Looking for the perfect job?
Explore our Career Guides!

Read More

What is a Chief People Officer and How to Become One

By Ajoke Aminu


Are you passionate about bringing life to businesses by creating a vibrant, thriving community?

After all, the employees are the heart and soul of every office, so if you enjoy helping people or are just curious about the Chief People Officer salary, come along as we delve deeper. This guide will demystify the true meaning of “what is a chief people officer?”, revealing that the Chief People Officer job description goes beyond traditional human resources.

Career Summary

Chief People Officer Salary

Chief People Officer Salary

The CPO role within an organization carries both a weighty responsibility and, understandably, a substantial paycheck to match.

According to Glassdoor, here is the Chief People Officer salary trajectory in the US:

  • Entry: US$283K
  • Median: US$377K
  • Executive: US$517K

With earnings that soar high above the national average income of $59,428, according to Forbes, the Chief People Officer salary dances in the limelight of high-income roles in the United States. 

What is a Chief People Officer?

A Chief People Officer (CPO) is a senior executive responsible for overseeing an organization’s human resources function. They play a strategic role in shaping the company’s approach to talent acquisition, employee development, and creating a positive work culture. The CPO serves as a bridge between the employees and the leadership team, ensuring that the organization’s people-related initiatives align with its overall business strategy.

What does a Chief People Officer do?

As a Chief People Officer (CPO), your primary role is to oversee and manage the human resources function within an organization. You are responsible for developing and implementing HR strategies that align with the company’s goals and objectives. This includes talent acquisition, employee development, performance management, and fostering a positive work culture. You serve as a strategic partner to the leadership team, ensuring that the organization’s people-related initiatives support its overall business strategy. Additionally, you handle employee relations, ensure compliance with labor laws, and play a pivotal role in shaping and maintaining the organization’s culture. Your ultimate goal is to create an environment where employees feel engaged, supported, and motivated to contribute to the success of the organization. 

Chief People Officer Career Progression 

  • Entry-Level HR Roles (HR Coordinator, HR Assistant): Responsibilities may include administrative tasks, employee record maintenance, and support for HR programs.
  • HR Specialist/Generalist: Specialize in specific areas like recruitment, employee relations, compensation, or benefits.
  • HR Manager: Responsible for managing specific HR functions or business units within the organization. They work closely with the CPO and gain experience in various HR disciplines.
  • HR Director: Oversee the overall HR function within an organization, collaborating with senior leaders to align HR strategies with business objectives.
  • Vice President of Human Resources: Responsible for leading the HR department and providing strategic guidance to the executive team on people-related matters.
  • Chief People Officer/Chief HR Officer (CHRO): The highest-ranking HR executive in an organization, responsible for developing and executing the HR strategy and advising the CEO on talent management and organizational development.
Chief People Officer Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Chief People Officer 

  • Making a positive impact on employee experience and engagement.
  • Shaping and influencing organizational culture.
  • Developing and implementing strategic HR initiatives.
  • Building strong relationships with employees and leaders.
  • Contributing to the overall success and growth of the organization.

Worst Aspects of Working as a Chief People Officer 

  • Balancing the needs of employees with the organization’s goals.
  • Handling complex employee relations issues and conflicts.
  • Navigating organizational politics and resistance to change.
  • Dealing with the potential stress of managing HR crises.
  • The constant need to stay updated with evolving HR practices and regulations.

Useful Skills to Have as a Chief People Officer

  • Strategic thinking and business acumen
  • Strong leadership and communication skills
  • Expertise in talent management and employee development
  • Problem-solving and conflict resolution abilities
  • Knowledge of HR best practices and employment laws

Popular Chief People Officer Specialties 

  • Talent Acquisition and Recruiting
  • Organizational Development and Change Management
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Employee Relations and Engagement
  • HR Analytics and Technology

How to Become a Chief People Officer

Chief People Officer 5 Steps to Career


Three phases that are never missing in becoming a Chief People Officer (CPO) are education, experience, and skills, as they are common steps most people take. The first step is getting a solid educational foundation—usually involving earning a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s degree, in a relevant field. Intrigued? Let’s delve deeper into the educational requirements and other critical factors that can help you chart your path to this coveted role. 

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Chief People Officer?

Indeed, a degree in human resources, business administration, organizational psychology, or a related field can provide a strong foundation of knowledge and skills necessary for the CPO role. These degrees are designed to equip you with a comprehensive understanding of human resource management. For instance, a degree in Human Resources provides an in-depth look into talent acquisition strategies, employee relations protocols, and effective performance management systems. Meanwhile, studying Business Administration can offer a broader perspective on how various departments within an organization function and interact. It also helps develop strong leadership and managerial skills, which are vital in a CPO role.

Furthermore, pursuing Organizational Psychology can give you insights into the psychological principles at work in businesses, helping you understand and improve workplace dynamics, employee motivation, and organizational culture. Moreover, these degrees often include modules on compensation and benefits, giving you the knowledge to design competitive and fair remuneration structures. They also cover organizational development, equipping you with the skills to foster a positive, productive work environment and to manage change effectively. 

Why is it Important to Get a Degree as a Chief People Officer?

Essentially, the proper education won’t just provide you with theoretical knowledge; it will also equip you with the practical skills necessary to navigate the complex, ever-evolving landscape of human resources at a strategic level. More importantly, a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is often a prerequisite in any chief people officer job description.

Other factors include:

  • Credibility and Professionalism: Having a degree enhances the credibility and professionalism of the CPO. It demonstrates a commitment to continuous learning and development and a dedication to mastering the specialized skills and competencies required in human resources management.
  • Strategic Perspective: Degree programs often emphasize strategic thinking and decision-making skills, essential for CPOs to align HR initiatives with organizational goals and objectives. A formal education helps CPOs develop the ability to analyze complex organizational issues, anticipate future trends, and develop innovative solutions to drive business success through effective people management.
  • Professional Development: Many degree programs incorporate experiential learning opportunities such as internships, practicums, case studies, and projects that allow CPOs to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings. These experiences contribute to professional development by enhancing critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and leadership skills.

How Long Does Getting a Degree as a Chief People Officer Take?

Becoming a Chief People Officer (CPO) typically starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, which can take three to five years, depending on the program. After earning a bachelor’s degree, many aspiring CPOs further their education by pursuing advanced qualifications. For example, some might choose to earn a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualification, which can be at level 6 or 7. Others might opt for an MBA or a master’s degree in a related field, which usually takes one to two years

How Much Does it Cost to Study at a University to Become a Chief People Officer?

The cost of studying to become a Chief People Officer at a university or through an executive education program can vary greatly depending on the institution and the specific program. For instance, the Chief Human Resources Officer Program at Wharton Executive Education is priced at US$20,000. This fee covers teaching costs, all academic materials, and access to online coursework but does not include accommodation expenses. 

It’s also worth noting that various online certifications are available for aspiring Chief People Officers. The cost of these certifications would depend on the issuing organization and the specific certification. Delve deeper to learn more about online education for this career path.

Can I Become a Chief People Officer Through Online Education?

Yes, you can become a Chief People Officer through online education. Despite education being a requirement in a typical chief people officer job description, some individuals have achieved this position through relevant work experience, professional development programs, certifications, and continuous learning. For example, Arizona State University (ASU) Online offers a program with a strong foundation in employment law, a critical aspect of human resources management.

Additionally, Cambridge Judge Business School provides a Chief Human Resources Officer Programme with a flexible learning format, including faculty sessions, guest lectures, and case studies. These online programs allow you to gain the necessary education from the comfort of your home and at your own pace, making them an excellent option for working professionals looking to advance their careers.

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

There are several reputable web resources available for individuals who want to learn the skills necessary to become a Chief People Officer.

Here are some industry-specific authority websites:

  • AIHR Digital: This site provides a blog that outlines key skills needed to become a Chief Human Resources Officer, a role closely related to a Chief People Officer. They also offer various online HR courses.
  • Heidrick & Struggles: They provide a comprehensive guide for first-time chief people officers, outlining the changes that are needed.
  • Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): SHRM is a professional association dedicated to advancing the field of human resources. Their website offers a wealth of resources, including articles, research reports, webcasts, and online courses specifically tailored to HR professionals. They also provide certifications, such as the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, which can enhance your credentials as a CPO.
  • Human Capital Institute (HCI): HCI is an organization that focuses on strategic talent management and development. Their website features a variety of resources, including webinars, whitepapers, research studies, and online training programs, covering topics like talent acquisition, employee engagement, leadership development, and organizational culture.
  • Human Resources Today: Human Resources Today is an online publication focused on HR trends, technology, and best practices. Their website features articles, expert insights, case studies, and webinars, covering a wide range of HR topics. It can be a valuable resource for staying updated on the latest industry trends and gaining practical insights.

Practical Experience

Practical experience for a chief people officer can vary significantly depending on the industry and size of the company. However, there are some common experiences most successful CPOs share, including HR leadership experience, strategic planning, employee management, diversity and inclusion, business acumen, and more. 

As an aspiring CPO, you’ll stand out from other candidates if you go beyond the basic requirements outlined in the chief people officer job description and gain practical experience in these areas before applying for entry-level roles. By doing so, you’ll not only enhance your candidacy but also prepare yourself better for the challenges and opportunities that come with the CPO position. Let’s consider how to gain practical experience.

What are Internship Opportunities for a Chief People Officer?

Internship opportunities specifically tailored for aspiring Chief People Officers (CPOs) may be relatively rare, as the role of a CPO typically requires significant experience and expertise in human resources. However, there are internships available in HR departments or related roles that can provide valuable experience and help you develop the skills necessary for a future CPO position.

Here are a few potential internship opportunities:

  • HR Intern: Many organizations offer HR internships, where you can gain hands-on experience in various HR functions. This can include assisting with recruitment and onboarding, employee relations, performance management, training and development, and HR policy implementation. Such internships can provide a broad understanding of HR operations and help you build a strong foundation in the field.
  • Talent Acquisition Intern: Interning in a talent acquisition or recruitment role can provide valuable insights into the process of attracting, assessing, and hiring talent. This experience can help you understand the importance of strategic workforce planning, candidate sourcing, interviewing techniques, and employer branding – all of which are crucial aspects of the CPO role.
  • HR Analytics Intern: In today’s data-driven world, HR analytics is becoming increasingly important. Interning in an HR analytics role can provide exposure to data analysis, reporting, and the use of HR technology tools and systems. This experience can help you gain a solid understanding of how data can be leveraged to inform HR strategies and drive data-driven decision-making as a CPO.
  • Organizational Development Intern: Organizational development internships focus on initiatives aimed at enhancing organizational effectiveness, culture, and change management. This experience can provide insights into organizational design, employee engagement, leadership development, and implementing change initiatives – all of which are crucial aspects of the CPO role.
  • Employee Relations Intern: An internship in employee relations can provide insight into managing employee grievances, conflicts, and disciplinary processes. This role involves working closely with HR professionals to address employee concerns, develop policies, and ensure a positive work environment.
  • HR Technology Intern: Many organizations rely on HR technology systems to streamline processes and enhance efficiency. Interning in an HR technology role can familiarize you with HRIS (Human Resources Information System) platforms, data management, system implementation, and process automation. This knowledge can be valuable in leading HR technology initiatives as a CPO.
  • HR Consulting Intern: Consider interning with an HR consulting firm, where you can work on a variety of HR projects for different clients. This experience can expose you to diverse HR challenges, strategic planning, and consulting methodologies, allowing you to develop a broader perspective and enhance your problem-solving skills.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Chief People Officer?

As a Chief People Officer (CPO), you’ll acquire a diverse set of skills that are integral to successful people management and business operations.

Here’s a summary of the key skills you would learn:

  • Emotional Intelligence: CPOs need to manage interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. They should be able to understand and manage their own emotions and those of their team members.
  • People Management and Business Acumen: These hard skills are essential for a CPO. Understanding how a business operates, making strategic decisions, and managing teams effectively are all part of the job.
  • Financial Budgeting: A good understanding of finance is necessary as CPOs often have to manage budgets and make financial decisions related to human resources.
  • Communication Skills: Excellent verbal and written communication skills are crucial. CPOs often have to convey complex ideas clearly and succinctly, both internally and externally.
  • HR Expertise: This includes knowledge of HR practices and laws, talent acquisition, performance management, and employee engagement.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Being able to build strong relationships with team members and colleagues across the organization is key.
  • Integrity and Authenticity: Leading the HR function also requires a high level of integrity and authenticity.
  • Strategic Talent Management: This involves developing strategies for attracting, retaining, and developing talent.
  • Cultural Stewardship: CPOs play a key role in shaping and maintaining the company culture.
  • Change Management and Agility: The ability to manage change effectively and adapt quickly to new situations is increasingly important.

What is the Work-life Balance of a Chief People Officer? 

As leaders in human resources, CPOs often grapple with key areas of concern such as mental health, employee burnout, and ensuring a healthy work-life balance for their teams. CPOs advocate for employee well-being and implement initiatives that prioritize both mental and physical health. They also play a crucial role in developing strategies to enhance employee engagement, which may include promoting work-life balance and fostering a positive work environment.

Work-life balance for a CPO can be challenging given the nature of their role. They are often tasked with providing opportunities for career growth and development, implementing new technologies, and taking advantage of new resources while encouraging a healthy balance between work and personal life.

In terms of their own work-life balance, some CPOs have shared insights into their daily routines. For instance, Ashley Goldsmith, the Chief People Officer at Workday, reflects on her experience as a working mom, balancing her career and personal life. Similarly, Alex Hattingh, the Chief People Officer at Employment Hero, shares a glimpse into day-to-day life in her role.

However, it’s important to note that work-life balance can look different for everyone, especially for those in leadership roles like a CPO. It often requires a blend of flexibility, effective time management, and a supportive work environment.

What’s the Career Outlook for a Chief People Officer?

The career outlook for a Chief People Officer (CPO) in the USA is generally positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of top executives, which includes roles like CPOs, is projected to grow by 3% from 2022 to 2032. Specifically, the job outlook for the Chief People Officer role is expected to grow by 4% from 2019 to 2029.

In terms of human resources managers, a position that could be seen as a stepping stone to a CPO role, the BLS projects a growth rate of 5% from 2022 to 2032. This indicates a favorable trend in HR leadership roles. In conclusion, the career outlook for a Chief People Officer in the USA is generally favorable with a steady growth projection and competitive salaries.

Chief People Officer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for a Chief People Officer?

Job opportunities for Chief People Officers (CPOs) encompass a range of executive-level roles within organizations across various sectors.

Some common job titles and roles for CPOs include:

  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO): This is the most common title for the top HR executive in an organization. CHROs are responsible for overseeing all aspects of human resources, including talent acquisition, employee relations, performance management, compensation and benefits, training and development, and HR strategy development.
  • Vice President or Director of Human Resources: In some organizations, especially mid-sized companies or those with simpler organizational structures, the top HR executive may hold the title of Vice President or Director of Human Resources. They perform similar functions to a CHRO but may have a narrower scope of responsibilities.
  • Head of People Operations: This role often focuses on the operational aspects of HR, such as HRIS implementation, process improvement, and HR analytics. The Head of People Operations collaborates closely with other HR leaders to ensure efficient and effective HR processes and systems.
  • Talent Management Executive: Some organizations have specific roles dedicated to talent management, which includes areas such as talent acquisition, performance management, succession planning, and leadership development. These executives work closely with business leaders to align talent strategies with organizational goals.
  • Employee Experience Leader: In companies that prioritize employee experience as a strategic priority, the Employee Experience Leader focuses on creating a positive work environment, fostering employee engagement, and enhancing the overall employee journey.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer: With the increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, many organizations have dedicated leaders responsible for developing and implementing DEI strategies, policies, and initiatives.
  • Organizational Development Executive: This role focuses on driving organizational change, culture transformation, and leadership development initiatives to support business growth and agility.
  • HR Business Partner or HR Manager: While these roles may not always be at the executive level, they are crucial for implementing HR strategies and initiatives at the operational level, and supporting business units or departments with their HR needs.

What Type of Companies Hire a Chief People Officer?

As a Chief People Officer (CPO), you can explore roles across various industries and organizations. The primary responsibility of a CPO is to oversee the management of an organization’s human resources, ensuring the development and implementation of effective HR strategies to support the company’s goals.

Here are some types of companies suitable for a CPO:

  • Corporate Sector: Many large corporations have dedicated HR departments and employ CPOs to lead their people management functions. These organizations may operate in diverse industries, such as technology, finance, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and more. As a CPO in the corporate sector, you would be responsible for shaping the company’s HR strategy, managing workforce planning, fostering employee engagement, and ensuring compliance with labor laws and regulations.
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Non-profit organizations, including NGOs, educational institutions, healthcare organizations, and charitable foundations, often employ CPOs to manage their talent and support their mission. In these roles, you would focus on aligning HR practices with the organization’s goals, managing volunteer programs, developing compensation and benefits structures, and promoting a positive work culture.
  • Startups and Small Businesses: Startups and small businesses may have smaller HR teams or rely on external HR consultants. However, as these organizations grow, they often seek experienced HR professionals, including CPOs, to establish and lead their HR functions. In these roles, you would be responsible for shaping HR policies, recruiting and retaining talent, designing training and development programs, and promoting organizational values.
  • Consulting and Advisory Firms: HR consulting firms and advisory companies often employ CPOs to provide strategic guidance and support to clients. In this capacity, you would work with multiple organizations, offering expertise in HR strategy, organizational development, talent management, and change management. These roles may involve collaborating with clients to develop and implement HR initiatives, conduct HR audits, and provide recommendations on optimizing people-related practices.
  • Government and Public Sector: Government agencies and public sector organizations also require HR leadership. As a CPO in the public sector, you would be responsible for developing HR policies, managing civil service systems, ensuring fair and equitable recruitment and selection processes, and promoting employee development and retention.
  • Higher Education Institutions: Colleges and universities often have dedicated HR departments, and some may hire CPOs to provide strategic leadership in managing faculty, staff, and student employment. In these roles, you would oversee HR operations, develop inclusive HR policies, manage labor relations, and support organizational development initiatives.

Should I Become a Chief People Officer?

While making your decision, it’s crucial to consider your personal interests and skills. Do you enjoy working with people and helping them reach their full potential? Are you passionate about shaping company culture and driving employee engagement? Do you have a strong understanding of business operations and human resources? If so, a career as a CPO might be a good fit for you.

In addition, consider your long-term career goals. A position as a CPO can offer a rewarding career path with opportunities for growth and development. However, it’s essential to weigh these benefits against the demands and responsibilities of the role. The career outlook for a CPO in the USA is generally positive, with steady growth projections, strong representation of women, and competitive salaries. However, it’s also important to consider the potential challenges, as earlier mentioned, such as managing work-life balance and dealing with high-stress situations. 

Thus, becoming a Chief People Officer can be a fulfilling and rewarding career choice for those with a passion for people management and organizational development. Nevertheless, it’s a decision that should be made after thorough research and reflection on your personal interests, skills, and career aspirations.

Careers Related to Chief People Officer

Ajoke Aminu

About the Author

Read more articles by Ajoke Aminu