A group of office executives in suits sit around a conference room table. A man towards the middle of the table is speaking and gesturing with his hands. Executive titles all sound impressive, but they specify distinct jobs and responsibilities. — Getty Images/AzmanL

CEO, director, vice president, managing partner: These job titles all signify some degree of leadership, but it can often be hard to discern the hierarchy and differing levels of responsibility underpinning each title. The same job can have a different job title depending on the company, industry, location and size of the organization.

Executive job titles help delineate the structure of an organization and the reporting workflows of an organization’s staff. They also help teams understand who is in charge of what. The CMO, for instance, is the head of marketing; the CFO is responsible for finance.

Here are some key executive job titles as well as what they mean.

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Chair of the Board

The Chair of the Board (COB) is the head of the Board of Directors. This person is elected by the board and is at the top of the organization’s hierarchy. The COB is tasked with making big-picture decisions, leading the organization’s executives and establishing the corporate culture of the company. Sometimes, the board will elect the CEO as the COB as a show of faith.

CEO

The CEO is the organization’s Chief Executive Officer. The CEO is in charge of overseeing the entire executive team, often known as the C-level executives (the “C” is shorthand for “chief”). CEOs make major decisions that impact the growth and success of the company. They’ll oversee operations, resources and day-to-day functions of the business. CEOs are often chosen by the board of directors and shareholders, but they can also be the founder or business owner at smaller ventures.

COO

The COO is the Chief Operating Officer. Sometimes, the COO is called the “Vice President of Operations.” The job involves managing the day-to-day administration of the organization. This person often acts as the right-hand man or woman to the CEO. The COO could oversee production, sales, marketing, human resources or all of the above. “In some firms, the COO job is to be internally focused, while the CEO is externally focused. In other firms, the COO's mission is focused on a specific business need,” described The Balance.

CFO

The CFO, Chief Financial Officer, is in charge of the business’s finances. This is a major role that involves everything from financial reporting to overseeing the capital structure of the company or deciding where to invest small business earnings. Financial forecasting, budget preparation and overseeing debt repayment are just a few activities that the CFO would oversee at a small business.

In some firms, the COO job is to be internally focused, while the CEO is externally focused.

Dawn Rosenberg McKay, writing for The Balance

Other C-suite titles

Large companies may have many leaders with C-level job titles, including:

  • CMO: Chief Marketing Officer, the person in charge of the business’s marketing and advertising activities.
  • CIO: Chief Information Officer, the person in charge of the business’s information technology and data security.
  • CCO: Chief Commercial Officer, sometimes known as the Chief Business Officer (CBO), the person in charge of the business’s sales team, strategy and success.
  • CHO: Chief Human Resources Officer, sometimes known as the Chief Talent Officer, the person in charge of the business’s human resources and recruiting teams.
  • CTO: Chief Technology Officer, the person in charge of research, development and technology at the company. While the CIO is primarily concerned with the business’s technology tools and platforms, the CTO is in charge of strategic planning and using technology and innovation to boost revenue.
  • Chief Content Officer: This is a newer role, as social media and digital marketing have increased the importance of content marketing. The CCO works with the CMO to oversee content and channel optimization, brand consistency, segmentation and analytics.

The C-suite leaders are considered the highest level of the organization (unless there is a Board of Directors). There are other executive job titles that are close to the same level as these C-level positions but don’t have “chief” in the name. For instance, President, Partner, Chair and Superintendent are other titles that can be found at the top of the org chart.

President

To make things more complicated, some companies prefer to use “President” instead of COO. “The president of a company is often the same position as a COO of a company,” wrote Indeed. “They report directly to the CEO and work closely with them to provide the organization with strategy, vision and financial management.”

Often, a president is more hands-on than a COO, but it depends on the size of the company and the particular industry.

Vice president

Vice presidents either rank directly below the C-suite executives or just under the president level. This title is usually specialized to a particular area of expertise: e.g., Vice President of Marketing, or Executive Vice President of Recruiting. There could be different levels within the vice president role, too: starting with Executive Vice President at the top, followed by Senior Vice President, Vice President and Associate Vice President. This position is considered middle management, as women and men in this role deal with specific aspects of running the company and directly managing the workforce.

Directors and managers

With the exception of the Director of Operations, directors and managers sit directly under the vice president level and directly work with teams, partners and individuals to keep the business running. Managers are responsible for leading employees to be productive, aligning day-to-day tasks with business objectives and serving customers across a variety of business operations. Some companies ask the managers to report to directors who are specialized in a particular business area (e.g., the Director of Human Resources oversees the HR manager).

The exception is with the Director of Operations, which is a unique position. This type of director is responsible for the profitability and growth of the company. They collaborate across departments to improve processes and break down business silos. This position will directly report to the COO, if the company has one. Alternately, this role can cover the responsibilities of a COO if the organization doesn’t have that particular role.

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Published March 10, 2021