The roles and responsibilities of a successful chief operating officer (COO) will vary from organization to organization. There is no one-size-fits-all job description or list of duties. Instead, each organization takes an individualized approach and defines the role based on their unique needs. Because of the magnitude of the role, COOs need to be incredibly skilled and diligent leaders. While roles and responsibilities will vary based on the organization, many core skills remain the same.
In most organizations, the COO is second in command, meaning they are largely responsible for all areas of business operations, including production, marketing and sales, and research and development. Depending on the organization, a COO’s focus may be directed inward, while the chief executive officer (CEO)’s is directed outward. Alternatively, the COO’s mission may simply be directed at a specific business need.
In this article, we’ll define the COO role, cover their roles and responsibilities, and outline 13 must-have skills for successful COOs in 2023.
What is a COO?
A COO or chief operating officer is one of the highest-ranking roles in an organization and acts as part of the C-suite. Typically the second-highest-ranking executive in an organization behind the CEO, COOs are often responsible for day-to-day operations as well as executing on long-term goals. On any given day, COOs are responsible for implementing policies to promote an organization’s culture and vision while simultaneously overseeing daily operations that help keep the business on track.
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Must-have skills for a COO
Strong communication skills
COOs must be exceptional communicators. These C-suite executives are responsible for communicating on a daily basis, both internally with teams and employees and externally with consumers, stakeholders, and interested third parties. So, COOs need to be able to communicate clearly as communication is one of the main pillars of the job. In addition to being able to communicate clearly with multiple teams within the organization, COOs must also serve as a resource for all employees. This means they’ll be responsible for answering questions and helping employees overcome roadblocks, which both require excellent communication skills.
Being in tune with your emotions is incredibly important as a leader. Being a COO with a high level of emotional intelligence means being able to recognize and understand your feelings, what they mean, and how they impact those around you. COOs with a high level of emotional intelligence are able to control and use their emotions to influence positive outcomes, which helps boost productivity and efficiency. Leaders who prioritize emotional intelligence will help initiate growth, innovation, and collaboration while encouraging those around them to do the same. Team members with emotionally intelligent leaders are much more inclined to remain motivated and engaged when compared to those who don’t have the same opportunity.
Conflict resolution skills
It’s natural for conflicts to arise, especially in business. As a COO, it’s incredibly important to be able to put out fires with ease. And while putting out fires is one thing, fostering alignment and involving your team in the process is another. A skilled COO will be able to bring people together after the fire has been put out by encouraging the team to work through the problem together as opposed to pitting individuals against each other. As a COO, it’s important to remember that conflict resolution goes beyond solving problems and instead focuses on how to foster alignment so teammates can understand one another and create smoother working relationships in the future.
Being an effective negotiator is a must-have skill for all COOs. Stepping up in the face of adversity is key, and a COO with strong negotiation skills will be able to seek win-win scenarios with clients and colleagues as opposed to stepping down or ignoring the conflict. A COO who is negotiation oriented will also be able to anticipate potential problems before they arise in an attempt to seek solutions that satisfy all parties.
COOs are C-suite executives, so they hold a lot of power over those in the organization. In tandem with the CEO, they are responsible for leading the entire organization, which is why stellar leadership skills are a must. A COO with exceptional leadership skills will be able to bring out the best in those around them. They will inspire each and every employee in their organization to work towards shared goals while serving as a constant pillar of strength.
Prioritization and time management
Effective COOs know how important it is to take time for themselves and their teammates. They understand the value of leading a balanced life and as such, need to prioritize and manage their time accordingly. Prioritizing your tasks and managing your time can be as simple as creating a checklist at the start of each day or as complex as creating a quarterly business plan. Regardless, being organized is essential, no matter what your final goal or outcome may be.
As a COO, one of your main duties will be interacting with employees, colleagues, and peers within your organization. Being empathetic and taking a human-centered approach will not go unnoticed. Being able to demonstrate empathy creates trust and empowers those around you to foster genuine relationships that lead to greater communication and an increased sense of self-worth for team members.
Thinking strategically is essential for making informed decisions and actionable plans, which is why it’s so important for COOs to excel at critical thinking. A strategic thinker will always act on the cusp of innovation. Instead of waiting for direction, they take the bull by the horns by initiating projects and vying for solutions. To be successful. COOs need to excel at strategic thinking, be open to new perspectives, and be creative and always be willing to innovate.
While the COO is not solely responsible for company financials, they still need to be well versed and informed. A great COO will have a good track record of successful financial management. Being a financially literate COO means supporting compliance and regulation adherence, maximizing company profits, monitoring stakeholder returns and overall company value, and tracking liquidity and cash flow.
COOs are largely responsible for overseeing the entire organization’s operating system. To plan, organize, coordinate, and control all company resources as they pertain to producing goods or services, COOs need to be excellent operations managers. Operations management encompasses all processes, including design, operations, maintenance, and system improvements, which is why it’s essential for COOs to have the skills necessary to manage all organizational operations.
Project management is an essential pillar in every organization. Without stellar project management, teams would lack direction, control, and purpose. All leaders need to be excellent project managers and COOs are no exception. Leaders who prioritize project management will enable their teams to do their work while simultaneously ensuring all employees are working as a collective towards shared goals and objectives.
COOs need to prioritize innovation. To iterate on existing practices and prioritize innovation, data should be leveraged to make informed decisions. A successful COO will be able to analyze data to make informed decisions that will have a positive impact on the business moving forward. Being able to effectively analyze data will help COOs gain a better understanding of the organization’s customers, improve customer targeting, boost sales, reduce costs, and problem-solve accordingly.
Nothing good lasts forever, which is why COOs need to be able to improve processes. The main goal of process improvement is to identify and eliminate weaknesses in your business processes in an attempt to increase quality and efficiency, reduce costs, and eliminate bottlenecks in your operations systems. Benefits of process improvement include better quality projects or services, more productive employees, happier customers, and improved stakeholder and supplier relationships.
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Every great leader understands the importance of perpetual growth. To be successful in your role as COO, you need to be committed to growth and new learning opportunities. Each one of the skills listed in this article are non-negotiable and must be mastered in order for you to be successful in your pursuit of becoming an effective COO.