FAQ: What Is Upper Management? (With Roles and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Roles within a company can exist at different levels of the hierarchy, depending on their level of impact. Generally, employees responsible for creating plans and making strategic decisions make up the executive management team. Understanding how upper or executive management functions can help you strive towards it while performing your daily functions.

In this article, we define upper management, explore the roles that make up the executive management level, review essential skills for executive management roles, examine how to move into an executive management position, highlight how companies measure success for these professionals, discover basic qualifications for an executive-level position, and outline the work environment for executive management professionals.

What is upper management?

Upper management or executive management refers to employees responsible for ensuring the company continues to grow and remains profitable. These individuals make primary business decisions and implement operational strategies within the organization. For example, they choose the company's mission or decide what products to sell.

Companies typically have three levels, upper, middle, and lower management. The executive management is the highest level and supervises the other levels. Their responsibilities are beyond the company's daily operations, and they report directly to the board of directors. Generally, executive management includes chief or C-suite roles and individuals who are experts in the industry.

Related: 10 Executive Positions to Pursue (With Salaries and FAQs)

What roles make up the executive management level?

Here are some roles that can make up a company's executive management:

Chief compliance officer

The chief compliance officer (CCO) creates and implements corporate policies to ensure the company adheres to regulatory and legal requirements. They also monitor and handle violations when they occur. In addition, the CCO also conducts training sessions to ensure employees understand the company's corporate policies.

Chief executive officer

The chief executive officer (CEO) is usually the highest role, as other executive management employees report to them and help them implement decisions. CEOs also publicly represent the company because they're at the top of its hierarchy. They're also responsible for managing overall company resources and serve as liaisons between the board of directors and the company's operations.

Related: What Is a CEO? (With Tips on How to Become One and FAQs)

Chief financial officer

Chief financial officers (CFO) are responsible for the company's financial actions. They monitor the company's cash flow, identify profitable assets and opportunities, and cover financial weaknesses. CFOs also suggest corrective policies and create a financial plan to help the company succeed.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about How to Become a CFO

Chief human resources officer

The chief human resources officer (CHRO) creates and implements human resource (HR) management strategies in the company. These strategies include talent acquisition, performance management, and training and development. They also develop plans for hiring and retaining employees to help ensure the company meets its operational needs.

Chief information officer

The chief information officer (CIO) works with information technology and computer systems to support the company's goals. For example, they monitor technological developments and recommend software updates and changes to help the company optimize its operations. CIOs also troubleshoot data-related problems to support data-driven decision-making.

Chief marketing officer

The chief marketing officer (CMO) is responsible for the company's marketing activities. They study market trends and develop marketing objectives and strategies. They may also design promotional campaigns and create partnerships. In addition, CMOs typically work with the public relations team and other departments to improve brand awareness.

Chief operating officer

The chief operating officer (COO) supervises the daily administrative tasks. They also participate in expansion activities, set performance goals, and manage relationships with vendors. The COO also works closely with the CEO on fundraising projects while submitting reports on important matters to the board of directors.

Read more: What Is a COO?

Vice president

The vice president is responsible for the company's internal operations. They design the company's overall mission and evaluate how to achieve it successfully. The vice president also analyzes financial reports, reviews employees' work, and researches expansion opportunities.

What are some essential skills for executive management roles?

Professionals in executive management roles apply various soft skills and technical expertise to ensure they function effectively in their positions. Some of these skills include:

Creativity and innovation

Creativity and innovation involve the process of developing new ways or perspectives on issues to improve results. Professionals in executive management positions apply their creative thinking and innovation skills to develop new solutions to the company's problems. For instance, they can create new products to ensure the company satisfies customers and remains competitive. This can involve creatively incorporating customer feedback and reviews when creating new products or updating existing products.

Interpersonal communication

As a leader, it's essential for you to have interpersonal communication skills. These skills are important for executive management roles because the duties require you to speak with other employees, managers, and stakeholders. Such skills help you work effectively with others, understand their questions, and provide the appropriate answers.

Prioritization

Employees in executive management roles typically handle multiple tasks simultaneously. It's important for you to know how to complete these tasks before their deadlines. Multi-tasking effectively requires you to understand how to decide what tasks to handle and organize them based on importance. Prioritization helps you handle the important tasks and ensures the smooth running of the organization.

Leadership

As an executive-level team member, it's essential for you to know how to lead and motivate other employees and encourage them to work towards a common objective. These skills may include sharing the overall objectives and values of the organization with other employees to ensure they understand their responsibilities and how it contributes to the overall objectives. Effective leadership also helps create an environment that fosters support and encouragement among other employees.

Critical thinking and decision-making

Executive-level employees make important decisions, which makes decision-making skills vital. They also apply their critical thinking skills to ensure they consider all relevant scenarios and options and choose the best strategy. This way, they can contribute to the company's continued growth and success.

How can you move into an executive management position?

Some tips to help improve your chances of advancing into executive management positions include:

Demonstrate initiative

Take the initiative in your current role and take on more responsibilities when you can, rather than wait for an assignment. Demonstrating initiative shows supervisors that you're hardworking and can function in a leadership role. In addition, you can volunteer to take on more responsibility and assist your manager or supervisor. Handling additional responsibility in addition to your regular workload can demonstrate your ability to be productive as a member of the executive management team.

Become an industry expert

Improving your knowledge and becoming an authority in your field can qualify you for an executive management role. Becoming an expert demonstrates that you can help the company grow in the industry. You can become an expert by staying updated on industry trends, reading blogs, attending conferences, gaining more experience, completing advanced degrees, and writing publications.

Network with others

Build your network and maintain relationships with similar professionals within and outside the industry. These relationships can help you find advancement opportunities outside your correct workplace. People in your network can recommend you for executive-level roles, give you access to opportunities to advance your knowledge, and improve your chances of qualifying for these roles.

Related: Why Is Networking Important? (With Benefits and Tips)

Ask for feedback

Consider asking colleagues and managers for feedback to identify your current performance gaps. This helps you get an external perspective on your abilities and identify areas that require improvement. You can also discuss with managers to learn what specific skills to develop or qualifications to earn to increase your chances of a promotion.

Be visible

Making yourself visible can help you grow in a company. You can improve your visibility by sharing your opinions and ideas in meetings and attending company events. Letting your supervisors see you can demonstrate your interest in higher positions and show your potential to function at a higher level.

How do companies measure success for executive management professionals?

Unlike lower and middle management positions that receive reviews based on accomplishing daily tasks and meeting quotas, executive management professionals get reviews based on the company's overall success. They also take responsibility for other employees' performance. For example, if the design team creates a new design for a product, professionals in executive management positions make the final decision to implement the design.

What are the basic qualifications for an executive-level position?

Gaining relevant experience in your industry and leadership roles is essential to qualify for an upper management position. Most employers typically hire candidates with a minimum of five years of managerial experience. In addition, consider earning an advanced degree, such as a master's or doctorate, to prepare for these roles. It may also be beneficial to gain in-depth knowledge in accounting, finance, marketing, and other relevant fields.

What is the work environment like for executive management professionals?

The work environment for these professionals varies according to the company and industry where they intend to work. Regardless, working as an executive-level employee may be challenging, as the company's success depends on your decisions and actions. Professionals in these roles work long hours and frequently travel to attend relevant industry events.

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