Everything You Need To Know About Executive Director Positions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Most companies have leaders who oversee and guide their staff and operations. At nonprofits and similar organizations, that leader is the executive director. Executive directors make management decisions and ensure the company follows its mission and meets its goals. In this article, we define what an executive director is, list the skills needed to become one and offer tips for getting an executive director position.

What is an executive director position?

An executive director position is one of the highest-ranking jobs in an organization. The executive director makes management decisions and usually reports to a board of directors. They ensure the company achieves its operational and financial goals. An executive director position's job duties might include:

  • Writing business plans

  • Maintaining a consistent organizational culture

  • Managing department supervisors

  • Creating organizational strategies

  • Meeting with the board of directors and executing their plans

  • Ensuring the organization follows local and federal regulations

  • Making hiring decisions

  • Preparing budgets and operating within them

  • Preparing official and legal documents

  • Developing relationships with the media, the community and industry groups

  • Overseeing fundraising efforts

  • Publicizing the organization's activities and achievements

The executive director position is often the face of the organization. They represent the company and its viewpoints to other business leaders, community groups and the public. They might attend events and give speeches.

Related: 7 Executive Titles To Know: Job Descriptions and Responsibilities

Which organizations have an executive director position?

Executive director positions are most common at nonprofit organizations. Here are types of organizations executive directors work for and the differences between each:

Small nonprofits

Small nonprofits might have just an executive director or an executive director position and a few supporting staff members. In this role, the executive director has a variety of job responsibilities and is involved in every part of the nonprofit's operations, from accounting to public relations to fundraising. They communicate and work closely with the board of directors to grow the organization and achieve its mission.

Large nonprofits

At larger nonprofits, the executive director position oversees and guides the managers of each department, rather than every staff member. They also serve as the intermediary between the organization and its many stakeholders. These individuals are responsible for large numbers of employees and amounts of money.

For-profit companies

Some for-profit companies have executive director positions instead of or in addition to a president or chief executive officer. The role is similar to that of a nonprofit's executive director, working with the board of directors and managing department leaders. They don't perform fundraising duties or follow the same federal rules as nonprofits.

Related: Comparing Jobs: Executive Director vs. Managing Director

Skills for an executive director position

Most executive directors have a common set of skills that allows them to succeed in the position. These include:

  • Communication: Executive directors have the written and verbal communication skills to deliver information clearly and effectively to individuals ranging from board members to staff members to stakeholders. They explain the organization's mission and policies to the media, community, potential donors and industry groups.

  • Decision-making: Executive directors make important decisions that affect the success of the organization and everyone working for it. They evaluate all their options and make the decision that benefits the organization most.

  • Leadership: As organization leaders, executive directors manage and coordinate people, resources, operations and policies. They are often public figures and maintain their professionalism and leadership role at all times.

  • Interpersonal: Executive directors interact with many people of diverse personalities, backgrounds and cultures. They work well with others and make a good impression on the people they meet.

  • Time management: Executive directors have many job responsibilities and balance working on multiple tasks simultaneously. They organize their time properly to meet deadlines and complete their work so the organization can meet its goals.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definition and Examples

Tips for getting an executive director position

To get an executive director position, you typically need a college degree and several years of experience working in your area of expertise. Follow these tips to improve your chances of becoming an executive director:

  • Choose a degree related to the industry in which you want to work. For example, if your goal is to get an executive director position at a nonprofit focused on environmentalism, consider earning a bachelor's in environmental science or ecology.

  • Earn a graduate degree. Some executive director positions require an advanced degree. Advanced degrees that can benefit top executives include business administration, public administration or law.

  • Get work experience in your desired organization or field. Some executive directors advance through their organizations, starting as entry-level hires or lower-level managers. Others get hired from outside the organization after gaining years of experience working in that industry.

  • Take leadership training. Executive director positions require strong leadership skills, which you can develop by completing executive training programs or leadership courses. You can list these accomplishments on your resume when applying for executive director positions.

  • Get certified. Research whether the executive director position you want requires a related certification or license. An executive director with significant financial duties, for example, might need a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. You might also complete voluntary certification, such as with the Public Relations Society of America, to gain an advantage over other executive director candidates.

  • Have a clean image. Because executive directors are often public figures and the faces of their organization, companies want them to have a good reputation. Clean up your social media accounts so they only display professional or positive content. Search your name online to see what information organizations can find about you.

Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related: How To Write an Executive Director Resume

Salary and job outlook for executive director positions

According to Indeed, the average base salary for an executive director position is $81,400 per year, with an additional compensation of $15,000 in profit sharing. These figures vary depending on the size of the organization, the industry and the executive director's years of experience. State and region can also affect average salary. Organizations in New York and California, for example, pay some of the highest executive director salaries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts executive director positions to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029, which is similar to the growth rate for all occupations. Organizations depend on these leaders to operate effectively. Because of their high salaries and prominence, executive director positions are competitive, with many highly qualified candidates applying for openings. Those with relevant or advanced degrees and leadership experience have excellent job prospects.

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