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The role of a COO: key duties and responsibilities

18 Oct 2021 7 MIN READ

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The role of a COO: key duties and responsibilities

Picture your organization like a sports team. Your CEO is the head coach, while the COO is the captain—this is a good way of understanding the role of the Chief Operating Officer. 

Also known as a Chief Operations Officer or Vice President, a COO is a senior executive placed second in command to the CEO. Their primary responsibilities include supervising the company’s daily business operations, leading key initiatives, and implementing company-wide strategies. 

While the CEO formulates longer-term business strategies, the Chief Operations Officer executes them. This article breaks down the COO responsibilities for you. Enjoy. 

What is a COO?

The chief operating officer’s job is usually tailored to meet the company’s plans. Since every company has its unique organizational structure and daily operational needs, a COO’s responsibilities vary accordingly. 

Essentially, the COO role involves:

  • leading the company alongside the chief executive officer
  • acting as a bridge between the executive team and other employees
  • building the company operational strategy and implementing it
  • training to become the next CEO

For example, if the CEO of an eCommerce brand creates a strategy for customer retention, then the COO will work with the customer servicing and marketing team to execute the primary action points.

Simply put, the CEO represents the company’s ‘front of house’ while the COO focuses on the company’s behind-the-scenes. 

What are the duties of a COO?

Did you know that a COO earns an average yearly salary of $157,563? So, let’s look at the responsibilities they have on their plate to land this paycheck.

The duties of a Chief Operating Officer differ for every company—depending on the industry, the company operations, size, and business goals. 

Here’s a list of all the key responsibilities and duties of the COO position:

1. Daily operations

Overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization should form a key part of every COO job description. This involves a great deal of coordination with all departments—primarily: business development, human resources, sales and marketing, legal, and IT teams. 

In managing the complete business administration, the COO supervises other senior executives—like the CFO, the CMO, and the HR Director. 

As part of daily operations, here are some key duties that the COO fulfills:

  1. Setting up the company’s recruitment standards 
  2. Reviewing the marketing efforts and outputs 
  3. Optimizing business workflows for greater productivity
  4. Performance & KPI management 

2. Budgeting and financial planning

Unless a company has a Chief Financial Officer, the COO oversees the financial side of things as well. They engage in financial review and strategizing plans to reach the company’s revenue benchmarks. 

The COO’s role as interim CFO becomes more important when the CEO lacks financial expertise. This Operations Officer also looks into the purchase and sale of assets, industrial alliances, and investments. 

3. Administrative decision-making 

The COO works with senior management and the board of directors to gauge the company’s performance and plan for the future. They analyze every department to identify areas of improvement for increasing productivity. 

The COO is also responsible for building partnerships with key stakeholders. They interact with clients, investors, and partners, to unite and inform them about the company’s progress while empathizing with their viewpoint. 

4. Business-critical travel

There will be occasions when the COO needs to travel in order to represent the company. This could be for top-level corporate sales meetings, investor meetings, acquisition planning, or perhaps executive meetings if your business is globally distributed. 

TravelPerk is a fantastic resource to be in the hands of any COO. The user-friendly app gives your COO total control over their trip. At the same time, they’ll have a bird-eye view of the rest of the team if the team is traveling too. 

What is the ideal skillset of a COO?

Individuals in the COO position bring years of extensive experience and often a highly academically qualified skillset. That being said, there’s hardly any career path that can train you purposefully for this role.

If you want to become a Chief Operating Officer, or are looking to hire one for your business, here’s a list of skills you need to know about.  

1. Leadership skills

Despite being second-in-command, COOs supervise most processes in an organization. They interact with the majority of the workforce, guide all departments and their leaders, and plan how to optimize different workflows for cross-collaborative teams. 

To carry these responsibilities, you need somebody with a strong leadership aptitude. The candidate should bring a unique leadership style to the table and understand qualities like empathy, collaboration, delegation, emotional intelligence, and influence. 

2. Management skills

A COO handles everything from people to projects. They need to stay a step ahead and prepare for the future all the time. So, understanding organizational psychology and bringing the best of every employee are necessary skills of a COO.

With so much on their plate, COOs have to be well-organized in their work. The ideal candidate should have expertise in project management, self-management, and management tools.

3. Decision-making abilities 

Another key part of the Chief Operating Officer’s responsibilities is strategizing. They offer intelligence and support to the CEO when making plans for the future. So, it’s important for them to have critical problem-solving skills, self-awareness, and understand the consequences of their decisions. 

COOs have to cultivate a knack for decision-making to efficiently face every challenge the business faces, head-on.

4. Communication and coordination 

A large part of the Chief Operating Officer’s duties lies in delegating and supervising. Communication plays a primary role in this task.

Together with effective leadership skills, the COO should also possess great communication skills. They have to create consensus, resolve disputes, bring people together, and build collaboration between teams.

In fulfilling these responsibilities, the COO builds the company culture and maintains a team bond and morale while working remotely or in person. 

5. Business acumen

COOs work at the very top of the business’s organizational structure. They are responsible for taking the business forward by leveraging their experience and expertise. So, business acumen is a defining factor of a COO’s skillset.

This is where a Master’s in Business Administration (or similar) degree serves as a candidate assessment metric. Candidates with this qualification are often equipped with the right knowledge to take the company forward. 

What are the different roles of a COO?

In a Harvard Business Review article, contributors Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles talked at length about the multifaceted role of a COO. Here’s a look into the many hats a COO dons.

  • The Executor: The COO focuses on the company’s internal affairs and participates in activities that create enterprise value. They also work with a high level of prioritization to supervise all departments and execute bigger plans—like taking the company public or preparing for an investors’ meet.
  • The Mentor: When the CEO is inexperienced or undergoing training, the COO acts as a mentor. They help the CEO transition into their role effectively. As a part of the management team, they also guide other employees.  
  • The Partner: Many companies use a co-CEO model where the COO shares the responsibilities of a CEO. It’s more focused on an egalitarian model of work. 
  • The MVP: This is a situation when the senior management team promotes an employee to the COO position. The promotion comes after the senior executive team has properly gauged the respective employee’s leadership potential and dedication to seeing the company succeed.
  • The Heir Apparent: Bigger enterprises train the COO as the heir apparent to the CEO with the goal of a seamless succession when the time comes. 
  • The Change Agent: The COO becomes a change agent when they are hired to achieve or implement a very specific organizational change. They secure the role based on their ability to spearhead the new initiatives.  

Wrapping up on COOs 

The Chief Operating Officer forms the backbone of any organization. Responsible for managing daily operations and strategizing for the big picture, the COO position is both highly rewarding and challenging.  

They provide leadership and vision, operational efficiency, and managerial support to take your team forward. So, whether you’re looking for the perfect COO for your organization, or aspiring to become one, good luck!