CEO vs COO – How Do They Compare?

June 6th 2024 | Posted by Mark Geraghty

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) roles are vital to an organisation’s performance. Although they complement each other, they are also different in terms of responsibilities. 

We will examine both roles in more detail and explain what these board-level professionals do and how their roles are different from each other.

The role and responsibilities of a CEO

The CEO is responsible for the overall leadership of a company. This responsibility includes developing the organisation’s vision and strategy. It also involves being the company’s public face, representing it to members of the board, the public, and shareholders.

The final authority for making business decisions lies with the CEO. They are responsible for major investment and strategy choices. They also ensure that the company adheres to governance and regulatory requirements.

CEOs are often externally focused, as they must develop and maintain relationships with investors, business partners, and government bodies. Internally, the CEO oversees other board members, including the COO.

The role and responsibilities of a COO

The role of a COO is just as vital as that of a CEO, but the responsibilities are less wide-ranging. The COO runs the company’s operations, including overseeing manufacturing, sales, and personnel.

The COO also works with the CEO to implement their strategy and vision by turning them into actionable plans that can be measured to ensure they are carried out effectively. Within this area of responsibility, a COO focuses on processes and productivity in operations.

In terms of operational structure, the COO normally reports to the CEO. They manage various department heads.

How does the CEO vs COO differ?

It’s clear that the CEO and COO roles are connected, but there are also several noticeable differences between them.

  • CEOs have a more strategic focus, whereas COOs focus more on operational plans and processes.
  • The CEO makes the final decision regarding major strategic and financial plans, while the COO acts on the CEO’s decisions and strategies and puts them into action.
  • CEOs are more involved with external stakeholders, while COOs have a more inward-facing focus.
  • The CEO oversees the board and the whole company, while the COO reports to the CEO and oversees various operational managers.
  • The focus of a CEO is long-term and strategic, which is in contrast to the short to medium-term planning focus of a COO.

An organisation relies on the expertise of both the CEO and the COO to perform at an optimum level. The CEO develops external relationships to drive the business forward and formulates the organisation’s values and strategies. They also oversee board members, including the COO.

The COO takes the CEO’s values and strategies and turns them into short-term and medium-term actionable plans for business operations. They ensure that these plans are implemented and operated efficiently and that the business’s operations run smoothly. Doing this allows the organisation to compete in the marketplace and enables it to flourish and grow.