The role of chief operating officer (COO) varies from organisation to organisation. Often, the role involves reporting to the chief executive officer, making the CEO’s vision, ideas and words come true by focusing on what work gets done, how and by whom. We are often asked “how do I become a chief operating officer. What do I need?” The aim of this post is to answer that question and to provide insights into the traits needed to be a good one.

Understanding the COO Role

Chief operating officers are often the unsung heroes in a somewhat vague role. Accenture called the COO, “perhaps one of the least understood roles in business today.” Their role can be defined in three ways, although this can vary from one organisation to another:

  • The COO is strategic with a focus on details – By getting involved in almost every function, COOs can spot interdependencies and serve as the integrator between different activities across the business. They can help to break down functional and geographical silos, and identify ways of combining assets to drive efficiencies and transfer best practice.
  • The COO oversees and is responsible for all change programmes – Besides taking the responsibility for the diverse day-to-day operational demands, COOs in many companies handle larger business transformation initiatives and have become a driver of strategy.
  • The COO oversees both internal and external functions – According to The DNA of the COO, they must manage in three directions: downwards, by building trust with the workforce; upwards, by creating a strong bond with the CEO and the board; and outwards, by developing positive interactions with suppliers, customers and investors.

So what do you need to become a COO?

The chief operations officer is both a hands on and supportive role embedded in the C-Suite. You will be a coordinator and in all probability report to the chief executive. If you’re a person that wants the limelight, this role may not be the best fit for you.

Experience and Sideways Jumps

To become a chief operating officer experience is key. You have to know the business backwards and have done a stint in every department. This takes its time but is necessary. There are not many COOs without a grey hair or two.

Take advantage of using natural career progression. So if you’re working in sales move into marketing. If you’re working in R&D think about finance. Finance, incidentally, is vitally important to a chief operating officer. You will need to understand it to a high level, and understand how and why the business makes money.

Make an Impact and get noticed

It is important that whatever role you are in when embarking on your C-Suite journey that you make an impact. So making a cost saving when in finance to implementing a successful marketing campaign for a new product roll-out, will all get you noticed. You have to be able to give your superiors a reason to promote you.

Find a Mentor

To really progress you will need to find someone to champion you at board level. They can also help you make the right moves at the right time. This person will speak up for you in meetings and help you advance to the C-Suite.