What Is an Executive Director and How To Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 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.

Executive directors are top officials who drive the operations of a company to achieve its desired success and growth. Though a challenging job to perform, many ambitious professionals aspire to reach this high-ranking position. So, having a good understanding of the skills, qualifications and requirements required to become an executive director can be helpful knowledge. In this article, we explain what is an executive director, the duties and responsibilities of an executive director, along with the skills and qualifications required to become one.

What is an executive director?

An executive director is a leader within a firm or non-profit organisation who handles and takes responsibility for activities that are relevant to their profession. They work closely with the board of directors and are responsible for advancing the growth of the company. In a non-profit setting, they often operate and manage the operations of the organisation within a budget.

An executive director spends much of their time identifying strategies that can help a company move forward financially. They oversee the daily workflow of a company, develop future plans and motivate fellow employees to achieve their full potential. They're also responsible for formulating different organisational policies and ensure that the employees of the organisation adhere to them.

Duties and responsibilities of an executive director

The duties of an executive officer depend on the structure and size of the company that they work with. However, their typical duties include:

  • Oversee the operations of the company

  • Formulate short-term and long-term plans for the growth of the company

  • Assess the budget requirements of the company and create financial reports as required by government regulations and stakeholders

  • Setup successful fund-raising campaigns for organisation-wide goals

  • Stay up-to-date with community needs and market trends

  • Oversee managers in different departments, review their performance and offer feedback

  • Actively communicate with the employees of the organisation to motivate them and understand their perspectives

Read more: Important Soft Skills Employers in Hong Kong Look For

Skills for an executive director

An executive director drives the vision and strategy of their organisation and oversees its daily operations. Here are some skills required for an executive director:

Strategic thinking

As an executive director, it's good to have an organisation-wide perspective of the work being done by the company and its contribution towards the long-term business goals. You have to be able to analyse the current situation of a company and make strategic decisions for its long-term success and growth. The more knowledge you have, the more likely you can develop strategies that'll work.

Leadership

Important leadership skills also include soft skills such as active listening, emotional intelligence, dependability and creativity. In addition, you also possess strong communication skills and can motivate people towards achieving a common goal. You can also offer constructive feedback to team members and other managers who work with you.

Read more: 12 Leadership Examples for the Workplace

Communication

An executive director works closely with a wide range of individuals, ranging from executives to volunteers. It's essential to have strong communication skills in order to be successful in this position. You also require excellent interpersonal skills, active listening skills and strong written and verbal communication skills.

Decision-making skills

To become a successful executive director, it's important to have solid decision-making skills. This can help you consider a range of choices, anticipate outcomes and make decisions that positively affect the organisation. You may need to consider who to promote or which direction to take for an ongoing customer issue.

Delegation

Good leadership requires the capability to delegate tasks effectively. This way, you can call upon the expertise of professionals with different talents and specialisations. Understanding how others' strengths can complement your weaknesses can help you enhance the productivity of your organisation.

Change management

Change management is an important skill required for any executive. It helps you to anticipate issues even before it occurs so that you can create plans to overcome them. You have the ability to assign the right people to handle the change management process and provide them with all the required resources to achieve their objectives.

Read more: Common Job Interview Questions and Answers for Freshers and Experienced Professionals

How to become an executive director

The role of the executive director varies according to the specific demands of each company and the structure of its board. However, if you want to become an executive director, you may require a good amount of dedication, focus, intelligence and management skills. Here are the typical steps required to become an executive director:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step towards starting a career as an executive director is to get a bachelor's degree. Even though you can pursue a bachelor's degree in any subject, many choose to pursue a business-related degree such as economics, marketing, finance or business administration to prepare for a leadership role. If you choose one over the other, consider completing coursework in the other subjects to increase your knowledge of those topics.

2. Build your work experience

For those who have earned a bachelor's degree, the next step would be to obtain the required work experience to advance your career. You may start in an entry-level position in a company and eventually progress to higher levels after getting sufficient work experience.

Being an executive director typically requires several years of work experience, where you learn the best business practices, management skills and leadership qualities to build a solid foundation. In addition, having several years of work experience is also a good way to improve one's flexibility, adaptability and communication skills, all of which are important traits for successful leadership.

3. Earn a master's degree

Though not a mandatory step, you can still benefit from earning a master's degree in business administration. It can make you more attractive to prospective employers and may shorten the time it takes to become an executive director. Earning this advanced degree prepares you to understand all the nuances of a business, which are crucial to becoming a strong leader.

4. Get certifications

Earning certifications is not a mandatory step, but you can still pursue them to increase your standing in your industry. These credentials show employers your dedication to the profession. Research valuable certifications for this job role so you can enhance your knowledge and grow your confidence.

5. Continue your learning and development

As a top executive in an organisation, you need to invest in continuous learning and development to grow professionally. Learning from peers, enrolling in courses, discussing with mentors and practising new skills are some ways an executive director can build their knowledge and skill. Focus on proving yourself as a compassionate leader, a strategic thinker, a decision-maker and an analyst with high-level organisational skills.

Read more: 10 Leadership Skills To Highlight In Your Resume

Frequently asked questions about being an executive director

Here are some frequently asked questions about being an executive director:

What is the difference between the executive director and CEO?

Both the chief executive officer (CEO) and executive director are leadership titles in an organisation. Often they are the highest-ranking position in the company and are also responsible for ensuring the success of an organisation.

A major difference between both these roles is that the term executive director is more commonly associated with nonprofit organisations, whereas a CEO is often associated with for-profit entities. Also, the executive directors of nonprofit organisations are generally involved with fundraising activities related to the promotion of the organisation in order to create public awareness and promote membership.

How's a managing director different from an executive director?

There is a major overlap between the duties and responsibilities of an executive director and managing director. A managing director is mainly responsible for helping an organisation grow, while an executive director acts as a representative between the board and company and offer senior leadership.

An executive director is responsible for the success or failure of the business and acts as a figurehead for the business. The managing director ensures that the company's performance is in the right direction and they organise meetings with other units to identify areas for improvement.

What is the annual salary of an executive director?

The salaries earned by executives vary according to the size and nature of the business of their associated organisation. When compared to a CEO, an executive director earns a lesser salary. This is often related to the philanthropic nature of their organisations. Since most nonprofits work with limited budgets, an executive director requires a genuine passion for the work they do. On average, an executive director can earn a salary of about $305,105 per year.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.