What Does A CEO DO?

CEOIt’s conventional wisdom that Chief Executive Officer’s make “the big bucks”, but many people wonder, “What exactly does a CEO do?” It turns out that most earn their keep through work that’s challenging, and to a great extent, outside their direct control.


CEOs have to know a little bit about everything. Most businesses are complex organizations filled with specialists who are good at their work, because they focus on it every day. The CEO doesn’t have this luxury. He or she spends most days in endless meetings related to every area within the company as noted in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The CEO has ultimate responsibility for the performance of these areas, but neither the training nor the time to master or directly control them. Success as a CEO demands the ability to identify and motivate excellent managers, and to use common business sense to guide them and ensure they get the big picture.


To share that big picture, the CEO first has to understand it. The CEO meets with ownership and the board on a regular basis to gain a clear understanding of the company’s goals. The CEO must also communicate back to owners and directors, so that they understand the operating environment, know the challenges and opportunities the company faces, and have an honest assessment of performance. For the company to succeed, it’s important that this two-way communication be open, honest and productive. With clear direction from well-informed owners and directors, the CEO must then act as an effective ambassador, sharing this direction with employees in ways that are understandable and motivational. Successful CEOs learn to walk the tightrope between the aspirations of owners and directors and the operating realities faced by employees to achieve the best possible outcome.

Orchestra Conductor

As the CEO communicates company goals and works to motivate performance, he or she must also coordinate the efforts of every area. An orchestra filled with excellent musicians will sound horrible if the sections don’t play together. In much the same way, a company with many talented specialists can fail miserably if different areas focus solely on their work and fail to consider the needs of others and the company as a whole. Successful CEOs keep a constant awareness of the competing objectives of all areas. They coordinate and negotiate resources and priorities to ensure that individual department performance is strong, but more importantly, that the company is moving as efficiently as possible toward the achievement of its goals.

Related Resource: Chief Financial Officer

The Buck Stops Here

The CEO is the face and voice of the company. He or she is responsible for performance and spends a great deal of time communicating that performance, good and bad, to people outside the company including the media, industry and trade groups, government officials, and community and civic leaders, according to the article The Role of the CEO in a PR Crisis

The role of CEO has significant perks and a great degree of job satisfaction. At the same time, it’s a high-pressure role with a dizzying array of responsibilities and an uncomfortable dependence on the performance of others to succeed. “What does a CEO do?” is a question best answered with, “A whole lot more than most people realize!”