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CEO vs COO vs CFO – Roles and Responsibilities

In the C-suite, the most prominent positions are the CEO, COO, and CFO – the chief executive officer, the chief operations officer, and the chief financial officer. These 3 positions, along with others, form the top-most tier of leadership at any organization. They share certain aspects of their roles but the functional roles are very different.

What is a CEO?

The CEO is the highest position at an organization and oversees the operations of the entire company. Their focus spreads across departments and includes everything from sales to administration. The successful CEO makes all the major decisions for the company and also functions as the company representative for the media and public. At some companies, depending on the size and structure, the CEO also holds the title of president, or founder, and might also be the chairperson of the board of directors.

Read: CEO vs CFO – Roles and Responsibilities

What is a COO?

The COO is one level under the CEO and reports to them. The COO’s position is not present at all companies. They are more common to companies with a high level of operational activities like manufacturing companies. On a broad level the COO is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company. But, the specifics of the role of a COO is highly dependent on the CEO and the requirements of the company.

What is a CFO?

The CFO is the highest position for financial matters in the company. The CFO is responsible for financial management, cutting costs, and growing revenue. The primary role of CFO involves financial planning, monitoring the company cash flow, maintaining investor and partner relations, and more.

CEO vs COO vs CFO – The difference

The difference between CEO, COO and CFO in terms of their roles and responsibilities, is based on their respective functions relative to their departments. Here are 6 key differences between the CEO, the COO, and the CFO;

Primary Responsibilities of CEO vs COO vs CFO

The CEO is responsible for the overall performance of the company as well as the company’s image in the media or the public. This is dependent on the size and nature of the company and its relationship with the public. It is the CEO’s responsibility to take all big decisions for the entire company and set goals along with the board of directors.

The COO’s responsibilities vary greatly depending on the CEO and the needs of the organization. The COO’s responsibilities are in relation to the CEO and what they need. There is no definite description of what the COO’s responsibilities are so there are different kinds of COOs for different requirements by the CEO and their vision.

The CFO is responsible only for the financial activities of the company. They are in charge of all the different financial departments in an organization whether it may be accounting, budgets, financial reports, or investments.

Hierarchy of CEO vs COO vs CFO

The CEO is hired or appointed by the board of directors as the top-most position in the corporate hierarchy at any company. They report only to the board and no one else.

The COO is second in command to the CEO and works very closely with them. They are also hired by the CEO.

The CFO is hired by the CEO and works one-level under them along with the COO and other C-suite positions.

Liaising – CEO vs COO vs CFO

The CEO is responsible for the public image of the company so they represent the company in the media. In some instances the CEO also liaises with the investors, shareholders, and official bodies.

The COO will usually carry out any communication required by the CEO. They are usually in charge of the internal affairs of the company.

The CFO’s liaising is only finance related. They are in charge of developing and maintaining relationships with investors, banks, and other financial institutions. Depending on the needs of the company, some CFOs also liaise with the board.

Functional roles of CEO and COO and CFO

The CEO’s job is to develop goals and strategies for the growth of the company. These are usually with the knowledge of the board. These goals then get delegated to the appropriate manager in-charge. The CEO ensures that the employees are working towards the vision of the company. The CEO is the position that proves as an example for the rest of the company to follow.

The COO’s function in the company is reliant on the CEO and company’s needs. But typically the COO is responsible for daily operations at a company. Since the COO’s duties depend on the organization, there is no definite outline of their functional role but it may include culture, marketing, sales, strategy, research, and resources.

The CFO is solely concerned with the financial growth and progress of the company. They keep track of the financial strengths and weaknesses of the company and propose plans to combat the weaknesses and play up the growth. They also have to be aware of unforeseen challenges such as an unstable economy. They are expected to provide counsel in financial matters concerning investments, projects, and strategies, to the CEO, COO, and board of directors.

Culture difference – CEO and COO and CFO

The CEO acts as the role model for company culture. Once the culture is established, the CEO needs to carry it through and maintain it in every situation. The entire organization will use the CEO’s behavior as an example to define their own. In situations where the CEO needs to take a stand and show integrity and the personality of the organization is extremely important.

The COO’s relationship with the organizational culture is interesting. In companies where they are required to develop and establish the culture their role is on the enforcer (without actually forcing anyone). They are tasked with ensuring the company culture is understood, accepted, and followed by everyone in the company. In companies where the culture is not part of their primary responsibilities, the COO is like any other leader and is expected to uphold the culture and be an example for the rest of the employees.

The CFO’s relationship with the company’s culture is the same as any other leader. They must uphold and follow through with the requirements and prove to be an example for their department to follow. They are expected to lead by example, as are the other members of the C-suite.

Challenges of CEO and COO and CFO

CEOs are faced with all the tough decisions to be made in an organization. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on a CEO to take the difficult call, make the right decisions, be the leader the company needs, and take the company to success. But they also face the added pressure of being compared to their predecessor. Another challenge CEOs face depends on whether they are internally appointed or hired from outside. Someone hired from outside the company generally receives more help with the transition into their role. While, someone hired internally is expected to already have the required information. While this might sound logical, it might not extend to all aspects of being a CEO.

The challenges faced by a COO are varied since there is no one role the COO must fulfill. The nature of the role is dependent on the company’s and the CEO’s needs. This means they need to be well-versed in a number of subjects and skills that might be tasked to them. The challenge COOs face is that they must be able to adapt to what is required of them. This is why a COO needs to be extremely flexible and have a wide area of knowledge, skills, and expertise.

The CFO has the enormous responsibility of managing the financial well-being of the entire company. They need to be extremely skilled in their area of expertise. Theirs is the kind of job that cannot afford any mistakes. But their challenge extends beyond the company itself. They also need to be well-informed and well-prepared to deal with any uncertainty that the economy might bring. While this is not in their control, they are required to predict and prepare for economy related challenges. This requires them to be well-versed with trends and ups and downs in the market and the economy.

CEO vs COO vs CFO salary

The salaries of executives in the C-suite are highly dependent on factors such as the size of the company, their own experience, the industry, the kind of company, etc.

According to an Indeed report from  January 30, 2023, the average base CEO salary is $128,740 per year in the US. While the average base COO salary is $132,534 per year. And, the average base CFO salary is $145,016 per year.

According to PayScale, in a report from January 30, 2023 the average base CEO salary in India is ₹2,992,503 per year. While the average base COO salary in India is ₹2,034,730 per year. And, the average base CFO salary in India is ₹3,484,747 per year.


The roles of the CEO, COO, and CFO are all part of the C-suite but hold very different roles and purposes in an organization. Their responsibilities are different but they are all required to be leaders for the employees in the company.

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