What Does a Chief Operating Officer (COO) Do?

By

Jennifer Herrity

Updated October 29, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated October 29, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

A chief operating officer (COO), also referred to as a Director of Operations, is a senior executive who oversees the business operations of a firm and ensures financial stability and growth. The precise duties and responsibilities of a COO will differ from company to company, depending on the company size and setup, as well as the specific needs of the CEO.

What does a COO do?

In general terms, the COO is responsible for the practical implementation of business goals. The duties and responsibilities of a COO typically stretch across multiple, if not all, departments of a company. This means that these professionals require a broad range of skills and experience to successfully execute their duties.

The day-to-day duties of a COO may include:

  • Developing and implementing business strategies and policies

  • Communicating strategies and policies to employees

  • Overseeing human resource management

  • Overseeing day-to-day business operations and ensuring efficiency

  • Ensuring that adequate administrative and reporting procedures are in place

  • Overseeing marketing and sales

  • Overseeing research and development

  • Reporting to the CEO and advising the latter on any important events

Browse chief operations officer (COO) jobs

Average salary

The salary that a COO can earn varies, depending on many variables, such as the size and location of the company, the level of education and experience of the candidate and the industry. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link below:

National average salary: $119,064 per year

COO requirements

Becoming a COO often requires a combination of the following elements:

Education

Although there are no fixed educational requirements, most COOs have at least a bachelor's degree in business or a field relevant to their industry. One undergraduate degree that is particularly well-fit for the job is a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), which includes coursework in relevant subjects like accounting, business math, information systems and economics. A BBA program often offers internship opportunities, which can help aspiring COOs begin earning relevant on-the-job experience as soon as possible.

Depending on the industry and needs of a company, a COO may also pursue a master's degree, such as a Master of Business (MBA) degree that allows candidates to specialize in a field, whether it is management, marketing, entrepreneurship or finance. This program also further develops knowledge in key subjects that have direct relevance to the responsibilities and tasks of a COO. In addition, employers may prefer candidates who hold this qualification.

Training

As the job of a COO typically involves overseeing multiple departments, it requires an in-depth understanding of just about all aspects of a business. Although education does equip a candidate with valuable knowledge, a COO needs many years of on-the-job experience to successfully execute their responsibilities. Many candidates work their way up through a company's ranks over many years, during which they gain knowledge of the different aspects of the business, as well as extensive managerial experience.

Certifications

Candidates can obtain certifications to refine their skills and add to their resumes. The C-Suite Institute, for instance, offers the COO-C executive certification program that focuses on operations management. Although candidates do not need formal qualifications to gain entry into this program, the selection process is quite strict, and most applicants either hold a bachelor's or master's degree. The program is only three days long and consists of the following modules:

  • Foundational module: Offers coursework in topics like executive leadership, strategy and decision-making

  • Core module: Covers topics like leading and managing organizational politics, communications, change, people and innovation

  • Expertise module: Focuses on advanced operations management

  • Practical module: Teaches candidates how to develop and implement an effective COO strategy

Skills

Apart from years of experience, a COO also needs a broad range of skills to cope with the complexity and diversity that this job entails. Here are some vital skills:

  • Flexibility: As the job of a COO entails working with multiple departments and in a variety of disciplines, they need to be flexible and adaptable. In addition, a COO's responsibilities and focus may change as a business develops, which also requires flexibility.

  • Leadership skills: Since COOs are in charge of basically all aspects of internal operations and have to oversee and lead multiple departments in a company, they need to make swift and difficult decisions and must have the ability to inspire and motivate a multidisciplinary team.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: The success of a COO's job depends on building and maintaining relationships, whether with a CEO, senior or departmental managers or other staff members. Doing so requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

  • Problem-solving skills: A COO needs to find solutions to challenges that may affect daily operations or the profitability of a company. This requires considering all angles of a problem and all aspects of the business, as well as creative thinking.

  • Strategic thinking: The COO needs to think strategically and constantly consider more effective ways of doing things so that operations run effectively and the company remains financially stable.

COO work environment

COOs work in various industries and sectors, including federal government, large corporations and manufacturing firms. The job of a COO involves the internal operations of a company or institution, so they normally work in an office space and visit different departments, liaise with other executive staff and attend meetings. The work environment of these professionals also typically includes the following:

  • Long hours: The responsibilities and duties of COOs often require working overtime and long hours, especially in situations where they are overseeing and steering the growth of a company or leading operations during periods of change.

  • Pressure: The job necessarily involves a lot of responsibility and pressure. This means that COOs have to be emotionally intelligent, disciplined and focused.

  • Ever-changing role: The duties and responsibilities of a COO are often not clearly delineated, as these will change as a company develops and evolves. A COO needs to be open to change and inconsistencies to successfully navigate the challenges of the job.

  • Sporadic travel: Although a CEO tends to be involved with the external affairs of a company, a COO may have to travel from time to time to attend conferences and meetings.

How to become a COO

There is no definite path to follow if you wish to become a COO. However, you can consider taking the following steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. The minimum education requirement for a COO is typically a bachelor's degree in business or a related field. Consider earning a BBA or a degree specific to your ideal industry or field to develop the necessary foundation.

  2. Consider a master's degree. Although the minimum education requirement is a bachelor's, obtaining a master's degree can further develop your skills, demonstrate your dedication to professional growth and provide you with more opportunities. Consider an MBA, which offers coursework in economics, statistical methods, management, finance, marketing and other subjects that are relevant to the work of a COO.

  3. Gain comprehensive experience. Apart from education, a COO often needs at least 15 years of work experience in the business sector, of which at least five of those should have been in a senior management position. In addition, as the job has a broad scope, a COO needs either experience or an in-depth understanding of the various aspects of a business. Be sure to set professional goals for advancement within a company or to external positions to ensure upward progression to leadership.

  4. Complete certifications. As you advance into new positions, you can also complement your education and work experience with relevant certifications. Consider industry-specific certifications or those that develop your management skills and prepare you for C-level leadership roles.

  5. Apply to open COO positions. Create a clear and comprehensive resume that details your extensive professional background and highlights your advanced skills. Review open job positions you're going to apply to, and use key skills, experiences and other phrases to better align your qualifications with the employers' expectations.

COO job description example

We are a rapidly expanding company that is looking for an experienced COO to guide and coordinate business operations during this time of growth and change. Our ideal candidate must have in-depth knowledge of diverse business operations, as well as extensive experience in the development and implementation of business strategies, overseeing day-to-day business operations and quality control, as well as managing staffing development programs.

We are looking for a self-driven candidate, an independent and creative thinker and a strong leader. Applicants must have a minimum of 10 years of experience, of which at least five years have been in a top management position, and we will give preference to candidates who hold an MBA.

Related careers

If you're interested in the executive-level COO role, consider these jobs as well:

  • Chief executive officer

  • Operations manager

  • Chief marketing officer

  • Product marketing manager

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