Job description of chief operating officer

Job description of chief operating officer
Last Updated: January 23, 2024

The job description of the chief operating offer is one of the key jobs in an organization. It is the second in command. It s a role that significantly impacts how an organization operates.


The chief operating officer(COO) is responsible for all day-to-day operations of the company. They oversee the operations, finance, human resources, marketing, and other departments. The COO ensures that the company meets its goals and objectives. They must be able to work with various departments to make sure that everything runs smoothly.


The job description of the chief operating offers can vary from company to company. For example, in some organizations, the chief operating officer is responsible for the overall running of all operations covering all departments. The chief operating officer is sometimes responsible for a portion of the business, focusing on the core business operations. Such arrangements tend to exclude the support functions, which are left to report to the Chief Executive Officer. 


The chief operating officer focuses on operations issues, and the focus is internal, while the CEO is responsible for external issues. The CEO in such structures tends to focus on opening external doors for the business, such as engaging external stakeholders.


The job description of chief operating officer has responsibilities that vary depending on the company. However, they will generally include overseeing the company's day-to-day operations, developing strategic plans, and ensuring that the company meets its financial goals.


A COO needs to be able to work well with other people. They should be able to communicate effectively and understand the needs of other departments. They should also be able to work well under pressure and make quick decisions.


The chief operating officer is expected to communicate effectively with all departments within the company. The COO must work with the CEO to ensure that the company meets its goals and objectives. The COO must also work with the Board of Directors to ensure the company is on track.


Related: Job description of CEO: Everything you need to know


Job description of chief operating officer: Overall purpose of the job

The chief operating officer oversees the business's day-to-day operations and ensures it achieves its mission and vision. The chief operating officer is responsible for developing a winning strategy for the organization and putting in place the mechanisms for deploying, tracking, and evaluating the success of such strategies. They are responsible for crafting policies and procedures to support the business strategy.


Job description of chief operating officer: Primary duties


The job description of chief operating officer must contain enough detail about what the job entails. In this section, I will list the typical duties of a chief operating officer.


  • Develops and executes the firm's strategy by mobilizing key leaders and their teams to align with the strategic thrust of the organization.
  • Ensures the organization's productivity by building a performance culture within the business.
  • Oversees the implementation of all operational plans by agreeing on targets with divisional heads and putting a mechanism for tracking progress.
  • Ensures each division supports the organization's strategy by agreeing on critical goals and targets for all senior leaders.
  • Leads support functions (IT., HR, PR, etc.) by ensuring their mandate aligns with the overall business strategy.
  • Collaborates with the CEO to establish and drive the corporate vision and operational strategy by building a productive working relationship with the CEO.
  • Translates strategy into actional steps by establishing organizational-wide goal setting, performance management, and yearly operations planning.
  • Ensures the organization complies with all regulatory and policy requirements by instituting periodic business audits.
  • Optimizes all business processes by analyzing and identifying areas for process enhancement.
  • Optimizes capital investments for the business by assessing the return on investment on capital employed.
  • Attracts and retains competent staff by leading in the development of an attractive employer brand for the business.
  • Develops a succession plan for critical roles within the business by collaborating with the CEO and the Board.
  • Ensures business profitability by optimizing resource utilization in all areas of the business.
  • Evaluates company performance by carrying out a periodic evaluation of performance throughout the organization.
  • Leads the effort to get low-cost financing for the company by partnering with internal finance professionals and bankers.
  • Prepares quarterly board reports in collaboration with all divisional heads.
  • Drives company results from an operational and financial perspective by making everyone within the organizational accountable for results.
  • Sets challenging but realistic goals for the organization by engaging senior leaders in the goal-setting process.
  • Drives the budgeting process by working with C-level executives in resource forecasting.
  • Fosters profitable relationships and partnerships by engaging relevant customers and stakeholders.
  • Leads in digitalizing critical business processes by engaging key line leaders on their digitalization requirements.
  • Builds a cost-efficient business mode by periodically reviewing market trends and business resource requirements.


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Job description of chief operating officer: Education and training requirements

The chief operating officer job description often lists the education and training required for someone to succeed in this role. The choice of what education and training to list on the job description depends on the job scope covered by this role and the work's complexity level. The candidates must possess, as a minimum, a university degree. We are seeing other organizations making it mandatory for this role to have a masters degree.  


I have noted that, in some instances, the role requires an individual with technical industry knowledge. Let us look at the COO for companies operating in the mining, pharmaceutical, and engineering industries. You will notice that some of these require someone with industry-specific technical know-how. The standard chief operating officer job description lists a commercial degree as a requirement for someone to succeed in this role.


It is important to note that most companies hiring a chief operating officer will not hire an individual who does not have a first degree plus a masters degree in a commercial field like MBA or equivalent. The chief operating officer is a business leader responsible for making the business achieve profitable growth. For that reason, they would need to possess a business degree at a masters level.


Below are some educational requirements for the chief operating officer job description.

  • A first degree in a relevant field (sometimes specified as a business degree or equivalent. What you specify here must depend on the knowledge you require a person to possess to drive business success).
  • An MBA or equivalent is a mandatory requirement.


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Job description of chief operating officer: Experience requirements

 The chief operating officer job description lists this role's experience range. The experience to put in the job description would vary from organization to organization. Some mention that the ideal candidate must possess a certain number of years at the executive level plus another at the COO level. The standard experience requirements  I have seen on the market include the ones listed below:

  • 5 years of experience at the senior executive level is a requirement.
  • At least another 5 years at the COO level or equivalent is required.
  • Experience leading other senior-level executives is a mandatory requirement.
  • Experience leading senior executives outside the candidate's experience and educational path is a requirement.
  • Experience managing a diverse group of stakeholders is required.
  • Experience in engaging the Board is mandatory.
  • Experience and exposure to essential business support functions such as HR, Finance, and IT are mandatory requirements.


Job description of chief operating officer: Other characteristics  

Besides the educational, training, and experience requirements listed in this job, the job often requires candidates to possess other characteristics. Below I list some of the abilities and characteristics the candidate for the chief operating officer position needs.


  • A good understanding of good corporate governance is a requirement.
  • A high level of business acumen is mandatory
  • High levels of critical thinking are required.
  • Good collaboration skills.
  • Proven experience managing diverse teams.
  • High levels of ethical leadership.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Good presentation skills.
  • Ability to lead the preparation of budgets.
  • Business forecasting skills.



 The role of the chief operating officer has controversy around its existence in organizational structures. Different organizations establish this role for various reasons. Sometimes this is done to prepare targeted individuals for succession planning. Sometimes it's created to sideline the CEO.


Recent research shows that the number of companies with the role of the chief operating officer is declining. A Princeton University study of 433 big US organizations found that none had a COO in 1964. By 1994, more than two-thirds had done so.


Research shows that the chief operating officer role is more common in the private sector than in other sectors.


Some researchers have found that organizations with the roles of CEO and COO perform poorly in financial performance compared to their peers. Others have argued that the COO role acts as a buffer between the CEO and the rest of the organization making the organization ineffective.


Charan and Colvin (1999) believe that the two roles harm performance because, in most cases, strategy formulation is driven by the CEO, while the chief operating officer drives implementation. Because the CEO is externally focused and the chief operating officer internally focused, they argue that the CEO is too far away and preoccupied with external matters to notice internal situations that require their intervention. Others have argued that the presence of the chief operating officer creates a healthy power balance, especially checking the excesses of some CEOs who may put self-interest ahead of those of the organization.


Pfeffer and Salancik (1978) argue that the inclusion of a COO allows the CEO to dedicate more time to long-term planning and lead the firm's interaction with key external stakeholders.


While the job titles suggest the role is purely operational, the candidates deal with operational and strategic issues in most organizations. The chief operating role is the anchor role when it comes to driving strategy implementation. The candidates for this role need to possess skills that will make them successful. They require business and political acumen to navigate the terrain, especially in complex organizations. They must be able to communicate effectively at the board level, as well as with customers and other stakeholders of the firm.


It will be hard for anyone to succeed in this role without a deeper understanding of the business model and industry trends. There is a need for deeper technical know-how.


I believe I have outlined a detailed enough template for the job description of chief operating officer. Feel free to customize this job description template for your organization.


Memory Nguwi
Super User
This article was written by Memory a Super User at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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