What Is a C-Level Executive? (Definition, Types and Skills)

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 an organisation's hierarchy who makes key strategic decisions that affect the entire business. Large businesses have several diverse positions available in their C-suites that present many opportunities for professionals who aspire to serve in a corporate role. Attaining a job as a C-level executive is usually the pinnacle of one's career after years of education, training and professional development, and learning more about this concept could help you plan your career progression.

In this article, we answer the question, what is a C-level executive?, and share information about the common job titles and duties of these professionals.

What is a C-level executive?

A C-level executive is a high-ranking professional who leads certain areas of an organisation. These professionals often have high levels of education and experience and work in various industries. The C in C-level stands for chief. Typically, C-level executives have the following duties:

  • Complete strategic planning

  • Delegate tasks, such as conducting research, compiling information and generating reports

  • Collect necessary information from lower-level management and employees for major decision making

  • Collaborate with other C-level executives

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

What are the common job titles for C-level executives?

Each organisation has its own C-suite titles, so the job titles may vary depending on the organisation. Here are some common job titles for C-level executives:

Chief executive officer (CEO)

The chief executive officer oversees the whole organisation, handling top-level policies and plans while establishing the business's goals and strategies, both long-term and short-term. All other C-level positions report to the CEO. Company board members and shareholders often choose professionals to fill this seniority position.

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

Chief operating officer (COO)

The COO focuses on day-to-day operations within the company and typically serves just below the CEO. The COO often serves on the board of directors. These professionals work to execute the CEO's business plans and strategies.

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

Chief financial officer (CFO)

The CFO manages financial matters for the organisation, including budgeting, forecasting, reporting and compliance activities. The CFO handles long-term financial planning and oversees the finance and accounting departments. These professionals can also make suggestions for the company budget and present their findings to the company's shareholders.

Chief marketing officer (CMO)

The CMO works with the marketing department to conduct brand management, marketing strategy, client communications and industry research. CMOs oversee the return on investment (ROI) from the company's marketing activities. Chief marketing officers often make the final decisions for marketing strategies.

Chief information officer (CIO)

The CIO handles strategic planning for the information technology department, identifying ways to increase business value and improve customer service through technology. Chief information officers ensure that the IT department's work can meet the company's goals. These professionals are often experts in their field and make plans for the CTO to oversee.

Chief technology officer (CTO)

The responsibilities of the CTO were once part of the CIO's duties, but advancements in technology have justified the creation of a separate position within the technology department. The CTO oversees information systems and technology development. They work to ensure that their department makes the necessary steps to develop the technology that the company needs to reach its goals.

Chief content officer (CCO)

This CCO manages content creation in all forms, including marketing copy, web content and social media communications. This individual establishes the brand voice, tone and positioning. A CCO typically works in the marketing or public relations department and may collaborate closely with the CMO.

Chief human resources officer (CHRO)

The CHRO manages the individuals working within the organisation, overseeing recruitment, training, employee development and employee retention. This work includes establishing the hiring process and training requirements for new employees. This C-level executive works in the human resources department.

Chief compliance officer (CCO)

This CCO is usually the head of the company's compliance department. This department handles the company's compliance with applicable rules, regulations, policies and laws, including implementing the appropriate standards and procedures to meet those standards. These professionals might oversee or audit other departments to ensure that the entire company keeps ethical and legal business practices.

Chief security officer (CSO)

The CSO ensures the safety of the company's employees, finances, physical assets and online operations. The CSO works in the company's security department and develops and oversees the programs and policies that ensure the organisation's financial and operational security. CSOs might develop safety training programs or share resources on emergency procedures.

Chief data officer (CDO)

The CDO oversees the collection, analysis and utilisation of data within the organisation, ensuring that data is handled as a valuable asset. This executive usually works in the information technology department. These professionals might also work with CSOs to ensure employees follow proper safety protocols regarding the company's data.

Chief innovation officer (CINO)

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. CINOs also recognise the ideas of other employees and attend meetings to listen to the input of other professionals. Then, they create a plan to use the new idea.

What skills do C-level executives need?

Because they hold the most senior positions in their field, C-level executives often possess high-proficiency skills. Though each professional may have a different set of skills depending on their industry and company, here are some general skills C-level executives usually have:

Leadership

Because they hold management positions and oversee entire departments, C-level executives often have strong leadership skills. This can include understanding their personal leadership style and recognising the needs of their employees. Professionals can develop their leadership skills by attending workshops and seeking certifications.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Use Them)

Critical thinking

Critical thinking skills allow C-level executives to evaluate research and solve problems. These skills often include the ability to research, analyse and make strategies based on logical information. C-level executives use these skills to make decisions for the company, research consumers and employees and address issues that arise in daily operations, including those that might occur in the future.

Decision-making

Because they hold senior positions of authority and control a department's daily operations, C-level executives often exercise effective decision-making skills. This can include evaluating the risk attached to a certain decision and considering various outcomes of a solution. Often, professionals can improve their decision-making skills by enhancing their critical thinking abilities.

Conflict management

Conflict management skills allow C-level executives to settle disputes between employees, customers and shareholders. Conflict management can also include unforeseen issues that might arise during the company's daily operations, such as an emergency situation. To improve their conflict management skills, executives develop strong interpersonal abilities and consider issues from a broader perspective.

Innovation

C-level executives may develop innovation skills to shape the company's goals and create strategies to achieve them. Innovation skills can include the ability to find creative solutions to a problem and setting effective goals. These skills can also help professionals become better leaders, as it helps them develop new ideas and strategies.

What qualifications do C-level executives have?

C-level executives can have different qualifications depending on their industry, but they usually have these general qualifications:

Education

Many C-level executives have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree or a similar degree. This helps them understand the business operations of their company. Often, professionals who choose to pursue an MBA earn their bachelor's degree in a field directly related to their industry. For example, a CEO of a publishing company might have a bachelor's degree in English. Some professionals also pursue industry-specific or skill-based certifications, such as a certification regarding leadership or financial management.

Experience

C-level executives often have many years of experience and earn promotions within the company until they reach the executive position. Professionals who possess more educational qualifications, such as a doctorate, may be able to earn promotions with less experience than others. It's also often important for these professionals to express their goals to other executives to ensure that the management of their company understands their professional goals and recognises them as candidates for promotion.

Industry-specific knowledge

Because they gain years of experience in their industry, C-level executives are able to obtain industry-specific knowledge that allows them to become experts in their field. This knowledge helps them to better understand the goals of the company. It can also assist them in problem-solving situations.