What is a chief operating officer and what do they do?

The chief operating officer (COO) is a key member of the executive leadership team. They oversee the departments responsible for the production and delivery of an organisation’s goods and services and are accountable for ensuring these functions operate effectively and in-line with company strategy.

The COO is responsible for ensuring that the business has effective operational processes, controls, reporting and people in place to maximise operational efficiency, manage risk and meet growth objectives.

Key responsibilities

Responsibilities will vary, but examples include:

  • Overseeing strategic and operational delivery activity of the company.
  • Developing and implementing business strategies, plans and procedures.
  • Setting comprehensive goals for performance and growth.
  • Motivating employees to encourage maximum performance and meet production & delivery targets.
  • Maintaining and building trusted relationships with key customers, clients, partners, and stakeholders.
  • Managing risk and crisis issues.
  • Participating in expansion activities (investments, acquisitions, corporate alliances etc.).
  • Evaluating effectiveness and efficiency of operational systems, technology and delivery processes.
  • Identifying improvement areas and overseeing change management initiatives across the business.
  • Ensuring effective recruiting, professional development, performance management, and retention.
  • Directing acquisitions and sales of assets to meet organisation goals.
  • Adhering to all regulatory requirements, enforcing compliance and taking action when necessary.

Why are they important?

The chief operating officer is a senior position that is ultimately responsible for the goods and services produced by an organisation. A COO is concerned with maintaining and improving efficiency, cost effectiveness and quality across all operations of a company and plays a critical role in determining and implementing company strategy.

Skills needed for this role

A COO needs integrity, excellent organisational and leadership abilities, and strong interpersonal and communication skills. They should also demonstrate an aptitude for decision-making and problem-solving. Competence in strategic planning, business development and regulatory issues is also essential in this role.

Strategic Professional Options examinations linked to this role

Advanced Financial Management

Advanced Performance Management

Career opportunities presented by this role

The chief operating officer is a very senior role and usually sits on an organisation’s Board. Individuals wishing to progress beyond COO may consider a move to a chief executive officer (though remuneration can be comparable). Those with entrepreneurial capabilities might consider establishing a business of their own.


High level competencies required include:

  • Advisory and consultancy

    A. Gathers and understands financial and non-financial information to develop complete knowledge of the client business and the environment in which it operates.

    B. Provides expert advice that will add value to the business and gain advantage.

    C. Identify and advise on business partnering to develop strategic relationships to create opportunities, improve performance and solve business problems.

    D. Prepare and present business plans and advise on the actions to implement these plans.

  • Financial management

    A. Links developments in global trade, markets, business practices and the economic environment to required improvements in the financial and risk management of an organisation.

    B. Advises on business asset valuations, capital projects and investments using appropriate analytical qualitative and quantitative techniques.

    C. Identifies, evaluates and advises on alternative sources of business finance and different ways of raising finance.

    D. Communicates and advises on the impact on financial decision making on current developments in regulation, governance and ethics.

    E. Assesses and advises on appropriate strategies to manage business and organisational performance regarding business and finance risk and effectively communicates the impact.

  • Governance, risk and control

    A. Evaluates organisational structures and governance to protect the long-term interests of stakeholders.

    B. Recommends appropriate strategies to ensure adherence to governance structures and application of best practice internal controls.

    C. Identifies and manages risk appropriately.

    D. Uses risk management for the best interests of an organisation and its stakeholders.

    E. Monitors and applies relevant legislation, policies and procedures.

  • Leadership and management

    A. Applies appropriate leadership strategies to effectively deliver business objectives.

    B. Leads, motivates and manages people to optimise performance and effectiveness.

    C. Collaborates, supports and works to achieve the objectives of the organisation, applying appropriate digital technologies.

    D. Acts proactively and thinks strategically, in anticipating organisational needs, recognising the wider business environment and dynamics.

  • Stakeholder relationship management

    A. Positively develops relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

    B. Communicates and gains commitment from internal and external stakeholder.

    C. Uses emerging technologies to collaborate and communicate effectively with stakeholders.

    D. Applies professional and ethical judgement when engaging with stakeholders.

    E. Aligns organisational strategic objectives with stakeholder needs and manages expectations.

  • Strategy and innovation

    A. Applies business acumen and commercial awareness to deliver business objectives.

    B. Recommends a range of suitable strategic options from which to develop sustainable plans and objectives.

    C. Evaluates, justifies and implements suitable strategic options.

    D. Adopts and applies innovative methods to implement strategy and manages change.