CAO vs. COO: What’s the Difference?

A chief administrative officer (CAO) is a top-tier executive who supervises the daily operations of an organization and is ultimately responsible for its performance.

A chief administration officer (CAO) and chief operating officer (COO) are two executive positions that report directly to the company’s top leader, the chief executive officer (CEO). CAOs relieve the CEO of tedious, time-consuming managerial duties, while a COO works to turn leadership’s ideas into action.


What is a COO?

A COO, or chief operating officer, is an executive who manages manufacturing, production sales and personnel within a company or organization. Chief operating officers operate at the executive level and can also work with other top-level executives to make strategic plans for maximizing the efficiency of a companys operations. A COO can help create budgets, prepare financial reports, conduct performance reviews for staff and work on marketing campaigns that can contribute to a companys growth. Chief operating officers can also delegate tasks to the teams they lead and implement new programs that promote health and safety standards in the workplace.

Here are a few more job duties that a chief operating officer usually has:

What is a CAO?

A CAO, or chief administrative officer, is an executive who oversees an organizations day-to-day operations. They typically act as the head of departments like finance, human resources and sales, or any department that takes part in daily tasks or customer-facing interactions. A Chief administrative officer reports to a companys chief executive officer and board of directors and can also help companies improve their performance by reviewing processes, developing new policies for an organizations departments, managing projects and preparing reports that inform board members about a companys performance. Here are a few more common job duties for a chief administrative officer:


Here are a few ways that chief administrative officers and chief operating officers are different:


One difference between a chief administrative officer and a chief operating officer is the aspect of business that each of the positions focuses on. As a chief administrative officer oversees a companys day-to-day operations, they usually focus on finding ways to improve specific elements of a companys operations. This can involve acting as the head of certain departments, like sales and human resources, in order to gain a thorough understanding of how the departments work and where they might be able to improve their processes.

A chief operating officer focuses more on the operations of a company as a whole. They also sometimes work most frequently on production and manufacturing processes to maximize a companys productivity. This means that a COO might help with projects like finding a new location for a manufacturing plant, choosing upgrades for a companys technology and creating new processes for completing projects that can increase efficiency.


A chief administrative officer and a chief operating officer can also differ in the skills they develop and use in their jobs. Chief administrative officers typically have excellent interpersonal and communication skills that help them make interactions with employees and clients positive and professional, which can be especially helpful in their work with human resources and client-facing job responsibilities. A CAO also needs a strong attention to detail to ensure they consider all aspects of business when they evaluate a departments performance and needs.

A chief operating officer usually needs highly developed strategic and decision-making skills, as much of their job involves choosing improvements to make to a companys technical operations, like manufacturing and production. They also can benefit from having an in-depth knowledge of business and marketing concepts that can inform how they design and guide the implementation of new marketing and advertising initiatives. Organization can also be crucial to a COO, as they can oversee multiple departments or initiatives in a company at one time and need to ensure they devote adequate time and effort to each task.

Interactions with the CEO

Chief administrative officers and chief operating officers can also differ in how they work with a companys chief executive officer. While both positions typically report to the chief executive officer, the two roles communicate with the CEO in different ways. A chief administrative officer can give updates to the CEO and hold briefing meetings where they offer information about specific projects and departments. Chief administrative officers might also facilitate communication between the CEO and other department heads or staff members by relaying messages and preparing reports.

For a chief operating officer, communication with the chief executive officer is much more frequent and direct. A chief operating officer is often considered the second in command at a company, which means they usually serve the chief executive officer by communicating with them about strategies, updates and improvements that impact the company as a whole. Many chief operating officers also look to chief executive officers for guidance in Professional Development, as some chief operating officers aspire to advance to the position of chief executive officer in the future.

Where they work

Another difference between chief administrative officers and chief operating officers is the type of company that each position typically works for. Chief administrative officers most often work in large companies that see a lot of interaction with customers or clients. This can include retail businesses, financial services, insurance companies and more organizations that serve clients as part of their business.

Chief operating officers can work at almost any company, but they most often work with large corporations or companies with a wide array of operations. This is because a chief operating officer focuses on the overall performance of a company and can offer advice in many general areas of business. Many chief operating officer positions exist at businesses that engage in manufacturing or production of products, as a COO can help oversee and improve these operations.

Jobs similar to CAOs and COOs

If helping a company oversee its operations and daily responsibility interests you, there are many jobs for you to consider. Here are some jobs similar to both a CAO and COO position:


Is CAO higher than CEO?

The CAO is one of the highest-ranking members of an organization, managing daily operations and usually reporting directly to the chief executive officer. In some companies, the CAO is also the president.

Who is higher than COO?

Know Your C-Suite: The Chief Administrative Officer

A CAO can be considered one of the most trusted staffers of the c-suite. In addition to their everyday tasks of checking company standards and policies, they are also leading project managers of special large-scale company endeavors.

Is COO higher than director of operations?

Who is higher: CEO or COO? The CEO; this is the top-ranking position within the company. The COO comes second in the hierarchy and reports to the CEO. Depending on the structure of the company, the CEO could report to the board of directors, the investors or the founders of the company.

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