Difference Between CEO & Executive Director

CEO and executive director are both high pressure, but potentially highly lucrative, positions in the business world. Both positions lead their organizations and plan for growth, but CEOs are the top figure of a company, to employees and the public.

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Comparing CEOs to Executive Directors

CEOs and executive directors are both top executives in a company, overseeing strategies for success and future growth. The main difference is in the scope of the positions. While executive directors act as a leader of all management, CEOs must manage the business as a whole, as they tend to be the face of the company, receiving either the credit or the blame. Other similarities and differences are explored further below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
CEO Master's Degree in Business Administration (MBA) $163,507 6% (for all top executives)
Executive Director Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Business, Accounting, or Finance $77,082 6% (for all top executives)

Source: *Payscale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of CEOs vs. Executive Directors

CEOs and executive directors work in similar settings and may share similar responsibilities, depending on the business that they work for. Executive directors act as leaders of daily operations and future plans of a company or non-profit organization. These directors answer to the board of directors and to the CEO. CEOs must ensure that the business is running smoothly, as they are the leader, and in some cases spokesperson, for the company. CEOs work with their board of directors to keep the business growing and their stockholders content.


A CEO is the leader of a company, the one who is directly identified with the brand, and the one who the perception of a company's success or failure ultimately falls on. Day-to-day responsibilities may vary depending on the business, but all CEOs must develop long and short term goals and be responsible for overseeing the plans to achieve them. It is common for CEOs to have advanced business degrees and must be comfortable administering and confidently communicating their ideas in a corporate setting. While being a CEO can be financially lucrative, the position may also come with long hours and a great deal of stress.

Job responsibilities of a CEO include:

  • Leading and evaluating other top executives
  • Taking responsibility for the hard decisions that may determine the future of the organization
  • Maintaining relationships with shareholders and other business peers
  • Pushing forward business development in a fiscally responsible manner

Executive Director

Executive directors are top executives that help create and implement the business plans that will drive a company to success. While an executive director answers to and consults with the board of directors, it is ultimately up to the executive director to lead daily operations and develop future plans. Executive directors must be strong leaders who are able to motivate fellow employees. A bachelor's or master's degree in a related business field, such as marketing, finance, or accounting, is usually required.

Job responsibilities of an executive director include:

  • Overseeing the company budget, assets, and other financial resources
  • Leading other executives and conducting reviews
  • Maintaining strong relationships with employees, the press, and clients
  • Designing company philosophies that will motivate staff and help grow the business

Related Careers

Those interested in business careers, but not the stress that may come with being a top executive, have plenty of options to choose from. For example, consultants analyze and help improve existing business processes, while business writers prepare reports and proposals in a corporate setting.

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