CEO vs. CIO vs. COO vs. other C-level executives – what is the C-suite and how do the roles of each executive differ?
C-level executives direct and govern an organization, so anyone working in an enterprise setting should have at least a basic grasp of their responsibilities.
In this guide, we’ll learn about the differences between the executive positions in the C-suite, their roles in the organization, and the responsibilities of each position.
A Guide to the C-Suite: CEO vs. CIO vs. COO vs. Other Executives
Here is quick breakdown of the C-suite and its most common job roles:
An Overview of the C-Suite
Businesses are governed by a set of senior executives, often called the “C-suite” for short.
This term is used because most of these corporate titles begin with the term “Chief.” The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Chief Operating Officer (COO) are two examples.
The C-suite is responsible for tasks such as:
- Developing the organization’s strategy
- Maximizing organizational effectiveness and performance
- Leading each of the organization’s core business functions
- Executing large-scale organizational initiatives
- Coordinating high-level relationships with other business partners
- Managing the managers within each business department
In short, the C-suite makes the most critical decisions that guide an organization, its operations, and its people.
In many cases, the C-suite reports to the board of directors, a governing body that determines an organization’s management policies. Public companies are required to have a board, who represents the organization’s shareholders, though non-public companies may also have boards of directors.
Boards are typically composed of both external shareholder representatives as well as internal executives, such as the CEO.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The CEO is the senior-most business leader who, among other things, is responsible for:
- Collaborating and consulting with other executives
- Liaising with the board of directors
- Making high-level strategic decisions
The exact nature of the CEO’s responsibilities will vary from organization to organization, depending on factors such as the organization’s size, sector, culture, and structure.
Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the more generalized the CEO’s duties. In smaller organizations, CEOs may take on more operational tasks, as well as strategic ones.
Chief Operating Officer (COO)
The COO handles the day-to-day operations of the organization. They typically report directly to the CEO and are often the second highest-ranking executive in the C-suite.
Their duties include:
- Managing the organization’s internal operations
- Overseeing and collaborating with other C-suite executives to maintain smooth business functioning
- Executing and managing major business initiatives, such as organizational change initiatives
As with the other roles covered here, the COO’s duties will vary from business to business. In smaller organizations, for instance, they may oversee HR activities. Larger organizations, on the other hand, may have chief HR executives.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
The CFO is responsible for the organization’s finances.
They perform tasks such as:
- Financial analysis and planning
- Determining budgets
- Overseeing the organization’s day-to-day financial operations, such as accounting
- Financial risk assessment and management
CFOs are the highest-ranking financial executive in an organization, and they often report directly to the CEO.
Chief Information Officer (CIO)
The CIO manages and maintains the organization’s information technology.
Traditionally, this role has been managerial in nature, focusing mostly on IT operations. In more recent years, they have adopted more responsibilities associated with organizational strategy and growth.
Today, CIOs are responsible for areas such as:
- IT services management
- Overseeing IT personnel
- Implementing new digital technology
- Designing and implementing new digital strategies, such as digital transformation initiatives
CIO duties will differ depending on a number of factors, such as the size of the organization, the organization’s digital maturity, the sector, and the organization’s structure.
Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
The CMO, as the name suggests, oversees the organization’s marketing division.
Their responsibilities revolve around:
- Managing the marketing and sales departments
- Developing and implementing new marketing initiatives, strategies, and technologies
- Overseeing the organization’s customer experience strategy
Like CIOs, the CMO’s role is evolving rapidly as a result of the digital revolution. As the world becomes more digital, for instance, the CMO will become responsible for more technology-driven innovation and growth.
Other C-Suite Executives
The positions covered above are among the most common C-level roles. There are, however, a number of other executive positions that can exist – the larger the organization, for instance, the more specific the roles.
Here are a few examples:
- Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) are responsible for cybersecurity and information security
- Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) are in charge of human resources departments
- Chief Data Officers (CDOs) manage and maintain an organization’s data strategy and initiatives
- Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) tend to oversee an organization’s customer-facing technologies
The functions and responsibilities of each officer, as mentioned, will vary depending on the organization. It is also important to note that these responsibilities will continue to evolve over the coming months and years.