Chief Operating Officer Vs. CEO

Aug 31, 2018

Chief operating officers and CEOs are two of the top business executives at a company. Chief operating officers help ensure the execution of the plans and overall direction of the business, which are developed by the CEO.

Comparing Chief Operating Officers to CEOs

Chief operating officers and chief executive officers both work long hours and bear great responsibilities as business leaders who attempt to guide their company to success. The primary difference between the two is that the ultimate responsibility falls on the CEO. Other similarities and differences are explored below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2018)** Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Chief Operating Officer Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Business or a related field $139,179 8% (for all top executives)
CEO Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Business or a related field $161,969 -4% (for all chief executives)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.Com

Responsibilities of Chief Operating Officers vs. CEOs

Depending on the organization, COOs and CEOs may have similar day-to-day duties. They both lead by example as they work long hours and make tough decisions while managing the work of business executives. Both positions must look to the future while they analyze the results of the past. The biggest difference is the size of the responsibility. The CEO must set and execute the direction of a company. While the COO works diligently to see these plans through, the business' wins and losses ultimately fall on the CEO.

Chief Operating Officer

COOs are generally the second in command at large corporations, just behind the CEO. While daily responsibilities may vary greatly depending on the company, a successful COO makes sure that a company's standards are being met and vision is being reached. This is accomplished by overseeing the work of management, interpreting reports and data, and leading by example. The success of daily operations is one of the primary duties of the COO. Due to these great responsibilities, COOs must thrive under pressure and be willing to work long hours. A graduate degree related to business is common for this profession.

Job responsibilities of a chief operating officer include:

  • Communicate with analysts to intelligently review assets and financial numbers
  • Manage the financial efficiency of the company
  • Execute strategies laid out by the CEO
  • Finalize contracts and agreements


While they may answer to a board of directors, at the end of the day it is the CEOs who primarily take responsibility for the successes and failures of a company. CEOs must set the tone and direction of an organization by developing long- and short-term goals, policies, and business operations. These are developed with the input of other top executives, such as chief operating officers (COOs) and chief financial officers (CFOs), but the final decisions belong to the CEO. As a leader and the potential face of a business, CEOs must have excellent communication skills. While there is no road map to becoming a CEO, an advanced degree in business is greatly helpful.

Job responsibilities of a CEO include:

  • Make sure employees are accountable
  • Evaluate performance of executives
  • Pinpoint areas that need improvement
  • Maintain open communication with employees and board members

Related Careers

Of course, most of us will not jump right into being a COO or CEO! Like a chief operating officer, a strategic business analyst must examine data and make informed decisions based on what they have learned. If you think you have what it takes to lead the way a CEO does, you may want to learn more about becoming an entrepreneur.

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