Understanding Role of C-Level Executives

Michael Maximoff
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Every professional environment comprises different levels of hierarchy, which determine or denote the role of the individual. One of those key job titles is the C-level executive, also commonly referred to as the C-suite. The executive-level title is bestowed upon the high-ranking members of an organization's hierarchy who are responsible for key decisions.

So, what is a C-level executive?

What is a C-level executive? The term was coined from the word 'Chief', which generally denotes the highest-ranking member of a group. In the modern corporate hierarchy context, the term is reserved for members of the organization that decide and execute the company’s operations. This decisional influence ranges from day-to-day running to long-term goals and strategies. Naturally, the C-level executives of any organization are the highest-paid employees. Ironically, many executives, if not all, are often directly involved in their remuneration standards.

Here are a few positions representing this level:

  1. Chief Operating Officer;
  2. Chief Data Officer;
  3. Chief Information Security Officer;
  4. Chief Content Officer;
  5. Chief Privacy Officer;
  6. Chief Experience Officer etc.

The titles across different organizations are generally the same, e.g., CEO and COO. However, the specific duties performed by executives in different organizations tend to differ. It mainly depends on the size of the company in question. For smaller organizations, C-suite executives tend to be involved more in the business operations across all departments. In contrast, c-level execs in bigger corporations will head more-specialized divisions of the company, e.g., a sales executive.

Roles & Duties for C-Suite Executives

As mentioned earlier, the organization’s size is the main deciding factor when it comes to the duties of C-level executives. While the level of responsibility generally remains the same, execs at bigger organizations tend to have less diversified roles. 

At larger organizations with a much bigger workload, the executive hierarchy tends to be much more populated. It brings in several issues that are often non-existent at smaller organizations. For instance, decision-making, where there are only one or two senior executives, is much easier than where five or more are involved.

Local regulators also play a major role in shaping up and determining the duties of C-level executives. For instance, the commercial airliner operating under the International Air Transport Organisation’s guidelines is mandated to have a senior manager in charge of every key department within the airline, such as Flight Operations, Engineering, and Finance.

Having said that, C-level executive positions are certainly not static. The leadership roles played by the executives are constantly changing as the business evolves, either positively or negatively. For a small company experiencing growth, the ever-increasing responsibilities of the decision-makers need to be split and reassigned to ensure operational efficiency. Similarly, failing businesses need to restructure their hierarchy as a cost-cutting measure as well as to reduce redundancy.

The ever-changing business environment also often demands a change in the C-suite setup. Lately, the impact of modern technology and innovations has led to the addition of C-level positions, such as Chief Innovation Officer.

These positions are meant to usher businesses into the modern era and transform operations seamlessly into the new age of technology. In contrast, other modern innovations in many industries have led to the consolidation of different departments.

For instance, the adoption of automation tends to join departments that traditionally had separate executives in charge.

Must-Have Skills for C-Level Executives

Given the demanding nature of C-level positions, a solid set of relevant skills is necessary to ensure sensible and effective decision-making in all situations. Those range from leadership skills to people skills applicable in various facets of the job. Let’s take a quick look at some of these capabilities and why they’re so important.

  • Planning

Every organization follows a clearly laid out roadmap that denotes where it intends to be. The creation of this roadmap is a responsibility for C-level executives, which, in turn, takes intricate planning skills.

  • Strategizing

While the creation of a plan is a mountain task on its own, putting that plan into motion until the results are realized takes serious strategizing skills. A person representing the executive level needs to be able to be insightful enough to know the necessary steps that the organization must take to execute a plan and end up with the intended result.

  • Motivational Skills

Naturally, it takes a cooperative team effort for any plan to be successfully executed. It means that every team member must willingly participate in the daily operations. However, employees tend to want to do the bare minimum for their paycheck. Therefore, a chief executive officer has to deploy their motivational skills and get everyone excited about achieving the common goals. Even with great planning, if the execution team is not motivated enough, failure is guaranteed.

  • Leadership

By setting the company’s vision, C-level executives are directly responsible for transferring their ideas to the team and demonstrating exactly how the vision is to be achieved. It takes great leadership skills, and the exec might even have to be physically involved in operations just to set a standard that others can follow.

  • Assessment & Evaluation Skills

The only way to determine the success of strategies being used to achieve company goals is through an accurate assessment of performance. This role falls to the C-suite executives who must determine, usually every quarter, whether or not the organization is making the desired progress. These assessment skills also come in handy in identifying the right talent for certain key positions in the organization.

  • Conflict Resolution Skills

Every workplace tends to have internal issues that often require decisive action to resolve before they escalate. C-level executives are responsible for ensuring a sense of camaraderie among employees and great interpersonal relationships between employees. They must always be aware of any festering issues and able to resolve conflict in an amicable manner. Often enough, it may even require the dismissal or re-assignment of some team members to avoid persistent conflicts.

Typical C-Level Executive Job Titles

To better understand what a C-level executive is, let’s take a look at some of the most common titles of C-level executives. It’s worth noting that these job titles are not common across all industries due to the diversity of organizations.

1. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

It is easily the most common C-level executive title. Just about every organization, big or small, has this title.

The CEO is the company leader, the highest-ranking officer who is personally held responsible for an organization's performance.

As such, the CEO tends to have the final say and veto power on every decision for the entire company: from senior executive decisions to the most trivial ones.

The CEO is also directly responsible for staffing other C-level executives who are essentially their deputies. Similarly, they have the power to dismiss fellow executives if they prove to be ineffective in their roles. While it creates a dangerous concentration of power on a single individual, it also makes the CEO fully liable for any performance issues without having a scapegoat in times of failure.

2. The Chief Operating Officer (COO)

This role essentially deputizes the CEO position, and COOs are sometimes referred to as Senior Vice Presidents.

However, the COO is more concerned with the daily operations of the organization, as suggested by the title.

Responsibilities under this role also include creating company strategies to achieve the goals set by the CEO or those delegated to the COO’s office. The COO can also undertake just about every CEO role, either in the CEO’s absence or in their presence.

3. The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Every organization that involves the sale of goods or services in a competitive environment will require this executive position. However, smaller organizations may bundle the role of the CMO within either the CEO or COO's responsibilities.

The chief marketing officer is responsible for creating an ideal marketing strategy for the organization, such as finding the right B2B digital agency for the best lead generation.

This role is critical as it often sets the pace of production and growth since a business can only be as successful as its ability to actually sell its products.

4. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Proper management of finances is key to every organization's eventual success. This role is the responsibility of the chief financial officer who heads finance and accounting departments. They must manage available resources, source finances to support the organization's activities, and account for all financial expenditure transparently. Since businesses are highly regulated for financial responsibilities, such as tax, it is also the CFO's role to ensure that the organization stays compliant with local finance laws.

5. The Chief Security Officer (CSO)

This role is often overlooked. However, it is equally a C-level executive position. Safeguarding the property and interests of an organization is the only way to ensure continued operation.

This role includes safeguarding the company from both internal and external threats: from petty theft to corporate espionage attempts.

With the increased use of digital technology and the need for advanced technical skills, the role of the CSO has evolved greatly over the years, and it demands extensive knowledge in both physical and cyber security matters.

Less Common & More Specialised C-Level Positions

The extensive business landscape often demands top executive positions that suit specific niches and industries. These positions are as essential as other common executive positions. However, they are often confined to specific industries. Here are a few examples.

6. The Chief Information Officer (CIO)

This title describes the individual in charge of data management at an organization. It has increasingly become popular, especially with the recent adoption of complex information systems by organizations globally.

The CIO can be likened to the chief technology officer (CTO). However, with the increased complexity of industrial technology, these roles are becoming more individually defined.

The CTO manages the systems, hardware, and technology being used by the organization.

On the other hand, the CIO is in charge of the information contained within that system.

7. The Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)

Expansive organizations that involve organs in various sectors often find it difficult to keep track of the local regulations governing their operations. It has led to the creation of the CCO role, which takes over the sole responsibility of ensuring compliance in every aspect of the organization’s operations.

8. The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

Traditionally, Human Resources was considered a sub-division of other departments like Finance. However, there has been increased investment in human resources over the past few decades. Personnel has been identified as a key component in achieving organizational goals hence the need to have executive professional talent management.

The CHRO ensures that employees are kept abreast with new systems, technology, and innovations that affect the organization’s performance in any way.

9. Chief Green Officer (CGO)

The CGO is increasingly becoming popular, especially with stricter environmental laws being imposed globally. Businesses now have to be very careful about how their operations interact with the environment. With stiff penalties now being imposed by environmental regulators, the CGO executive role becomes responsible for making sure the organization does not violate any environmental laws, which could be costly.

CGOs are also in charge of finding innovative ways that reduce the company’s environmental impact.

10. Chief Innovation Officer (CIO)

The CIO executive position is essential for businesses that operate in a fast-paced and highly competitive niche, such as tech gadgets. The CIO is responsible for continually finding new and innovative ways to retain market share by producing superior products to match or surpass the competition.

11. Chief Risk Officer (CRO)

Where large investments are involved, the CRO is in charge of taking proactive action to mitigate losses. Besides, they should identify threats that could lead to investment loss.

Becoming a C-Level Executive

With such perks and decisional power, the C-level executive roles are attractive to anyone seeking career advancement. In fact, c-level roles are often the pinnacle of many professionals who devote their lives to a specific industry. To make matters worse, the typical company organogram has a bottleneck design. It means that only a few C-level executive positions will ever be available for the thousands of highly-qualified and ambitious professionals vying for them.

The fierce competition associated with c-suite positions ultimately ends up as a battle of experience and essential skills rather than mere academic qualifications. According to research by The Harvard Business Review, C-level positions are increasing globally due to the increase in entrepreneurship trends. However, these positions will never be a match for the thousands of higher-education graduates churning out of institutions of higher learning each year. The following steps can help you prepare yourself for the role of being a C-level executive. 

  • Gain experience

Experience is one of the best ways to acquire knowledge about the industry you are in. As a C-level executive, you need to be knowledgeable in different aspects of business management and problem-solving. Ask advice from senior executives on how they made it to their positions. Then, improve your strategy by emulating some of their ideas.

  • Be in a leadership position 

Reliable and effective decision-making is essential as a C-suite boss. Seek promotions that will provide you with exposure in leadership roles. When presented with such an opportunity, demonstrate your leadership capabilities by making effective decisions that show progress and improvement within your department.

  • Show desire

Approach your leaders, be it managers or supervisors, and ask for advice for becoming a leader. Ask for tips and guidance on what you need to do or accomplish to prepare for the C-level position. You might want to seek a mentor to provide guidance and help to review your goals and objectives.

  • Record your achievements 

Keep a quantitative record of your accomplishments. It will help you to present your value to the organization. With tangible evidence, it's easy to show your results. It also helps you to build a solid foundation to prepare for the position of being a C-level executive. 

  • Show your expertise 

Let your expertise be known throughout. You can demonstrate it through the creation of informative content. It can be done through publishing eBooks, creating a blog, and taking initiatives in your current role.

  • Get knowledge 

Get educated in business management courses and those specific to your industry. Many C-level professionals have an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Advanced education equips you with knowledge, technical skills, and strategies to accomplish the best in your respective field.

Winding up – The C-Level Executive Dream

Every ambitious professional yearns to land in C-level executive roles. However, the reality is that there is only so much space, which is too little to accommodate everyone. Most C-level executives are industry seniors that have put in the work and built a name for themselves in various industries, where they successfully furthered the interests of their employer. 

Luckily, many other C-level executive positions are emerging in the industry each day. It means that with time, any dedicated professional can eventually land that sweet post.

Want to know more about how C-level executives interact with modern digital innovations? Get in touch with the Belkins team today and get started!

Michael Maximoff

Michael Maximoff

Co-founder and Managing Partner at Belkins
Mike has more than 10 years of experience in the digital marketing and technology sector selling to SMB internationally. Michael leads Belkins' sales force and is responsible for biz development and new partnerships.