CAO vs. COO: What's the Difference?

Updated March 10, 2023

Chief administrative officers and chief operating officers both perform valuable job duties for companies. Comparing the elements of the CAO and COO titles can give you insights that can help you make better decisions in your career. You might thrive in a career as a CAO or a COO if you're interested in working in an executive leadership position. In this article, we explore the job duties of a CAO and a COO and consider how the two positions are different.

Related: Q&A: What Is a C-Level Executive?

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What is a CAO?

A CAO, or chief administrative officer, is an executive who oversee's an organization's day-to-day operations. They typically act as the head of departments like finance, human resources and sales, or any department that takes part in daily tasks or customer-facing interactions. A Chief administrative officer reports to a company's chief executive officer and board of directors and can also help companies improve their performance by reviewing processes, developing new policies for an organization's departments, managing projects and preparing reports that inform board members about a company's performance. Here are a few more common job duties for a chief administrative officer:

  • Set KPIs for a company's departments and management

  • Monitor KPI results and adjust expectations

  • Train new managers

  • Perform manager evaluations

  • Attend regular meetings with the C-suite and board of directors

Related: What is a Chief Administrative Officer?

What is a COO?

A COO, or chief operating officer, is an executive who manages manufacturing, production sales and personnel within a company or organization. Chief operating officers operate at the executive level and can also work with other top-level executives to make strategic plans for maximizing the efficiency of a company's operations. A COO can help create budgets, prepare financial reports, conduct performance reviews for staff and work on marketing campaigns that can contribute to a company's growth. Chief operating officers can also delegate tasks to the teams they lead and implement new programs that promote health and safety standards in the workplace.

Here are a few more job duties that a chief operating officer usually has:

  • Oversee accounting and banking processes

  • Create plans to respond to company losses

  • Making company goals to satisfy and retain customers and clients

  • Attend conferences and meetings at national and international venues

Related: Learn About Being a COO (Chief Operating Officer)


Here are a few ways that chief administrative officers and chief operating officers are different:


One difference between a chief administrative officer and a chief operating officer is the aspect of business that each of the positions focuses on. As a chief administrative officer oversees a company's day-to-day operations, they usually focus on finding ways to improve specific elements of a company's operations. This can involve acting as the head of certain departments, like sales and human resources, in order to gain a thorough understanding of how the departments work and where they might be able to improve their processes.

A chief operating officer focuses more on the operations of a company as a whole. They also sometimes work most frequently on production and manufacturing processes to maximize a company's productivity. This means that a COO might help with projects like finding a new location for a manufacturing plant, choosing upgrades for a company's technology and creating new processes for completing projects that can increase efficiency.


A chief administrative officer and a chief operating officer can also differ in the skills they develop and use in their jobs. Chief administrative officers typically have excellent interpersonal and communication skills that help them make interactions with employees and clients positive and professional, which can be especially helpful in their work with human resources and client-facing job responsibilities. A CAO also needs a strong attention to detail to ensure they consider all aspects of business when they evaluate a department's performance and needs.

A chief operating officer usually needs highly developed strategic and decision-making skills, as much of their job involves choosing improvements to make to a company's technical operations, like manufacturing and production. They also can benefit from having an in-depth knowledge of business and marketing concepts that can inform how they design and guide the implementation of new marketing and advertising initiatives. Organization can also be crucial to a COO, as they can oversee multiple departments or initiatives in a company at one time and need to ensure they devote adequate time and effort to each task.

Interactions with the CEO

Chief administrative officers and chief operating officers can also differ in how they work with a company's chief executive officer. While both positions typically report to the chief executive officer, the two roles communicate with the CEO in different ways. A chief administrative officer can give updates to the CEO and hold briefing meetings where they offer information about specific projects and departments. Chief administrative officers might also facilitate communication between the CEO and other department heads or staff members by relaying messages and preparing reports.

For a chief operating officer, communication with the chief executive officer is much more frequent and direct. A chief operating officer is often considered the second in command at a company, which means they usually serve the chief executive officer by communicating with them about strategies, updates and improvements that impact the company as a whole. Many chief operating officers also look to chief executive officers for guidance in career development, as some chief operating officers aspire to advance to the position of chief executive officer in the future.

Related: What Is a Chief Executive Officer?

Where they work

Another difference between chief administrative officers and chief operating officers is the type of company that each position typically works for. Chief administrative officers most often work in large companies that see a lot of interaction with customers or clients. This can include retail businesses, financial services, insurance companies and more organizations that serve clients as part of their business.

Chief operating officers can work at almost any company, but they most often work with large corporations or companies with a wide array of operations. This is because a chief operating officer focuses on the overall performance of a company and can offer advice in many general areas of business. Many chief operating officer positions exist at businesses that engage in manufacturing or production of products, as a COO can help oversee and improve these operations.

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Jobs similar to CAOs and COOs

If helping a company oversee its operations and daily responsibility interests you, there are many jobs for you to consider. Here are some jobs similar to both a CAO and COO position:

  1. Chief executive officer

  2. Administrative officer

  3. Vice president of operations

  4. Operations officer

  5. Director of operations

  6. Executive advisor

  7. Director of market operations

  8. Hospital chief operating officer

  9. Chief communications officer

  10. Chief academic officer

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