CEO vs. COO: What’s the Difference? (Explained)

  • By: Josh Palmer
  • April 5, 2023
ceo vs. coo
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Both the CEO and COO serve on an organization’s executive leadership team, but responsibilities differ. Learn more about CEO vs. COO.

In executive leadership, the roles of the CEO vs. COO are typically cross-functional, affecting the entire organization. For this reason, differentiating the CEO and COO roles and responsibilities within a corporate structure proves challenging. 

This article explores the following: 

  • Common roles and responsibilities of the CEO (plus the average annual pay)
  • Common roles and responsibilities of the COO (plus the average annual pay)
  • The main differences between the two positions

You will also discover how board management meeting software helps CEOs and executives bring more value to the organizations they serve. 

What is a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)?

As the topmost C-level title in an organization, a CEO drives the overall vision and is responsible for the company’s entire operations. The chief executive officer implements board decisions, focuses on long-term goals, and reports to the board of directors. Typically, this person serves as the organization’s spokesperson. 

Roles and Responsibilities 

The roles and responsibilities of a CEO vary depending on the organization’s size and industry, but some of the core duties include:

  • Overseeing the company’s overall operations: CEOs typically craft and implement long-term strategies to ensure smooth business operations. To capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risks, organizations rely on the CEO’s strategic thinking and ability to plan for the future.
  • Managing the company’s organizational structure: As the top manager, the chief executive officer oversees other C-level leaders, such as the COO and CFO. The CEO relies on their insights to better understand how the organization is doing and make informed decisions. Successful chief executive officers motivate and inspire their teams to collaborate to achieve a common goal. 
  • Driving revenue and profitability: A CEO is responsible for business development that boosts success. This could be through improving customer satisfaction, making operations more efficient, diversifying a company’s offering, increasing visibility through marketing, or promoting innovation. In short, CEOs are responsible for growth acceleration and taking profitability to the next level. 
  • Communicating with the board: The CEO reports to the chair and board members. The report commonly includes monthly progress, operating plans, and budgets. As a critical link between business operations and the board of directors, the CEO needs strong communication skills to build trust and establish relationships.

Pay and Notoriety

A CEO’s earnings vary depending on factors such as education, company size, additional skills, certifications, and experience. However, statistics from say the average salary for a chief executive officer in the United States is $816,508.

Comparing CEO compensation in the 1970s and today, you’ll notice a steep, consistent rise. CEO pay skyrocketed by 1322.2% between 1978 and 2020. Additionally, chief executive officers earned 254 times more than the average worker in 2021

These figures suggest that CEO pay continues to increase. The compensation depends on your organization and consists of salaries, bonuses, long-term incentives, and stock options. For instance, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai received a total compensation of $6,322,599 in 2021, including a base salary of $2 million; the remaining dollars came from equity awards and cash incentives. 

On the other hand, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook received a total compensation of $84 million in 2022, which included a $3 million base salary, $6 million in annual cash incentives, and $75 million in equity awards. 

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What Is a Chief Operating Officer (COO)?

A chief operating officer supervises a company’s operations and is more involved in the day-to-day activities than the CEO. The COO oversees human resources, business production, marketing, and sales. Considered the second senior executive in the executive suite, the COO reports directly to the CEO. 

Unlike the CEO, who focuses on long-term objectives, the COO is more about aligning the organization’s strategy with its business model. In short, if the CEO creates a strategy, the COO executes it. This position requires strong leadership, an analytical mind, and communication skills. 

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Manages daily business operations: COOs are more hands-on than chief executive officers. They organize and manage business operations to drive results and create value. 
  • Aligns operations with company vision and strategy: The chief operating officer implements the CEO’s instructions. This person ensures the business plan aligns with the organization’s goals and strategy. 
  • Develop and implement policies for daily operations: COOs establish rules to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in daily business activities. This may include setting productivity goals and workplace policies.

In short, this role includes setting standards for the organization and working with other leaders to ensure business processes, employee training, and product quality meets the set standards. 

Pay and Notoriety

Because the COO is second in command, a person in this position earns less than the CEO. The average salary is $476,318. In addition to the base salary, chief operating officers may receive bonuses and other extra compensation. 

Summary of the Differences Between CEOs and COOs

The CEO is the highest-ranking manager in an organization, while the COO comes second in the corporate chain of command. The CEO focuses on long-term strategy, oversees the overall business operations, and reports to the board of directors. 

On the other hand, the COO aligns daily business activities with the organization’s business model, creates policies to streamline internal processes, and reports to the chief executive officer.

CEO and COO have one similarity: They are both inside directors. Understand the difference between inside vs. outside directors.

Improve Board Meeting Effectiveness

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For more information to help you choose the right board technology, download our free Board Management Software Buyer’s Guide.

Ready to take your meeting agenda and minutes to the next level? Request a demo or a free trial of OnBoard, the board intelligence platform that empowers boards and committees to hold more effective, informed, and uncomplicated meetings. 

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About The Author

Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer serves as OnBoard's Head of Content. An experienced content creator, his previous roles have spanned numerous industries including B2C and B2B home improvement, healthcare, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). An Indianapolis native and graduate of Indiana University, Palmer currently resides in Fishers, Ind.