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How to Become a Chief Operating Officer

Do you have a natural talent for taking the lead? If you have an interest in all areas of a business, how they work together, and how they are managed? If so, a chief operating officer (COO) could be the position calling your name. Chief operating officers look at complex problems, find creative and effective solutions, and execute them. 

COOs are usually second in command in an organization. They are responsible for the daily business operations of a company and report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO). The COO takes the vision, strategies, plans, and goals of the CEO and turns them into a successful business framework. Since a COO has their hands in many different departments, they need to be knowledgeable of all aspects of the business and experienced in a wide range of functions within the company. 

The COO is sometimes called the operating director, managing director, or executive vice president of operations. Whatever the title, the COO is the person who gets things done in the organization.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is looking for a strong and responsible person to join our team as COO. As the operating director of our company, you will be responsible for financial strategies, business plans, creating and executing company goals, directing managers, and more. The individual we’re looking for should have a knack for directing, organization, and being a leader. You will be tasked with overseeing all daily aspects of the company and should be committed to creating a safe employee environment that is successful and hardworking.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Design, plan and implement business strategies, plans, and procedures
  • Set broad goals for business growth and success
  • Create policies and procedures that promote company culture and vision
  • Maintain and direct daily operations of the business 
  • Lead employees by example 
  • Support and motivate senior executives and employees
  • Analyze and interpret data and metrics
  • Generate management and operations reports for the CEO
  • Take the lead in expansion activities 
  • Maintain healthy relationships with partners and vendors

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree at minimum; master’s degree preferred
  • Fifteen years of related business experience
  • Extensive experience in management and leadership roles 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong leadership skills
  • Excellent people management skills
  • Strong project management skills
  • Strategy skills
  • Understanding of critical business functions
  • Outstanding organizational skills 
  • Ability to multi-task

Preferred qualifications

  • Prior experience in a chief operating officer role of a relevant position
  • Experience in management
  • Master’s degree in business or related field
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills

Typical work environment

The job and working environment of a COO can vary greatly from one company to another, but they typically work in large, comfortable offices. They spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer and spend part of their day in conference rooms attending meetings. They work closely with the chief executive officer and key staff members, and the work can be stressful as the success of the business depends on them. 

Typical hours

The normal workday for a COO is from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, COOs typically work well beyond a 40 hour week, and many can work 60 hours or more, which includes nights and weekends. 

Available certifications

Here are some of the best certifications for COOs: 

  • Project Management Professional (PMP). A PMP demonstrates a solid foundation in project management, demonstrating that you have the specific skills, dedication to excellence, and the ability to perform at the highest levels. To qualify for a PMP credential, you need a four-year degree, 36 months of experience leading projects, and 35 hours of project management. If you don’t have a 4-year degree, you’ll need 60 months of leading projects. You must also agree to adhere to a code of professional conduct. The rigorous multiple-choice examination assesses and measures your ability to apply project management knowledge in areas such as initiating the project, planning the project, and executing the project. 
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP). The PgMP is the next step after the PMP certification. The PgMP acknowledges your ability to lead and coordinate multiple projects at the same time and to ensure the success of the programs. This certification shows that you have the knowledge and experience to make important decisions, to manage complex activities that might involve multiple functions and organizations across different cultures and locations, and to employ strategic objectives to enhance business results. To apply, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or associate’s degree, 48 months of project management experience, and 84 months of program management experience in the last 15 years. If you have a 4-year degree, you can apply with 48 months of project management experience and 48 months of program management experience within the last 15 years. 
  • COO-C Chief Operating Officer – Certified. The COO-C is for chief operating officers, executives, and senior managers who want to broaden their skills in operations management. Admission to the course is very selective and is based on your professional level, your achievements, and your organizational responsibility. Although there are no educational requirements, most applicants have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD. 

Career path

A bachelor’s degree in business or a related field is highly recommended. A master’s or doctoral degree will give you an extra boost above your competition. A major key to becoming a COO is gaining years of experience in management, operations, and leadership. Roles such as general manager or chief financial officer are typical stepping stones to becoming a COO.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 11-1011

2020 Employment68,868
Projected Employment in 202170,354
Projected 2019-2029 Percentage Shift 4% increase
Projected 2019-2029 Numeric Shift4,300 increase

Technology is vitally important to the COO, and as technology quickly advances, the COO has to stay on top of the changes for the company to be competitive in the market moving forward. A COO must know how to use technology correctly. Organizational structure is also becoming more important. As the remote working force expands, organizational structures will have to be redesigned. Change is occurring all around us at a rapid pace, and the COO’s of the future will have to quickly evaluate and leverage those changes to keep their companies working at their maximum potential. Tomorrow’s COOs will need skills like foresight, change management, mentoring, technical aptitude, and business acumen.