lead by example.

  • Strategic thinking: These executive professionals must excel in strategic thinking to determine new ways of working that improve the business, save money and increase efficiency.

  • Financial management: Because they are responsible for a company’s overall budgeting and accounts, a COO must understand all aspects of a company’s finances.

  • Decision-making skills: As a top-level executive, the COO must be able to consider a variety of options, anticipate outcomes and make decisions that positively impact the company.

  • Delegation: These professionals oversee one or several teams and must be able to assign responsibilities effectively. Delegating tasks ensures all functions are performed on time and with close attention to detail.

  • Communication: COOs must have executive-level communication and influencing abilities. They often use interpersonal skills to resolve issues, build consensus with stakeholders, and negotiate and mediate conflicts.

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Chief operating officer work environment

The majority of COOs work full-time hours and are expected to work as much as necessary to keep the business operating successfully in the face of any challenges. These professionals work in almost all industries and for companies of all sizes. Their responsibilities can be high-pressure but extremely rewarding because they are such an essential factor in the success of the business. 

Some COOs may spend time traveling to international venues for conferences and meetings, and to visit national and international offices. Most COOs collaborate with other top-level executives, such as chief technology officers, chief finance officers or department heads, which can also influence their time spent handling certain responsibilities.

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How to become a chief operating officer

A career as a chief operating officer is highly valued and can be fulfilling. Follow this advice to begin a successful career as a chief operating officer:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Acquire a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, such as public administration, law or liberal arts. It might also be appropriate to choose a degree in a field related to the industry in which you want to work.

  2. Consider earning an advanced degree. A Master of Business Administration is a standard prerequisite for top executives. If your first degree is not in business, an MBA or related advanced business degree can provide you the foundational business principles essential to this role.

  3. Gain experience in the field. Employers frequently require a substantial amount of prior experience, often 10 or 15 years, as a prerequisite for a COO position. On your path toward this C-level position, pursue management experience soon after you complete your degree and start work in an entry-level position. Consider your time in mid-level positions an opportunity to learn about business operations.

  4. Develop your soft skills. As a COO, your soft skills must be exceptional, and you should work on them continually as you progress through your career. Focus on proving yourself as a leader, a strategic thinker, a decision-maker and an analyst with high-level organizational skills.

  5. Apply for chief operations officer positions**.** After gaining years of relevant experience in management roles, consider researching the current job market to determine which companies you may want to apply to. Review the requirements for COO roles in your intended field, and craft your resume to align with prospective employers’ expectations. Write a persuasive cover letter that further highlights your qualifications and demonstrates your enthusiasm for working with a specific company to secure an interview.

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Chief operating officer job description example

We are seeking a chief operating officer to be responsible for the operational leadership of our business. This individual will ensure the efficient and productive operation of our development platform, asset management, property management, marketing, risk management and human resources. The COO will also oversee strategic planning, corporate culture and staff engagement. The position reports to the chief executive officer.

Our COO must be motivated to supporting a company culture that holds the values of excellence, leadership and service at the forefront of our operations. You will guide and direct the head of marketing and the team to formulate, execute and sustain comprehensive marketing strategies to support our objectives.

The following are our minimum prerequisites for the position:

  • An accomplished executive with a minimum of 15 years of experience in the industry
  • Proven leadership ability with a history in strategic planning and development of company culture
  • Bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance or real estate required
  • Master’s degree in business administration, finance or other business discipline preferred
  • Strong financial analysis skills, including accounting, budgeting and cash flow, and an in-depth understanding of financial management software

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Related careers

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