C-level positions – also referred to as C-suite positions – start with the letter “C” for “Chief”. These are often the most important positions in any company. They’re the people in charge of daily operations, guiding everything from the overall direction of the company to the core responsibilities of individual departments. These positions require the most talented, intuitive, skilled, and ambitious people to fill them. There are also more of these C-level positions than you might realize, and some of the titles on this list may be entirely new to you.
C-level employees are executives, but they are not always the people in charge of a company. Larger companies usually have more than one executive, and some of them may share similar roles. The Founder may or may not be the President, and the President may or may not be the CEO.
The question remains: what are each of the C-suite roles, and what are their daily responsibilities?
Let’s define them.
CEO – Chief Executive Officer
The CEO is traditionally the leader of a company and its most public face. CEOs are the people who make the overall decisions for the direction and goals of a company, though they take the opinions and considerations of other C-levels, executives, founders, presidents, and core team members into consideration.
Typically, a CEO is nominally “in charge” of the business as a whole but rarely do they make decisions unilaterally. The CEO may be the founder of the company, or they may be an executive appointed to run the company in the founder’s stead. They may be a former C-level promoted to the role, or they may be a CEO or C-level from another company.
COO – Chief Operating Officer
The Chief Operating Officer is typically the “first mate” to the CEO’s “captain”. They take the strategies and business plans put forth by the CEO and enact them throughout the company.
“They ensure that the company runs like clockwork.”
Smaller companies may not have a COO and can roll the responsibilities into those of the CEO, President, or another executive.
CFO – Chief Financial Officer
The Chief Financial Officer is another common and critical role in the list of C-suite positions.
They manage all things financial within a company, from budgets to expense reports, overseeing all of the money coming in or going out from the company. They may not do all of this directly and may have a department of finances or an accounting department to do the daily work for them, while they make some of the more high-level decisions on budget constraints and expense approvals.
CRO – Chief Revenue Officer
Similar to, but distinct from, the chief financial officer, the chief revenue officer is the head of all things revenue. Any source of money coming in, from fundraising to profit margins to cost-cutting, falls under the purview of the Chief Revenue Officer.
“A CRO’s role is to look at ways to generate and retain revenue across multiple channels with a long-term perspective, rather than the short-term horizon usually embraced by sales departments.”
Additionally, the title of chief revenue officer is a relatively recent one in comparison to many other C-suite titles. Critically, the Chief Revenue Officer is different from sales executives, marketing C-levels, and other revenue generation titles.
CTO – Chief Technical Officer
Also known as the Chief Technology Officer or the Chief Information Officer, the CTO is responsible for the technology and infrastructure upon which the company is built.
Everything from the IT department and its array of servers and cloud services, to the platforms and services used for accounting, sales, marketing, and communications, are all beholden to the decisions of the CTO. The CTO is not just responsible for overseeing and maintaining the existing technology, but also investigating new options and determining when a change or upgrade is in order.
CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
The Chief Marketing Officer is responsible for the advertising and marketing the company pursues.
They are responsible for high-level analysis and decision-making regarding what channels, platforms, and technologies that the company will use for its marketing strategy. They also ensure that marketing efforts are in alignment with the overall goals, values, and messaging the company wishes to pursue. They rarely interface with the day-to-day marketing, but rather tend to make their decisions based on overall reports, marketing trends, and high-level concerns for the business.
CHRO – Chief Human Resources Officer
The Chief Human Resources Officer is the head of the human resources department. They oversee human capital and are responsible for managing the workforce as a whole.
They set hiring goals, oversee hiring, manage training, deal with promotions, and monitor employee performance. They also consider long-term human resources concerns, such as succession planning and overall talent acquisition.
CLO – Chief Legal Officer
The Chief Legal Officer is the executive responsible for managing the company’s legal presence. They manage legal risks and legal compliance. They oversee company lawyers, ensure compliance with regulations, monitor employee relationships and get ahead of potential legal issues with employee disagreements, and handle all of the legal paperwork relating to the operation of a company.
This includes everything from licensing to auditing to oversight.
The CLO is closely related to other c-level positions that may or may not exist within a company as distinct roles.
- Chief Risk Officer. This is a more specialized legal role, focusing on the specific risks a company may face in legal considerations.
- Chief Compliance Officer. This is also a more specialized legal role, focusing primarily on compliance with industry regulations, regulatory bodies, local, state, regional, and national government regulations, international regulations, and other compliance regulations.
- General Counsel. The general counsel for a company is typically the role they have in place of a Chief Legal Officer, before the company growing to a point to need one. A company may have one or the other, or both.
CIO – Chief Investment Officer
The Chief Investment Officer is a branch of the financial department and is typically a role that only appears in companies large enough to require multiple, distinct heads of different aspects of finances.
The Chief Investment Officer builds and monitors the portfolio of assets a company controls, from subsidiaries to pension funds to traditional investments in tangible or intangible assets.
ChEng – Chief Engineering Officer
The Chief Engineering Officer is a specialized role that appears in two forms.
The first is in a traditional company that does product research and development with an engineering department. The head of the engineering department is the Chief Engineer.
The other common use is on ships, typically commercial and not military. The chief engineer is the most senior engineer on the ship and is a role comparable to captain.
CDO – Chief Diversity Officer
A relatively new addition to the c-suite, the Chief Diversity Officer is responsible for diversity and inclusion. They review and oversee the company from the top-down and the bottom-up, monitoring for issues.
They may review and identify problems with discrimination within the company. They audit the workforce to identify percentages of minority groups and to address inequality in pay, benefits, and treatment. They typically also develop and implement strategies to address these issues and broaden diversity in the company.
CSO – Chief Strategy Officer
Also known as the Chief Strategist, the Chief Strategy Officer typically works directly with the CEO.
They help to develop the overall long-term strategies for the company and are occasionally called a “mini-CEO” for their role in guiding the overall direction of a company. CSOs are typically most relevant in areas where the CEO lacks the time to guide the company strategy amongst their other duties, and are most common in academic and nonprofit organizations.
Additional Modern C-Suite Roles
In addition to all of the above, there is a wide range of additional c-level roles that have cropped up in recent years, or that are specialized roles within certain industries. Typically, any time a company grows large enough to have an entire department dedicated to a task, the leader of that department may be given a c-level title to reflect their importance. These roles are often overlapping with Director titles.
Chief Medical Officer. A specialized role within hospitals and healthcare facilities, as well as in certain environments where medical issues may be an ongoing concern, such as manufacturing or mining. The Chief Medical Officer is the head doctor at a hospital. Additionally, the Chief Medical Officer may also be the Surgeon General or a comparable role, as the member of governmental leadership focusing on the medical and health concerns of the populace.
Chief Data Officer. This specialized role applies to companies that need to produce, parse, and analyze large amounts of data. The Chief Data Officer is also the Head Data Scientist and is usually responsible for high-level analysis of reports, as well as the guidance of analytics and key performance indicator monitoring.
Chief Digital Officer. The Chief Digital Officer is typically a role given to an executive who guides the transition of a company from analog, paper-based systems to more modern digital systems. They oversee the development and implementation of modern digital technologies and help companies continue to push the cutting edge of their fields.
Chief Experience Officer. Another more modern role. As time progresses, the availability of a product is no longer the key differentiator in a market. Rather, the ease of access and use of that product is becoming increasingly important. The Chief Experience Officer is responsible for accessibility and user experience, promoting a holistic and curated experience for all users. This role is most often found in tech companies offering software or other digital products where the user experience may be the primary factor in differentiating them from the competition.
Chief Culture Officer. From SHRM culture Expert Debbie Robins:
“The building, managing, and merging of cultures has become a full-time job in the new economy. These demands now exceed the capacities of most HR divisions and call for a new kind of specialist.”
The Chief Culture Officer is typically an off-shoot of the Chief Human Resources Officer and has overlap with the Chief Diversity Officer role.
Chief Happiness Officer. Another new branch of human resources, the Chief Happiness Officer is a position popularized by Google. Their primary goal is employee satisfaction, engagement, and motivation. They help enhance overall workforce productivity, employee retention, and engagement within a company.
Chief Green Officer. The world is increasingly concerned about the climate. Individual clients and customers are beginning to make decisions based on a company’s awareness of and compliance with green initiatives, and the use of recycled materials, a carbon-neutral footprint, and other green concerns have become a deciding factor for consumers. The Chief Green Officer is similar to a Chief Compliance Officer, but with an emphasis on cultural and climate awareness, green processes and materials, and a carbon-neutral footprint.
Chief People Officer. This is a rebranding of the traditional Chief Human Resources Officer. The term “human resources” is viewed by some people as a derogatory term treating employees as little more than human capital, a resource to be burned through in pursuit of business objectives. Thus, some companies are rebranding their human resources departments for a less potentially derogatory title. The core responsibilities and duties are the same.
These are far from the only C-level roles out there. Again, any time a company department grows to the point that they appoint a chief, that chief is often given a C-level role. Some companies mint new C-level titles simply to add to the importance of their management team. Not all c-level roles are created equal, either.
Obviously, a company shouldn’t feel the need to try and fill every C-level role. Roles such as Chief Genealogical Officer, Chief Gaming Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, and Chief Process Officer are either highly-specialized or are simply alternative names for existing roles.
While C-level roles are the peak of attainment within a company, they are not necessarily the peak of attainment within a career. Anyone with a C-level role can aspire to achieve greater heights by pursuing the same position in a larger and more globally recognized company. CFOs and CROs and CSOs can aspire to become CEOs, and CEOs can leave smaller companies for larger ones, even with a title cut. Often, these moves are motivated by a combination of money, recognition, and influence over an industry.
Did I miss any? Do you have any questions for me? Drop a message in the comments section below. I reply to every comment and would love to hear from you.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.