Learn How to Become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 15 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

After gaining significant experience in a particular industry, most professionals aspire to assume a C-Suite position such as a CEO, COO or CFO. All of these positions command a lot of respect and also require extensive experience. But, there is often a lot of confusion about the skills that are needed to become a COO. In this article, we help you understand what a chief operating officer is, the roles and responsibilities of a COO, how to become one and answer some frequently asked questions of this profession.

What is a chief operating officer (COO)?

A chief operating officer, also known as a COO, is a senior executive within a company, responsible for overseeing the daily operations of a business. The COO is second in command within the organisation and reports to the chief executive officer (CEO). Every organisation can have only one COO at any given time. In large organisations, the COO and CFO work at the same level along with other C-Suite positions. Some other terms given to this position are chief operations officer, vice president of operations and director of operations.

Roles and responsibilities of a COO

The COO is a vital leadership role within a company that helps in driving results, carrying out daily activities and improving overall efficiency. Their focus is on the effective execution of the company's business plan.

To make this possible, a chief operating officer's roles and responsibilities include:

  • working closely with the CEO to align the organisation's vision and operational strategy

  • converting operational strategies into actionable steps and delegating responsibilities across the organisation

  • setting up a performance measurement system within the company

  • overseeing recruiting, onboarding, performance management and professional development

  • ensuring smooth functioning between the employees across all departments

  • aligning the progress of each department to overall organisational objectives

  • building and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders and clients

  • analysing internal operations and identifying areas of improvement

Related: Chief Commercial Officer: Definition And Responsibilities

Requirements of becoming a chief operating officer

To become a COO, some requirements that you may need to fulfil are:

Educational background

Some companies prefer hiring COOs who have graduated with a bachelor's in business administration (BBA), while others prefer candidates with a master's in business administration (MBA). These full-time courses help you build a strong foundation in management-related subjects. During these courses, you can learn various aspects of business and also understand team management, apply managerial principles to real-life situations and manage resources efficiently. Some other subjects that may be covered in these courses include economics, strategy, business communication, business ethics and financial management.


As a COO, you might be responsible for some of the most crucial functions of the business. You may have to liaise between the CEO and the rest of the organisation. In addition to educational qualifications and work experience, there are several types of skills that a COO must ideally possess:

Leadership skills

As a senior executive, a COO leads the employees within the organisation to make sure that their efforts align with the goals of the company. For this, you may need to delegate tasks, ensure collaboration within departments and ensure that interdepartmental issues are resolved effectively. Leadership skills are therefore vital for this role.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

Communication skills

Since COOs are responsible for collaboration within departments and resolving interdepartmental issues good communication skills are crucial to the job. COOs are also responsible for building relationships with key stakeholders. Since they report to the CEO, they may also have to liaise between the organisation and the CEO through effective communication.

Related: A Guide to the 7 C's of Communication

Decision-making skills

As a COO, you may need to make important decisions for the company. It ensures that the company is in good hands in the absence of a CEO during emergencies. In many cases, a COO is required to handle the internal affairs of the company. Having good decision-making skills makes sure that the COO considers all the related factors and takes decisions that benefit the entire company.

Related: What Is Decision Making? Definition, Types and Tips

Financial management

In the absence of a CFO, a COO is responsible for budgets, resource allocation and financial reporting. Therefore, they must understand all the aspects of their company's finances. This helps them uphold the financial strength of the company.

Work experience

Generally, a COO must have at least 15 years of experience working for a company in the same industry across a wide range of businesses. They must also have a minimum of five years of experience working in a senior management role within the industry. Ideally, companies prefer hiring COOs who have worked up their ranks within the organisation, as it guarantees that they know everything there is to know about the business.

Sometimes, if you have the required experience in a similar organisation, you may even be given on-the-job training so that you get the time to become well-versed in the matters of the company.

How to become a chief operating officer

The position of a COO is highly respectable and can help you grow professionally. If you aspire to become one, here are some steps that you can follow:

1. Earn a degree in management

It is important that you have a degree in management to qualify for the position of a COO. If you already have a bachelor's degree in business administration (BBA), you may want to acquire an advanced degree focused on management, like an MBA or a PGDM. While choosing your specialization, it is advisable to choose one that centres around business and strategy.

Related: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

2. Gain work experience

Companies hire professionals with work at least 10-15 years of experience for the COO position. Gain experience by working for different types of businesses in a particular industry. You can decide to stick to a particular company and then work through the levels to reach the COO's position. Since as a COO you may have to oversee the operations of different departments, it is advisable to gain hands-on experience in each of them as you prepare to become a COO.

3. Develop your skills

Soft skills are important while managing the responsibilities that come with the position of a COO. You may have to interact with stakeholders across the company, so having people skills may act in your favour. Focus on becoming a leader, practice strategic thinking and develop your analytical skills. As you gain experience, assume leadership positions that can help you manage teams in the future as a COO.

Related: Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

4. Look for suitable vacancies

Once you have the necessary educational qualifications and work experience, identify a field that you would like to work in and research the requirements for the same. Find companies that align with your profile or look if your current company has a position open for a COO. Write a persuasive cover letter highlighting your qualifications and explain what makes you the best fit for the job. After identifying a company that you want to apply to, you can also try to schedule a meeting with the CEO.

Chief operating officer FAQs

Below are some commonly asked questions about the COO position:

Who works under a COO?

A COO reports to the CEO. So ideally, everybody except the CEO works under the chief operating officer. It happens because the COO is responsible for overseeing the daily operations of every department. From finance, marketing, operations, production to human resources, managers from each department report to the COO with daily updates and reports.

What is the average salary of a COO?

The role of a chief operating officer holds a lot of responsibility and requires long hours of work. The salary depends on experience, educational qualifications, skills and certifications. Small organisations may pay COOs lesser than large multi-national companies. Commonly, the average salary of a COO in India is ₹6,13,406 per year.

What is the difference between a CEO and a COO?

The CEO is the first in command in an organisation, while the COO comes second. A CEO is hired by the Board of Directors and they report only to the board. While a CEO creates a vision for the company, the COO is responsible for ensuring that the organisation collectively works towards accomplishing the goals and objectives. Some small companies may not have a COO. In such companies, the CEO assumes both roles. As the company grows, it may need to hire a COO to help the CEO manage the daily operations.

Related: What Is a CEO? Definition and Career Advice

Is COO higher than CFO?

In small companies, the COO may perform the duties of the CFO and the COO. It is because smaller companies may not have the resources to compensate multiple senior-level officers, as they generally command higher salaries than the rest of the company. But in large companies, the CFO, also known as the Chief Financial Officer, works under the CEO along with the COO and other C-Suite positions. Both the profiles share the same level of seniority and differ only because of their duties within the company. As the names suggest, a COO oversees the operations of the company while the CFO oversees the finances.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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