Top executives plan strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals. They coordinate and direct work activities of companies and organizations.


Top executives typically do the following:

  • Establish and carry out departmental or organizational goals, policies, and procedures
  • Direct and oversee an organization’s financial and budgetary activities
  • Manage general activities related to making products and providing services
  • Consult with other executives, staff, and board members about general operations
  • Negotiate or approve contracts and agreements
  • Appoint department heads and managers
  • Analyze financial statements, sales reports, and other performance indicators
  • Identify places to cut costs and to improve performance, policies, and programs

The responsibilities of top executives largely depend on an organization’s size. In small organizations, such as an independent retail store, an owner or manager often is responsible for hiring, training, quality control, and day-to-day supervisory duties. In large organizations, chief executives typically focus on formulating policies and planning strategies, while general and operations managers direct day-to-day operations.

The following are examples of types of top executives:

Chief executive officers (CEOs), who are also known by titles such as executive directormanaging director, or president, provide overall direction for companies and organizations. CEOs manage company operations, formulate and implement policies, and ensure that goals are met. They collaborate with and direct the work of other top executives and typically report to a board of directors.

There may be other types of chief executives—such as chief operating officers (COOs), chief financial officers (CFOs), or chief human resources officers—who manage a specific part of the organization. The knowledge, skills, and job duties that these executives have differ, depending on which department they oversee.

General and operations managers oversee activities that are too diverse to be classified into one area of management or administration. Responsibilities may include formulating policies, directing daily operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources. These managers make staff schedules, assign work, and ensure that projects are completed. In some organizations, the tasks of chief executive officers may overlap with those of general and operations managers.

Mayorscity managerscounty administrators, and governors are chief executive officers of governments. They usually oversee budgets, programs, and the use of resources. Mayors and governors must be elected to office, whereas managers and administrators are typically appointed.

School superintendents and college or university presidents are chief executive officers of school districts and postsecondary schools. They manage issues such as student achievement, budgets and resources, general operations, and relations with government agencies and other stakeholders.

Work Environment

Chief executives held about 283,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of chief executives were as follows:

Self-employed workers 23%
Professional, scientific, and technical services                      13
Government 8
Healthcare and social assistance 7
Manufacturing 5

General and operations managers held about 3.1 million jobs in 2021. The largest employers of general and operations managers were as follows:

Retail trade 12%
Professional, scientific, and technical services                        12
Wholesale trade 8
Manufacturing 8
Construction 7

Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both small and large organizations, ranging from businesses in which they are the sole employee to firms with hundreds or thousands of employees.

Because top executives often are held responsible for their organization’s success, their work may be stressful.

Top executives frequently travel to attend meetings and conferences or to visit local, regional, national, or international offices of interest.

Top executives often interact with other high-level executives, such as financial managers, human resource managers, or chief technology officers.

Work Schedules

Most top executives work full time, and many work more than 40 hours per week, including evenings and weekends.

Education and Training

Top executives typically need at least a bachelor’s degree and considerable work experience to enter the occupation.


Top executives typically need a bachelor's or master's degree in an area related to their field of work, such as business or engineering. Top executives in the public sector may have a degree in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts. Top executives of large corporations may have a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).

College presidents and school superintendents are typically required to have a master’s degree, although a doctorate is often preferred.

Although many mayors, governors, and other public sector executives have at least a bachelor’s degree, these positions typically do not have any specific education requirements.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Many top executives advance within their own organizations, moving up from lower level management occupations or supervisory positions. However, some companies may prefer to hire qualified candidates from outside their organization. Top executives who are promoted from lower level positions may be able to substitute experience for education to move up in the organization.

Chief executives typically need extensive managerial experience, and this experience is expected to be in the organization’s area of specialty. Most general and operations managers hired from outside an organization need lower level supervisory or management experience in a related field.

Some general managers move into higher level managerial or executive positions. Executive training programs and development programs often benefit managers or executives.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some top executive positions may require the applicant to have a license or certification relevant to their area of management. For example, some employers may require their chief executive officer to be a certified public accountant (CPA).

Personality and Interests

Top executives typically have an interest in the Persuading interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a top executive, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Top executives should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Top executives must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. They must effectively discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct subordinates, and explain their policies and decisions to those within and outside the organization.

Decision-making skills. Top executives need decision-making skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily.

Leadership skills. Top executives must be able to lead an organization successfully by coordinating policies, people, and resources.

Management skills. Top executives must organize and direct the operations of an organization. For example, they must manage business plans, employees, and budgets.

Problem-solving skills. Top executives need problem-solving skills after identifying issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and effectively carry out solutions.

Time-management skills. Top executives must be able to do many tasks at the same time, typically under their own direction, to ensure that their work gets done and that they meet their goals.


The median annual wage for chief executives was $179,520 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,300, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $97,970 in May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,260, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for chief executives in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Manufacturing $208,000 or more
Professional, scientific, and technical services                              208,000 or more
Healthcare and social assistance 154,650
Government 104,730

In May 2021, the median annual wages for general and operations managers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services                       $127,110
Manufacturing 119,260
Wholesale trade 100,750
Construction 98,550
Retail trade 66,050

Top executives are among the highest paid workers in the United States. However, salary levels vary substantially. For example, a top manager in a large corporation may earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.

Similarly, earnings for general and operations managers differ across industries because their responsibilities also vary by industry.

In addition to salaries, total compensation for corporate executives often includes stock options and other performance bonuses. These executives also may enjoy benefits such as access to expense allowances, use of company-owned aircraft and cars, and membership to exclusive clubs. Nonprofit and government executives usually receive fewer of these types of benefits.

Top executives often work many hours and have irregular schedules, which may include evenings and weekends.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 318,100 openings for top executives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


Projected employment of top executives varies by occupation (see table).

Demand for general and operations managers will grow as organizations increasingly rely on these workers for help in functioning smoothly.

Employment of chief executives is projected to decline as office technology improves, increasing the ability of these workers to perform tasks previously done by multiple chief executives. In addition, changing organizational structures may lead to fewer new jobs for these workers as more companies adopt a workplace structure with fewer chief executive positions.

For More Information

For more information about top executives, including educational programs, visit

American Management Association

National Management Association

For more information about executive financial management careers, visit

Financial Executives International

Financial Management Association International




Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I think I have found an error or inaccurate information on this page. Who should I contact?

This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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