The chief operating officer, or COO, is a title that covers a lot of ground and often is used by companies as a catch-all for someone who oversees a variety of areas in the business. A COO might supervise the administrative activities of the company or act as the right-hand woman to the chief executive officer, or CEO. Sometimes, the COO is into the finances of a company, public relations or actual operations. While your duties will vary from company to company, there are a few tasks you can expect to handle no matter where you work.
The COO often is like a vice president. You should know just about everything the CEO knows and be able to step in during her absence. The COO sits in on board meetings and is privy to strategic planning goals, the company financials and outside issues or problems the company may be facing. Whether the CEO is on vacation, taking care of another arm of the company or just wants to remain in the background, it’s usually the COO who steps up and talks to the media, runs board meetings and makes final decisions when the CEO is unavailable.
In most cases, you will have direct control over the operations of your company. You will, however, collaborate with the CEO, the CFO and department managers to develop protocols and policies that drive the company’s operations. In manufacturing, for example, you may not know the exact specifications of each tool made on the factory floor, but you will certainly know how long it takes to make them, how much it costs and how many you make in a day. You rely on collaboration to make daily decisions, and you refer to the overall company strategy when it comes to planning.
As a top key executive, you’re usually expected to attend the functions that place your company in the limelight, whether you actually sponsor the event or just support a cause. You’ll be expected to network within your industry and represent the company at industry conferences and conventions, many times in place of the CEO, or often with her and the rest of the top management team. You’ll have to schmooze with vendors and clients and show up at the balls and banquets where all the town’s movers and shakers gather.
You’ll be one of the prime communicators in the company. You’ll discuss goals, benchmarks and quotas with your managers. You’ll act as a motivator at times to get your various teams excited about reaching those goals. At the same time, you’ll often be the voice of reason when it comes to negotiating with vendors. And, you’ll be a familiar face to your customers, listening to their needs and conveying those needs to the rest of the company.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."