What They Do: Top executives devise strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals.
Work Environment: Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both small and large businesses, ranging from companies in which they are the only employee to firms with hundreds of thousands of employees. Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends. Travel is common, particularly for chief executives.
How to Become One: Although education and training requirements vary widely by position and industry, most top executives have at least a bachelor’s degree and a considerable amount of work experience.
Salary: The median annual wage for chief executives is $179,520. The median annual wage for general and operations managers is $97,970.
Job Outlook: Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of top executives with similar occupations.
Top executives devise strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals. They plan, direct, and coordinate operational activities of companies and organizations.
Top executives typically do the following:
The responsibilities of top executives largely depend on an organization's size. For example, an owner or manager of a small organization, such as an independent retail store, often is responsible for purchasing, hiring, training, quality control, and day-to-day supervisory duties. In large organizations, however, top executives typically focus more on formulating policies and strategic planning, while general and operations managers direct day-to-day operations.
The following are examples of types of top executives:
General and operations managers oversee operations that are too diverse and general to be classified into one area of management or administration. Responsibilities may include formulating policies, managing daily operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources. They make staff schedules, assign work, and ensure that projects are completed. In some organizations, the tasks of chief executive officers may overlap with those of general and operations managers.
Chief executive officers (CEOs), who are also known by titles such as executive director, managing director, or president, provide overall direction for companies and organizations. CEOs manage company operations, formulate and implement policies, and ensure goals are met. They collaborate with and direct the work of other top executives and typically report to a board of directors.
There may be other types of chief executives, for example chief operating officers (COOs), chief financial officers (CFOs), or chief human resources officers, who manage a specific part of the business organization. The knowledge, skills, and job duties that these executives have will differ depending on what department they oversee.
Job titles may vary in the public sector or in the education industry. The following are examples of types of top executives working in the public sector for local and state governments:
Mayors, along with governors, city managers, and county administrators, are chief executive officers of governments. They typically oversee budgets, programs, and the use of resources. Mayors and governors must be elected to office, whereas managers and administrators are typically appointed.
Most educational systems, regardless of whether they are public or private school systems, also employ executive officers. The following are examples of top executives working in the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational school systems:
School superintendents and college or university presidents are chief executive officers of school districts and postsecondary schools. They manage issues such as student achievement, budgets and resources, general operations, and relations with government agencies and other stakeholders.
Chief executives hold about 283,900 jobs. The largest employers of chief executives are as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||13%|
|Healthcare and social assistance||7%|
General and operations managers hold about 3.1 million jobs. The largest employers of general and operations managers are as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||12%|
Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both small and large businesses, ranging from companies in which they are the sole employee to firms with hundreds of thousands of employees.
Because top executives often are held responsible for their organization’s success, their work may be stressful.
Top executives frequently travel to attend meetings and conferences or to visit local, regional, national, or international offices of interest.
Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends.
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Although education and training requirements vary widely by position and industry, most top executives have at least a bachelor's degree and a considerable amount of work experience.
Many top executives have a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. Top executives in the public sector often have a degree in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts. Top executives of large corporations often have a master's degree in business administration (MBA).
College presidents and school superintendents are typically required to have a master's degree, although a doctorate is often preferred.
Although many mayors, governors, or other public sector executives have at least a bachelor's degree, these positions typically do not have any specific education requirements.
Many top executives advance within their own firm, moving up from lower level management occupations or supervisory positions. However, other companies may prefer to hire qualified candidates from outside their organization. Top executives who are promoted from lower level positions may be able to substitute experience for education to move up in the company. For example, in some industries, workers without a college degree may work their way up to higher levels within the company to become executives or general managers.
Chief executives typically need extensive managerial experience. Executives are also expected to have experience in the organization's area of specialty. Most general and operations managers hired from outside an organization need lower level supervisory or management experience in a related field.
Some general managers advance to higher level managerial or executive positions. Company training programs and executive development programs can often benefit managers or executives hoping to advance.
Some top executive positions may require the applicant to have a license or certification relevant to their area of management. For example, some employers may require their chief executive officer to be a certified public accountant (CPA).
Communication skills. Top executives must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. They must effectively discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct subordinates, and explain their policies and decisions to those within and outside the organization.
Decisionmaking skills. Top executives need decisionmaking skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily.
Leadership skills. Top executives must be able to lead an organization successfully by coordinating policies, people, and resources.
Management skills. Top executives must shape and direct the operations of an organization. For example, they must manage business plans, employees, and budgets.
Problem-solving skills. Top executives need to identify and resolve issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and effectively carry out solutions.
Time-management skills. Top executives do many tasks at the same time, typically under their own direction, to ensure that their work gets done and that they meet their goals.
The median annual wage for chief executives is $179,520. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
The median annual wage for general and operations managers is $97,970. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.
The median annual wages for chief executives in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Manufacturing||$208,000 or more|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||$208,000 or more|
|Healthcare and social assistance||$154,650|
The median annual wages for general and operations managers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||$127,110|
Top executives are among the highest paid workers in the United States. However, salary levels vary substantially. For example, a top manager in a large corporation may earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.
Similarly, earnings for general and operations managers differ across industries because their responsibilities also vary by industry.
In addition to salaries, total compensation for corporate executives often includes stock options and other performance bonuses. These executives also may enjoy benefits such as access to expense allowances, use of company-owned aircraft and cars, and membership to exclusive clubs. Nonprofit and government executives usually receive fewer of these types of benefits.
Top executives often work many hours and have irregular schedules, which may include evenings and weekends.
Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 6 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 318,100 openings for top executives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
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Projected employment of top executives varies by occupation.
Demand for general and operations managers will grow as organizations increasingly rely on these workers for help in functioning smoothly.
Employment of chief executives is projected to decline as office technology improves, increasing the ability of these workers to perform tasks previously done by multiple chief executives. In addition, changing organizational structures may lead to fewer new jobs for these workers as more companies adopt a workplace structure with fewer chief executive positions.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2021||Projected Employment, 2031||Change, 2021-31|
|General and operations managers||3,118,400||3,328,200||7||209,800|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.