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What is a Chief Operating Officer (COO) and How to Become One

By Lace Brunsden


As a critical member of the executive team, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) plays a pivotal role in driving operational excellence and strategic decision-making within organizations. Whether you’re aspiring to climb the corporate ladder or seeking insights into this esteemed position, join us as we unravel the responsibilities and steps to achieve the coveted role of a COO.

Career Summary

Chief Operating Officer Salary

Chief Operating Officer (COO) Salary

The general chief operating officer salary is incredibly variable. It is based on a variety of different factors, and may even include a base pay and bonus model.

According to Glassdoor:

  • Entry: USD 231,000
  • Median: USD 308,000
  • Senior: USD 431,000

This wage is significantly higher than the general average income of US citizens, which is $59,428 according to Forbes, placing COO salaries in the high-income bracket.

What is a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

A Chief Operating Officer (COO) is a high-ranking executive responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of a company. In many organizations, the COO is second in command only to the CEO and is tasked with ensuring that the company’s business operations are efficient, effective, and aligned with its strategic goals. The COO often works closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement growth plans, manage resources, and optimize processes to drive the company’s success.

Chief Operating Officer Job Description

There is no such thing as a standard COO job description. Instead, the position can vary a great deal depending on the company. However, as a COO, your primary role is to translate the company’s vision and strategy into actionable plans and operational initiatives. 

The COO job description largely involves managing various departments, such as finance, human resources, sales, and production, to ensure seamless coordination and alignment across the organization. Your responsibilities may include overseeing budgeting and financial planning, implementing operational processes and procedures, monitoring key performance indicators, and identifying areas for improvement to enhance overall efficiency and profitability. Additionally, you’ll play a crucial role in fostering a culture of innovation, collaboration, and accountability within the company to drive sustained growth and success.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) Career Progression

  • Operations Coordinator: You’ll assist with various operational tasks and gain valuable experience in managing day-to-day activities within a company.
  • Operations Manager: You’ll oversee the execution of operational plans and processes, coordinating efforts across departments to ensure smooth business operations.
  • Director of Operations: You’ll take on greater responsibility for developing and implementing strategic initiatives to optimize organizational efficiency and productivity.
  • Vice President of Operations: You’ll lead the overall operational strategy of the company, working closely with senior management to drive growth and profitability through effective resource management and process optimization.
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO): You’ll be responsible for orchestrating the entire spectrum of operational activities and guiding the company towards achieving its strategic objectives while ensuring operational excellence and sustainability.
Chief Operating Officer (COO) Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Chief Operating Officer

  • High-Level Responsibility and Authority
  • Dynamic and Fast-Paced Environment
  • Opportunity for Innovation and Problem-Solving
  • Competitive Compensation and Benefits
  • Leadership Development and Networking Opportunities

Worst Aspects of Working as a Chief Operating Officer

  • Intense Pressure and Stress
  • High Expectations and Accountability
  • Balancing Short-term Demands with Long-term Strategy
  • Managing Interdepartmental Conflicts and Politics
  • Long Hours and Limited Work-Life Balance

Useful Skills to Have as a Chief Operating Officer

  • Strategic Planning
  • Leadership and Team Management
  • Financial Analysis and Budgeting
  • Operational Efficiency Optimization
  • Crisis Management and Problem-solving

Popular Chief Operating Officer Specialties

  • Operations Management
  • Financial Operations
  • Technology Operations
  • Sales and Marketing Operations
  • Human Resources Operations

How to Become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Chief Operating Officer (COO) 5 Steps to Career


Do I Need a Degree to Become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

While a degree is not always a strict requirement to become a COO, it is highly beneficial and often preferred by employers. Many COOs hold at least a bachelor’s degree in fields such as business administration, management, finance, or a related discipline. Additionally, advanced degrees such as an MBA can enhance your credentials and provide valuable knowledge and skills relevant to the role of a COO. However, practical experience, leadership abilities, and a track record of success in operational roles can also be significant factors in securing a COO position. Ultimately, the specific educational requirements may vary depending on the industry, company, and individual circumstances.

Why is it Important to Get a Degree in Business, Finance, or a Related Field?

Getting a degree in business, finance, or a related field is important for several reasons:

  • Knowledge Acquisition: These fields provide foundational knowledge in areas such as management principles, financial analysis, marketing strategies, and organizational behavior, which are essential for success in a COO role.
  • Skill Development: Degree programs often include coursework and practical experiences that help develop critical skills such as leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication, all of which are vital for a COO.
  • Credibility and Qualifications: A degree in a relevant field can enhance your credibility and qualifications, demonstrating to employers that you have a solid academic foundation and are equipped with the necessary expertise to excel in leadership positions.
  • Networking Opportunities: Pursuing a degree offers opportunities to connect with peers, professors, and professionals in the business world, expanding your network and providing access to potential mentors, advisors, and job opportunities.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Business?

Typically, a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field takes about four years of full-time study to complete. However, the duration may vary depending on factors such as program structure, course load, and any prior college credits or transferable coursework.

How Much Does it Cost to Study Business at University?

The cost of studying business at a university can vary widely depending on factors such as the institution’s location, reputation, and whether it is a public or private school. On average, tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree in business administration range from USD 5,000 to USD 50,000 per year.

Additionally, you should consider other expenses such as textbooks, supplies, housing, and living expenses when estimating the total cost of education.

Can I Become a Chief Operating Officer (COO) Through Online Education?

Yes, it’s possible to become a COO through online education, although it may require a combination of online learning, practical experience, and networking. Many reputable universities offer online degree programs in business administration, management, and related fields, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees. These programs provide the flexibility to study at your own pace while gaining essential knowledge and skills in areas relevant to a COO role.

In addition to formal education, gaining practical experience through internships, entry-level positions, and progressively responsible roles within organizations is crucial for career advancement. Networking with professionals in your industry, seeking mentorship, and actively seeking out leadership opportunities can also help you pave the way to becoming a COO.

While online education can provide a solid foundation, it’s essential to supplement your learning with hands-on experience and continuous professional development to enhance your qualifications and increase your chances of securing executive-level positions such as COO.

What are Some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Chief Operating Officer?

Here are some reputable web resources where you can learn skills to become a COO:

  • Harvard Business Review (HBR): HBR offers a wealth of articles, case studies, and expert insights on leadership, strategy, operations, and management, all of which are valuable for aspiring COOs.
  • MIT Sloan Management Review: MIT Sloan Management Review provides cutting-edge research, analysis, and practical advice on management and leadership topics, including operations management and strategic decision-making.
  • Operations Management Society (OMS): OMS is a professional organization dedicated to advancing the theory and practice of operations management. Their website offers resources such as research papers, webinars, and industry news relevant to COOs and operations professionals.
  • The Conference Board: The Conference Board is a global research organization that produces reports, webcasts, and events on various business topics, including operations, strategy, and leadership development. Their insights can be valuable for COOs seeking to stay informed about industry trends and best practices.

Practical Experience

What are Internship Opportunities for a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

Internship opportunities for aspiring COOs may vary depending on the industry, company size, and specific career goals.

Here are some potential internship opportunities that can provide valuable experience for individuals interested in pursuing a career as a COO:

  • Operations Management Intern: Interning in operations management provides hands-on experience in overseeing day-to-day operations, managing projects, optimizing processes, and implementing efficiency improvements within an organization.
  • Business Development Intern: A business development internship can offer exposure to strategic planning, market analysis, partnership development, and revenue growth initiatives, which are essential skills for a COO responsible for driving business growth.
  • Project Management Intern: Interning in project management allows individuals to develop skills in planning, execution, and coordination of projects across different departments, which are critical for overseeing cross-functional initiatives as a COO.
  • Finance Intern: Interning in finance provides insight into financial analysis, budgeting, forecasting, and financial reporting, which are important aspects of managing financial operations as a COO.
  • Leadership Development Program Intern: Some companies offer leadership development programs or rotational internships that expose participants to various aspects of business operations, leadership skills development, and strategic decision-making, preparing them for future executive roles such as COO.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

As a COO, you will develop and refine a wide range of skills essential for effectively managing business operations and driving organizational success.

Some key skills you will learn as a COO include:

  • Leadership: You will learn to inspire and motivate teams, provide direction, and make strategic decisions to achieve company goals.
  • Strategic Planning: You will develop the ability to formulate long-term objectives, set priorities, and create action plans to guide the organization toward its vision.
  • Operational Management: You will gain expertise in overseeing day-to-day operations, optimizing processes, and ensuring efficiency across all departments.
  • Financial Management: You will learn to analyze financial data, develop budgets, manage resources effectively, and make informed financial decisions to support business growth.
  • Problem-Solving: You will develop strong analytical and critical thinking skills to identify challenges, develop creative solutions, and address complex business problems.
  • Communication: You will enhance your communication skills, both verbal and written, to effectively convey ideas, provide feedback, and collaborate with stakeholders at all levels of the organization.
  • Relationship Building: You will learn to build and maintain relationships with internal teams, external partners, and key stakeholders to foster collaboration and drive success.
  • Change Management: You will develop the ability to lead and manage organizational change initiatives, adapt to market dynamics, and drive continuous improvement within the company.
  • Risk Management: You will gain expertise in identifying potential risks, assessing their impact, and implementing strategies to mitigate risks and ensure business continuity.
  • Decision-Making: You will refine your decision-making skills, balancing data-driven insights, intuition, and stakeholder input to make informed and timely decisions that align with organizational objectives.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

The work-life balance of a COO can vary significantly depending on the industry, company culture, and individual circumstances. Generally, COOs are expected to dedicate a considerable amount of time and energy to their roles, often working long hours and being available outside of regular business hours to address urgent matters or attend important meetings.

Due to the high level of responsibility and the demanding nature of the job, COOs may find themselves regularly working evenings, weekends, and even holidays to ensure the smooth operation of the business and drive strategic initiatives forward. The pressure to meet performance targets, manage competing priorities, and navigate unforeseen challenges can contribute to a demanding work schedule and limited personal time.

However, some COOs are able to maintain a more balanced lifestyle by delegating responsibilities effectively, prioritizing tasks, and setting boundaries to protect their personal time. Additionally, supportive company cultures that value employee well-being and offer flexible work arrangements can contribute to a healthier work-life balance for COOs.

What’s the Career Outlook for Chief Operating Officers in the United States?

The BLS typically tracks employment data for occupational categories rather than specific executive roles within companies.

However, the broader category of top executives, which includes COOs among other executive positions, is projected to grow by 3% from 2022 to 2032, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. This growth rate is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Keep in mind that actual job prospects for COOs may vary depending on factors such as industry trends, economic conditions, and individual qualifications.

Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

The role of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) often serves as a stepping stone to higher executive positions within organizations.

Some potential job opportunities or positions that COOs may transition into include:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Many COOs eventually ascend to the CEO role, where they assume overall responsibility for the organization’s strategic direction, performance, and success.
  • President: COOs may transition into the position of President, where they oversee specific divisions or regions within the company, or hold broader responsibilities similar to those of a CEO.
  • General Manager: In some cases, COOs may become General Managers of business units or subsidiaries, where they have authority over all aspects of the unit’s operations, including financial performance, strategic planning, and personnel management.
  • Executive Vice President (EVP): COOs may take on the role of EVP, where they hold significant leadership responsibilities and work closely with the CEO and other senior executives to drive organizational objectives.
  • Board Member: Experienced COOs may transition to serving on corporate boards of directors, providing strategic guidance, oversight, and governance to the organization.
  • Consultant or Advisor: Some COOs leverage their expertise and experience to become consultants or advisors, offering strategic counsel and operational insights to businesses across various industries.
  • Entrepreneur: COOs with a strong entrepreneurial spirit may choose to start their own businesses or join startup ventures, applying their leadership skills and operational expertise to drive growth and success in new ventures.

What Type of Companies Hire a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

Chief Operating Officers (COOs) are typically hired by companies across various industries and sectors, ranging from small startups to large multinational corporations. Companies that hire COOs often value their expertise in overseeing day-to-day operations, driving efficiency, and executing strategic initiatives.

Some common types of companies that hire COOs include:

  • Corporate Enterprises: Large corporations in industries such as finance, technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality often employ COOs to manage complex operations and support business growth.
  • Startups and Scaleups: Growing startups and scaleups may hire COOs to help scale their operations, streamline processes, and implement systems to support rapid expansion.
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Nonprofit organizations, including charities, foundations, and advocacy groups, may hire COOs to oversee administrative operations, manage resources effectively, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Professional Services Firms: Consulting firms, law firms, accounting firms, and other professional services organizations may hire COOs to oversee internal operations, support service delivery, and drive business development efforts.
  • Government Agencies: Government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels may employ COOs to manage administrative functions, optimize processes, and improve service delivery to constituents.
  • Healthcare Organizations: Hospitals, healthcare systems, and medical practices often hire COOs to oversee clinical and administrative operations, ensure compliance with healthcare regulations, and improve patient care delivery.
  • Educational Institutions: Colleges, universities, and K-12 school districts may hire COOs to oversee administrative operations, facilities management, and support services for students, faculty, and staff.

Should I Become a Chief Operating Officer?

In conclusion, the role of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) offers a unique blend of strategic leadership, operational oversight, and impactful decision-making within organizations of all sizes and industries. 

While the path to becoming a COO requires dedication, experience, and continuous learning, the rewards can be significant for those who thrive in dynamic environments and are passionate about driving business success. As you consider whether to pursue a career as a COO, reflect on your strengths, aspirations, and values, and assess whether the challenges and opportunities of the role align with your professional goals. 

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Lace Brunsden

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