How to become a good COO (with step-by-step guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 25 October 2022

Published 19 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The chief operating officer (COO) requires a combination of leadership skills, passion for the industry and business acumen. They ensure the financial health and operational efficiency of a business through excellent resource and project management. Understanding how to become a COO is important when determining whether this career is right for you. In this article, we discuss what a COO is and what their main responsibilities are and outline how to become a good COO.

Becoming a good COO and what they do in their role

If you want to know how to become a good COO, the main responsibilities are to successfully implement strategies to improve management practices and oversee all businesses and administrative functions of the company. The daily duties of a COO usually vary according to what company they work for. Some other general COO responsibilities include:

  • managing industry-specific responsibilities

  • enhancing the products or services of a company

  • planning, directing and coordinating operational activities

  • managing the company's overall culture

  • conducting performance evaluations and business analyses

  • developing business processes and ensuring employees follow them

  • creating policies, incentives and controls

  • overseeing human resources, marketing, advertising and other departments

  • supporting the CEO and taking on more responsibility where necessary

  • looking for ways to improve the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of existing operations

  • providing training to employees and other executive team members

  • overseeing research and development in the company

  • leading new projects or initiatives

  • coaching employees to promote talent and support professional development

  • reducing company costs and increasing profitability

Related: What does a COO do? Duties and Salaries

What is a chief operating officer?

A chief operating officer is a senior executive who oversees the operational and administrative functions of a business. They play an integral role in the leadership of an organisation and are second-in-command in most companies – reporting directly to the chief executive officer (CEO). Whereas a CEO sets goals and determines the company vision, a COO is responsible for implementing that vision into day-to-day business functions to make it a reality. Some businesses refer to the COO as vice president of operations, managing director, or operating director.

A good COO also helps the business maintain financial stability and achieve its company goals. COO's can work in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, technology and the corporate sector. They usually work from a personal office and routinely visit other departments to observe and assist employees where necessary. In small companies, COO's are likely to form relationships with all employees. In a large organisation, they primarily work alongside executives and department heads only.

Related: COO vs CEO: understanding the difference

How to become a good COO

There is no set career path to becoming a COO. Some individuals focus on climbing the corporate ladder from project management roles, whilst others choose the educational route to become a COO. Here is a simple step-by-step guide on how to become a good COO:

1. Follow your passion

It takes approximately 10 to 15 years of experience in a specific industry to advance into a COO position. When planning out your career, ensure you research the industries you're interested in. You might have a passion for the industry you want to sustain interest in for 10 to 15 years. Being passionate about the industry also makes it easier to retain the knowledge and skills that you learn through education and experience.

2. Earn a degree

Complete a bachelor's degree in business if you want to become a COO. Some COOs choose to do technical degrees instead but these might be supplemented with courses in leadership and strategic management. A bachelor's degree in business teaches you best practices for finance, marketing and administration. The course also teaches you the importance of business and management principles and how they apply in the real world. Coursework assignments allow you to develop knowledge in areas such as information systems, accounting, microeconomics, macroeconomics and mathematics. Entry requirements vary between universities, so be sure to do your research first.

3. Consider an MBA

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a postgraduate qualification that gives you a competitive edge over other candidates when applying for COO positions. You don't need an MBA to become a COO, but having one can seriously boost your earning potential and employability. An MBA gives you a strong foundation to competently manage the business and administrative operations of a company. It focuses more on developing your leadership skills than undergraduate study does and also fosters skills in communication, strategic planning and research.

Coursework topics usually focus on statistical methods, teamwork and economics. If you want to become a COO in a particular field, you may obtain an industry-specific master's degree. This is especially the case for those who want to work in healthcare. No matter what master's degree you choose to do, there are always opportunities to network with like-minded individuals. Be sure to foster close relationships with industry professionals as they could prove useful in the future.

4. Build project management experience

Most aspiring COO's advance into the position from a project management role. This is because project managers hold less responsibility but usually require the same skillset as a COO. For instance, project managers can have expertise in operational controls, management principles and communications. Becoming a project manager also means you can gain a deeper understanding of your industry and how your education applies in a real-world environment.

You may be required to focus on building some administrative experience near the beginning of your career too. You can also gain experience in other entry-level positions in your chosen industry. Search for opportunities online with Indeed or apply for graduate schemes before finishing your studies.

5. Learn different management styles

A management style describes how a manager works to accomplish their goals. It determines how a manager plans, organises and manages employees. There are several types of management styles, including:

  • authoritarian

  • servant leadership

  • pacesetting

  • visionary

  • transactional

  • laissez-faire

  • democratic

  • consultative

It's important that you select a management style in accordance with the company work culture you desire. Understanding the main differences between these management styles means you can tailor your approach between jobs and always adapt to your environment.

6. Develop relevant soft skills

Soft skills determine your ability to work with others and promote a positive work environment. They can also help you attract and retain clients and therefore support the expansion of business. Some essential soft skills that COOs need include:

  • transparency

  • honesty

  • integrity

  • communication

  • time management

Remember to communicate openly with employees – allowing them to share in company successes and failures. Doing so inspires loyalty amongst employees and ensures they're committed to the company goals.

Related: 12 ways to improve your manager communication skills

7. Develop strategy implementation skills

COOs are responsible for developing and implementing strategies to improve business functions. To become more successful in your position, consider studying the implementation process and modelling your own decision-making on these processes. This form of study also encourages strong critical thinking and analytic skills. Following a clear structure when making and implementing strategies ensures you cover all bases and can lead to greater success.

8. Set goals

Learn how to set realistic goals and implement daily strategies that help reach them. It's crucial that you set both short-term and long-term goals that interact with each other so you always remain on task. A good way to determine your goals is to create a timeline of what you expect for the company over a set period and brainstorm goals that'll allow you to reach these expectations.

Related: How to become a director of administration (with skills)

Chief operating officer skills

Many COOs develop their skills through experience and education. It's important to stay aware of what skills you need throughout your career so you can target them in your CV when applying for more advanced roles. Some essential COO skills include:

  • IT skills: COOs know how to use computers and business software. COOs perform several management tasks on computers, including data entry and analysis, market research and competitor audits. They are proficient in Microsoft software, such as Teams, Excel and Word.

  • Leadership skills: There are several leadership qualities that COOs might demonstrate – including honesty, integrity and transparency. COOs motivate employees and assist them in times of need. They also can also manage and lead several cross-functional departments and teams.

  • Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills allow COOs to maintain successful relationships with clients, employees, shareholders and others. Interpersonal qualities ensure they tailor their communicative approach to the person they're talking to and foster positive connections.

  • Problem-solving skills: Executive leaders face many problems in business. COOs are responsible for evaluating problems and determining the best solutions for them. They also conduct risk analyses to assess the impact their solutions may have on future operations or decisions.

Related:

  • Guide on how to become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)

  • CEO vs CFO vs COO (with definitions, differences and steps)

  • Understanding the C-Suite: What It Is and How To Get There

  • What is an operations officer? (Plus main tasks and skills)

  • What are corporate structures? Definition, types, importance


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