What Is a Chief Operating Officer? (With Skills and Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 1 December 2022

Published 12 June 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.

A chief operating officer (COO) is a senior executive role that many managers strive for. Attaining this level requires more than just education, job preparation and management skills. A COO oversees the daily administrative and operational functions of a company, and they usually report to the chief executive officer (CEO) as the second in the line of command. Understanding the role of a COO can help you decide whether this career is right for you. In this article, discuss what a COO is, their roles and responsibilities and the qualifications to be a COO.

Related: What Does an Operations Director Do? (With Skills)

What is a chief operating officer (COO)?

A COO focuses to carry out the organisation's business plan and tries to accomplish both the short- and long-term goals that the CEO plans. While the CEO aims to build the company's image by producing actionable plans, the COO's main goal is to implement these business plans into actions. COO is also known as a chief operation officer, operations director or executive vice president of operations. They usually deal with internal affairs within the company, ensuring that all the different departments work together to successfully carry out business plans.

For example, in the case that a company's market share experiences a drop, a CEO can decide to fix the issue, such as increasing quality control and releasing new products. In this instance, a COO can give instructions to the other departments to carry out CEO's plans. For example, the COO can ask the human resources department to hire more experienced quality assurance professionals. The COO can also urge the research and development team to push for new product developments as soon as possible so for earlier release.

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What does a COO do?

A COO's job is challenging and requires a high level of leadership and management skills. Here is a list of what a COO is responsible for:

Complement the CEO

One of the main roles of a COO is to complement the CEO. They are second in the line of command after the CEO, helping the CEO build a good company image. COOs often have more experience than CEOs, especially in terms of practical knowledge and executing business plans. This being said, a COO needs to help the CEO who may have creative ideas with excellent concepts but lacks the ability to manage the development of a project, or even the company, from the start.

Related: COO vs. CEO: What Are the Differences and Similarities?

Define achievable goals for the company

A COO works directly with the different departments of the company. So, a COO knows best what each department ought to do and what they are able to achieve. Thus, upon receiving a plan from the CEO, a COO can have the ability to set achievable goals for each of the different departments so that they can work collaboratively to complete the final plan.

Execute strategies to achieve the company's goals

After defining achievable goals for the departments, it is also a COO's task to guide each department into executing the strategies. A COO needs to help the internal departments to execute strategies to achieve the company's goal. While CEO deals with external parties, such as shareholders and the media press, the COO ensures that the company's internals are working together in sync to achieve the organisation's goals.

Arrange training or coaching for all levels of employees

A COO can also arrange necessary training or coaching for a company's employees. All levels of employees can receive training, from interns to C-level officers, if necessary. The training a COO arranges can help employees perform better in their jobs.

Ensure every department in the company complements each other

Another responsibility of a COO is to ensure that every department in the company complements each other. COOs are usually familiar with operations, company policies and team building together with human resources (HR). This enables them to deeply understand each and every part of the company, and thus they will be able to ensure that each element and each team in the company complements each other well in order to achieve the company's goal.

What does it take to be a COO?

To become a COO takes more than just education. It requires leadership skills and extensive experience. Typically, a COO has climbed the corporate ladder and worked for at least 15 years before reaching this position. These years of experience help them to grow and gain vast knowledge in every component of the company, allowing them to deeply understand how the company works and develop from scratch.

COOs can also be resourceful and knowledgeable to be able to solve problems. For this reason, a COO usually possesses a bachelor's degree and may have advanced business coursework or a master's in business administration (MBA), but that varies by industry and experience. A COO of an education company may even need a doctorate. In some cases, a COO may lack traditional degrees but possess great experience in the industry or has special skills that are unique only to them. COOs need a strong mixture of hard and soft skills. Necessary skills for a COO include:

Communication and interpersonal skills

COOs can speak with shareholders and also the internal stakeholders of the company. Thus, understanding how to communicate with different people can be helpful for giving a motivating and inspiring talk. Interpersonal skills can also help COOs communicate effectively and allow them to develop strong relationships with their coworkers.

Decision-making skills

A COO is responsible for executing strategies in the company. The decisions they make will influence the direction of the company and even the success of the project plan. A COO needs to be firm and decisive when making decisions based on their knowledge and prior experience.

Independence and leadership

While a good COO needs to listen to employees, CEO and shareholders and takes into consideration the knowledge they have of the customer and daily processes, the position of COO can also be an independent one. Leading a company sometimes means making unpopular decisions and taking tough courses of action. A COO can often consider the growth of the whole versus the feelings of the individual. However, they can also be able to lead the employees and empower managers to help every employee understand the role they play in the organisation's success.

Problem-solving

COOs can solve large-scale problems and challenges for a company. From internal conflicts between departments to a drop in market share, chief operating officers can face (and have the answers to) company-wide dilemmas. This problem solving may be helpful outside of traditional business hours with emergencies that could interrupt sleep, family time or vacations depending on the severity of the issue.

Creativity

A COO can be able to think creatively to see growth opportunities and paths for innovation in a company. Chief operating officers' roles are necessary for their ability to introduce change and help companies evolve with changing markets. The ability to be creative can help COOs accomplish both of these tasks.

Types of COOs

Every company has different needs of leaders depending on their stage of growth and what they are trying to achieve. A company that just started its business has different needs from a company that has been operating for 50 years and has a huge market share in the industry. This being said, every company needs a different type of COO to help the company achieve its common goal.

Here are some common types of COOs:

  • Executor: Someone who is usually responsible for supervising the execution of organisation techniques that are made by senior management. They also have the obligation to deliver execution results on a day-to-day basis.

  • Initiator: This type of COO usually pioneers new initiatives and creative ideas. They usually have specific creative strategies that enable a major change in the company or initiate a rapid expansion and development in the company.

  • Mentor: This is a type of COO is always open to share their knowledge, mentoring younger and newer employees, whether they are from lower-level positions or even new CEOs.

  • MVP: Another type of COO is one who is promoted internally in order to prevent them from turning into another company. Their presence is very important to keep the smooth running of the company.

  • Complement to the CEO: There is also a type of COO who is specifically hired to complement the CEO. They can have the skills and qualities that differ from the CEO in order to help the CEO to run the company smoothly.


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