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What Top Executives Do About this section

Top executives
Top executives often report to a board of directors.

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 director, managing 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.

Mayors, city managers, county 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 About this section

Top executives
Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends.

Chief executives held about 287,900 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of chief executives were as follows:

Self-employed workers 24%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 11
Government 9
Healthcare and social assistance 7
Manufacturing 6

General and operations managers held about 2.5 million jobs in 2019. The largest employers of general and operations managers were as follows:

Retail trade 12%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 11
Wholesale trade 9
Manufacturing 9
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.

How to Become a Top Executive About this section

Top executives
Top executives typically need many years of previous work experience.

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


Many top executives have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in an area related to their field of work. 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).

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Top executives must be able to convey information clearly and persuasively. They must discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct staff, and explain policies and decisions to people within and outside the organization.

Decision-making skills. When setting policies and managing an organization, top executives must be able to assess different options and choose the best course of action.

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

Problem-solving skills. Top executives need to identify and resolve issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and carry out solutions.

Time-management skills. Top executives do many tasks concurrently to ensure that their work gets done and that the organization meets its goals.

Pay About this section

Top Executives

Median annual wages, May 2020

Chief executives


Management occupations


Top executives


General and operations managers


Total, all occupations



The median annual wage for chief executives was $185,950 in May 2020. 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 $62,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $103,650 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2020, 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 160,950
Government 113,270

In May 2020, 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 $142,920
Manufacturing 121,800
Wholesale trade 106,100
Construction 104,420
Retail trade 75,190

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 About this section

Top Executives

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

General and operations managers


Management occupations


Top executives


Total, all occupations


Chief executives



Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Projected employment growth varies by occupation.

Employment of general and operations managers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Organizations will continue to rely on these workers to help them operate successfully.

Employment of chief executives is projected to decline 10 percent from 2019 to 2029. Improving office technology and changing organizational structures have increased these workers’ ability to perform tasks previously done by multiple chief executives. In addition, economic activity and employment has become increasingly concentrated in large, established companies, which may lead to fewer new jobs for these workers.

Job Prospects

About 218,300 openings for top executives are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

The high pay and prestige associated with these positions attract many qualified applicants. In addition to those arising from growth, openings are also expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Those with an advanced degree and extensive managerial experience will have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for top executives, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Top executives

2,774,300 2,889,300 4 115,000

Chief executives

11-1011 287,900 259,100 -10 -28,700 Get data

General and operations managers

11-1021 2,486,400 2,630,200 6 143,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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


For career videos on top executives, visit

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