What Does a C-Level Executive Do and What Are the Types?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 2021

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.

A C-level executive is an employee at the top of a company's hierarchy. They make key strategic decisions that affect the entire business. Understanding the duties and responsibilities of a C-level executive can help you determine if this career suits your personality and skills. In this article, we discuss what does a C-level executive do, explore the roles available within the C-suite and learn what each role does.

What does a C-level executive do?

C-level executives are high-ranking professionals who are at the head of their respective areas within an organisation. Specific job titles typically vary depending on the industry and company, but usually, the c in the term refers to chief in several corporate titles, such as chief financial officer (CFO) and chief executive officer (CEO).

C-level executives are usually responsible for overseeing a company and its departments. They work as a team to make sure that the company's strategies and operations align with its plans and policies. In public companies, C-level executives correct activities that don't generate profits for shareholders. Because their job involves making critical decisions, C-level executives usually receive high compensation.

Related: What Is C-Suite? (Plus How To Become a Successful Leader)

Types of C-level executives

Each organisation has its own C-suite titles. These positions vary by company. Here are some of the common types of C-level executives:

Chief executive officer (CEO)

The CEO is the most senior C-level executive of a company. They're generally responsible for managing the company and improving its value. The CEO reports directly to the company's board of directors. Serving as the most powerful leader and key decision-maker in the company, the CEO does critical tasks, such as partnering with industry leaders, getting new investors and making decisions on important financial moves.

In a small company, the CEO is typically the owner or founder. In a larger organisation, however, the board of directors assigns one executive or member as the CEO or hires a potential candidate externally. The CEO then appoints other executives to establish the C-level team. The CEO, together with the C-suite and the board of directors, lead and give the organisation directions. The CEO's responsibility doesn't only include making important decisions, but they're also the company's ambassador, embodying its vision and encouraging each employee to give their best.

Related: What Is a Chief Executive Officer? Plus How To Become One

Chief operating officer (COO)

The COO is perhaps the second-highest position in a company. They're responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operational and administrative aspects of the company. The COO typically reports directly to the CEO. Some areas that are usually under the management of a COO include monetary growth, marketing, sales, research and development. Some of the tasks a COO may perform include:

  • Giving advice based on the company's functions and current state

  • Creating policies that align with the vision and culture of the company

  • Creating goals for maximum progress or development of the company

  • Planning and executing efficient and effective business processes, plans and strategies

Related: What Does a Chief Operating Officer Do? (With How To Become One)

Chief financial officer (CFO)

A CFO is in charge of directing a company's accounting and finance departments. They're primarily responsible for matters related to the financial decisions and operations of a company. Their duties may include cash flow monitoring, forecasting and reporting, financial planning and making sure the company adheres to relevant laws. They also evaluate the company's financial weaknesses and strengths to propose potential solutions to the CEO to transform the company.

Chief marketing officer (CMO)

The CMO, also known as the marketing director, reports directly to the CEO. Their primary duty is to increase revenue by boosting sales through an effective marketing plan. This means defining solid and clear marketing strategies to meet the company's goals. An effective marketing plan can give the company a competitive advantage. To develop a solid marketing plan, the CMO usually collaborates with a team of marketing experts. They plan, create, implement and analyse the overall marketing strategy of the company.

Here are some of the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a CMO:

  • Manage sales

  • Perform customer service

  • Manage brands, advertising and public relations

  • Develop product, pricing and marketing strategies

  • Conducting market research

Chief information officer (CIO)

The duties of a CIO involve a high level of technical expertise. The CIO, also called the IT director, works with the IT staff to meet the IT needs of the company. They manage the resources available to improve the IT aspect of the company. As such, the CIO is the primary driver of innovation and develops ideas that generate revenue for the company.

A CIO first evaluates the current processes to determine if there are areas that need improvement. They then propose the necessary software updates or upgrades to select and implement appropriate technology for automation. These can help reduce the company's inefficiencies and maximise its productivity. By outlining clear strategies and objectives for the company's IT department, the CIO ensures that the organisation's IT infrastructure is efficient, effective and up-to-date.

Related: What Is a Chief Technology Officer and What Do They Do?

Additional types of C-level executives

There are many other C-level positions that may exist within an organisation, and some may only have a few of the previously listed roles. Typically, the larger the company, the more people you will generally find in the C-suite. Here are other types of C-level executives:

  • Chief content officer: The CCO manages content creation in all forms, including marketing copy, web content and social media communications. They typically works in the marketing or public relations department and may collaborate closely with the CMO.

  • Chief human resources officer: The CHRO manages the individuals working within the organisation, overseeing recruitment, training, employee development and employee retention. This C-level executive works in the human resources department.

  • Chief compliance officer: This CCO is usually the head of the company's compliance department, which handles the company's compliance with applicable rules, regulations, policies and laws. They implement the appropriate standards and procedures to meet those standards.

  • Chief security officer: The CSO works in the company's security department and develops and oversees the programmes and policies that ensure the organisation's financial and operational security.

  • Chief data officer: The CDO oversees the collection, analysis and utilisation of data within the organisation, ensuring that the company handles data like a valuable asset. This executive usually works in the information technology department.

  • Chief innovation officer: The CINO generates new ideas and identifies opportunities for innovation and change that will propel the company forward. This position is usually at the top of the research and development department.

  • Chief marketing officer: The CMO works with the marketing department to conduct brand management, marketing strategy, client communications and industry research. A CMO oversees the return on investment (ROI) from the company's marketing activities.

How to become a C-level executive

C-level executives typically require extensive experience and education. The following steps can help you position yourself for a job as a C-level executive:

1. Gain experience in your industry

Industry expertise can provide you with the necessary knowledge for a high-level C-suite job. Executives at this level usually have a diverse skill set that includes several aspects of business administration, including information technology, sales, marketing, human resources and finance. While a member of the C-suite typically focuses on one area of the company, a C-level executive may have a few years of experience in several environments and departments.

2. Take leadership roles

Leadership skills, such as integrity, reliability and effective decision-making, are essential in C-suite jobs. Seek promotions that will give you leadership experience in a managerial role. Show initiative and make effective decisions in your current role.

3. Discuss your goals

Be vocal with your supervisors about your desire to reach the executive level. Consider seeking a mentor who can help you review your goals. Making it known that you're on the path to a C-suite role can position you for early consideration when there's an opening.

4. Track your accomplishments

Demonstrate your impact on the company by tracking your successes and gathering quantitative evidence that shows your value within the organisation. You can use this information when applying for leadership positions that lead towards C-level roles. This proof of your hard work, dedication and initiative can be a strong foundation for work as a C-level executive.

5. Demonstrate your expertise

Lead breakout sessions at conferences or publish a book or e-book to demonstrate your expertise in a particular industry or field. You can also create informative online videos or host a professional blog. Consider taking opportunities to manage an important project to demonstrate your leadership skills, vision, organisation and ability to execute essential tasks.

6. Pursue continuing education

To become a C-level executive, you may need a graduate degree. Many C-level professionals have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a similar degree. Advanced education can prepare you with theoretical knowledge and actionable strategies for best business practices. You can pair this degree with your industry-specific knowledge, such as your experience in the marketing department or working in client management, to prepare for a C-level position in the future.