So, you’re looking at joining the board of directors as a Chief Executive Officer—a CEO. First of all, congratulations, it’s a huge career step packed with exciting opportunities, implementing incredible change, and working with exceptional stakeholders.
In this short article, we’ll run you through the responsibilities of a CEO and the ideal skills you’ll need to conquer to step into the role smoothly.
We’ve touched base with some CEOs at the top of their game to provide you with some unique insights into day-to-day life of a high-performing CEO.
What is the role of a Chief Executive Office (CEO) in a company?
A CEO sits alongside the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), among a handful of other C-suite players—depending on your company structure and growth stage.
The CEO is the highest-ranking executive and is responsible for company growth, crisis management, and a successful workforce.
What are a CEO’s main duties and responsibilities?
CEO roles and main duties largely ring the same across all companies, although, of course, their priorities will often change. They’ll work closely with Human Resources and the board of directors on the following.
Manage the strategic direction of the business
A CEO will be leading the way on strategic business partnerships and growth levers all the way through to understanding and supporting day-to-day operations.
Although they won’t actively be implementing these things, they’ll need to have their fingers in every pie and their ear to the ground to ensure the business is holistically heading in the right direction, and working in unison.
Assess and strategize business finances
Business strategies come in all shapes and sizes and a huge responsibility for every CEO will be to understand the business’s cash flow, and ideate—with the larger executive team—ways to optimize that cash flow.
Oversee business-critical travel
Oftentimes, overseeing business travel management falls under the scope for office managers, travel managers, or a company’s operations manager. This is typically the case in medium to large-sized businesses.
However, especially with smaller companies, there are business administration tasks that will fall into the CEO’s lap, one of them being to oversee business-critical travel.
Travel-related CEO duties include implementing travel policies, recruiting a travel management company (TMC), and understanding the ROI on business travel. They’ll then need to communicate all of this with C-level team members.
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Handle many areas of investing
If you’re a business backed by investors (VCs or Angels) then a CEO is often responsible for reporting to those investors, acting on their insights, and maintaining relationships with them.
If you’re seeking investment then it’s often the CEOs responsibility to foster investor relationships and win investment rounds so your startup can effectively grow.
Be the face of the business
A CEO is largely required to be the face and public figure for the business. Internally, they’ll be responsible for delivering corporate governance, implementing and maintaining organizational structure, speaking on behalf of the larger C-suite team or investors, and more.
Externally, they’ll need to engage at public speaking or networking events, manage press conferences, and be the face of business partnerships—working alongside other CEOs.
This also means CEOs are often held accountable in times of crisis, and will be expected to speak on behalf of the company for both the good times and the bad.
“There are three things a good CEO should be doing. (1) CEOs need to create the business vision and strategy—and communicate that. (2) Give everyone sufficient resources to do their job: financing, tools, and budgets to deliver their best work. (3) CEOs need to organize. They need to be in the right moment for the right step of the business. CEOs should work the org chart, promote and coach their people to be where they need to be.” —Timo Buetefisch, CEO @ Cooltra.
Build and maintain work culture
A CEO is often referred to as the heart of a business. They keep it beating, busy, and alive. It’s a CEO’s responsibility to maintain a healthy work culture and positive work environment. This means they’ll have the final say on remote/hybrid work cultures, office life, company perks and benefits, stocks and shares, volunteering opportunities, and more.
Aside from this, they’ll also be the voice and soul of the company. It’s their job to rally staff around a collective mission and vision, maintain and lead by company values, and ensure the collective work force is aligned and living what the business stands for.
“At Knowadays, our vision is “to be a leading provider of online courses and a trusted partner for every learner in their journey to find meaningful work.”
By far, my biggest responsibility is making sure the team understands that vision, what their role is within that vision, and supporting them in performing that role.
In my experience this is much harder than you might think, especially when you sit at the top of the business and see clearly where you want the business to go. The best advice I ever heard regarding this point is that: you work for the employees, not the other way around.”—William Hannay, CEO at Knowadays.
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Monitor and act on company performance
Lastly, a great CEO will need to keep a close eye on a company’s performance. They’ll need to assess which teams and management are performing well and where they need support. They should understand company technology and be able to highlight areas for improvement, or success stories that can be rolled out across the larger company.
For example, it would be on a CEO to implement a cross-team collaboration culture. CEOs will run de-coupled releases on these culture frameworks for a limited blast radius, accurately assess its success or failure and then determine whether to release further into the company.
These types of decisions often come hand-in-hand with a successful relationship with your COO. This relationship is one of the most crucial ones you’ll have, and you’ll need to work harmoniously with this person.
“Having honest and open conversations about each other’s strengths and weaknesses to know how to support and lean on each other, and where we can help each other improve for the better of the business, our team and ourselves.
Building a strong relationship that allows for those honest chats is crucial to success and being able to work more harmoniously.
The startup world can be hectic and there can be a lot of distractions, so regular strategy meetings are crucial to staying on track and having full alignment to then spread across the team.”—Jed Hackling, COO & Co-founder of Ambl.
What is the ideal skillset of a CEO?
You’ll need to go far beyond a bachelor’s degree to be successful in your new role as CEO.
A CEO job description (JD) will often include the above roles and responsibilities, but the skillset of a CEO is rarely shared in a JD. Although, that doesn’t mean the hiring team isn’t looking for specific skills.
Here are the most in-demand skills according to fellow CEOs and other C-suite staff out there.
- Communication skills: a good CEO needs to be able to communicate effectively, concisely, empathetically, and in a way that leaves zero room for misinterpretation.
- Decision-making: CEOs are tasked with making tough decisions and making them quickly. You’ll need to stay on your toes and be proactive when push comes to shove.
“The most underrated skill of a CEO is admitting mistakes. Leaders do not need to have only the right answers. They need to make decisions. Those are two very different things. Extremely few decisions come down to “bet the company” moments. Most of the time, the team just needs a decision made.
You need to use the information you have available to make the best decision. And, let me spoil the end here, you’re going to be wrong sometimes. It’s ok to admit that. In fact, it can be accretive to a positive culture where people won’t be so fearful of making mistakes.”—William Hannay, CEO at Knowadays.
- Data-minded: CEOs are presented with data from every angle. You’ll need to be able to make sense of the numbers and translate them into actionable steps for the business. This requires CEOs to be strategic and have a problem solving mindset.
- Transparent and approachable: A truly successful CEO is approachable to every employee: from intern through to Investor. They’ll need solid interpersonal skills and the ability to lead transparently—where it makes sense.
- Leadership skills: any work environment can get tough. People will look to a CEO for new initiatives, and to help lead people through tougher times, remaining passionate every step of the way. You’re the make or break of employee engagement and staff churn.
“Selling is absolutely critical: selling the product to customers, selling prospects of the company to candidates, and selling the vision of the company to investors.”—Pulkit Agrawal, Co-founder & CEO at Chameleon.
- Ethical: lastly, a CEO will need to be ethical and fair. They’ll need to know when staff are being heard, mistreated, and step into situations without bias. They’ll need to be a leader others are inspired to follow, and a large part of this will come from leading with heart.
Closing out on successful CEO roles and responsibilities
The difference between a good CEO and a great CEO lies in their skill sets. You’ll need a fierce combination of hard and soft skills, know how to be hands-on, but also know when to step away from situations and trust in your people.
High-quality CEOs are hard to find, so if you’ve been offered this position know that there was an incredible amount of work and thought that went into it. This role is not offered lightly.
At the same time, you wouldn’t be in this position if you weren’t ready. Identify areas you can lead with, work on those areas that you feel need some support, and walk into your new role one courageous step at a time.