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At the Helm: A Complete CEO Job Description

Morgan Lichtenstein
5 min read

O Captain! my Captain! 

While Walt Whitman originally wrote the famous 1865 poem for President Abraham Lincoln, the line can be used to describe the coveted and highest-ranking leader in an organization: the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

From boardrooms to the front lines, the CEO is the guiding force that shapes an organization’s strategic direction.

But the CEO role isn’t all about flashy boardrooms and corner offices. More than a title, the CEO executes the ultimate juggling act of visionary leadership, resolute decision-making, tough calls, and diplomacy. It's a multifaceted role that demands a unique blend of natural leadership skills, foresight, and adaptability. Let's pull back the curtain and delve into the dynamic world of a CEO, exploring the intricacies and the diverse responsibilities that come along with these three letters.


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The Chief Executive Officer Role, In a Nutshell (Job Brief)

The CEO is responsible for steering the ship through each dynamic stage and goal of a business, ensuring a clear path toward growth, sustainability, and profitability. From creating and executing robust business strategies that move the needle to fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, the CEO’s influence trickles through every business function.

CEOs will collaborate with other senior executives such as the Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and other executive leadership to align strategies and optimize operational efficiency in the collective pursuit of excellence and viability.


Chief Executive Officer Duties & Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a CEO can vary depending on the size, stage, and ultimate goals of a business. Some CEOs at startups tend to be much more hands-on and in the weeds of day-to-day operations, while CEOs from large enterprises tend to delegate more and focus on big-picture initiatives. 

Regardless, CEOs often wear multiple hats and fully immerse themselves in various operational aspects to drive growth and build a positive culture of inclusion and innovation. They’re typically expected to: 

  • Develop and executive the company’s strategic vision and long-term objectives in close collaboration with other executive team members.
  • Oversee the day-to-day operations of and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for the organization and its various departments.
  • Lead and direct the executive team in developing organizational plans, business initiatives, and strategy.
  • Regularly report to internal and external stakeholders, providing detailed business and financial updates. 
  • Build and maintain strong relationships with stakeholders, including board members, investors, brand partners, vendors, and clients.
  • Build, attract, and maintain top talent, fostering an inclusive and diverse work environment and organizational culture.
  • Drive and manage the organization’s financial performance, cash flow, and mitigate financial risks to ensure sustainable growth. Oversee the creation and execution of budgets, forecasts, and other financial data to make informed decisions.
  • Uphold corporate governance and ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations that align with the company’s values and strategic direction.

Are startup CEO and enterprise CEOs cut from the same cloth, or do their respective journeys in different landscapes mold them into distinct leaders of their own right? Delve deeper into the nuances and traits of a startup CEO vs. enterprise CEO in our blog.


CEO Skills & Qualifications

With such big shoes to fill, the skills and qualifications for a CEO are vast and diverse. The preferred skills and qualifications also significantly differ depending on several factors such as industry, business stage, and even customer audiences. 

Moreover, leadership expectations are dramatically shifting. What worked only a few years ago might not be the same success formula today’s CEO use now, and their skills and qualifications have adapted to this shift. The growth-at-all-costs mindset is out, while more pragmatic and ROI-driven mindsets are in. 

While CEOs should still possess and exhibit the standard interpersonal and management skills, many CEOs navigating today’s world of business need a much more holistic set of skills, which include: 

  • ROI-driven mindset that focuses on razor-sharp operational efficiency and pragmatic decision-making.
  • An equal balance of high emotional intelligence (EQ) and interpersonal skills in combination with metric-driven performance.
  • In-depth understanding of the industry and sector in which the business is in, including market dynamics, trends, and the competitive landscape.
  • Strong leadership abilities with a track record of building high-performing teams and driving organizational change.
  • Creative problem-solving skills, displaying a balance between sound business acumen and out-of-the-box thinking and creativity.
  • Excellent communication skills, capable of effectively engaging with external stakeholders and partnerships, internal teams and senior leadership, investors, and the public.
  • Demonstrated ability to develop and implement a clear vision for the company's future growth and success.
  • Proficient financial management skills, including budgeting, forecasting, and financial analysis.
  • Understanding and compliance with all relevant laws, regulations, and corporate governance requirements.

CEO Education & Professional Experience Requirements


CEOs must usually have a bachelor’s degree in business administration, management, finance, or another related field as the minimum educational requirement. 

Some businesses may prefer candidates with a master’s degree or an MBA with a specialization in the specific industry/field they’re in.

Professional Experience

There’s no one-size-fits-all standard of professional experience that would automatically make a CEO a perfect fit.

Today’s businesses are so unique and dynamic, that CEO talent comes in all shapes and sizes. It really comes down to the individual business and its needs to determine the professional experience they deem qualifies for their role. 

For the most part, businesses will seek CEO candidates with a proven track record of success within the specific industry and demonstrated leadership and management experience (typically gained through progressively responsible roles in executive or senior management positions).

The amount of experience required for a CEO can vary widely depending on several factors, including the industry, company size, and individual circumstances. Here’s a brief breakdown of what’s common based on business stage.


Who Does a CEO Report To?

While the CEO is the highest-ranking executive in a company, most CEOs still report to someone. In most cases, the CEO reports to the board of directors.

However, note that the specific reporting structure can vary depending on the organizational structure and governance practices of a company. In some cases, especially in smaller or privately-held companies, the CEO might report to the company's shareholders or owners directly. 

Composition of the Board: A board is a group of diverse individuals usually elected by shareholders to oversee and help with decision-making regarding the company’s operations, finances, and strategies. The board can be made up of individuals with various backgrounds, skills, and experiences, like:

  • Executive chairmen
  • Legal experts
  • Human resources experts
  • Private investors
  • Venture capitalists


What’s the Difference Between a CEO & Other C-Level Roles?

Because of how closely the CEO role works with and supports all facets of a business and its departments (especially at the startup level), their responsibilities can often become conflated with those of other high- or C-level job titles. However, it’s important to note that the CEO is the highest-ranked among them all, and other C-suite execs will report directly to them.

Explore the nuances between the CEO and other execs in the C-suite below: 

Explore Related C-Level Job Descriptions

Looking to learn more about the C-suite? View our other robust job description content for related roles below.


Find Your Future Leader

Your CEO is quite possibly one of the most important and critical hires you can make. Don’t leave it up to chance.

CEOs have the potential to influence everything from work culture to everyday policies to brand reputation and financial performance. An organization’s DNA is directly impacted by the CEO in seat, and Hunt Club can ensure you have the perfect person in the role for your unique organization through our innovative network recruiting model and AI-driven sourcing technology.

Whether you’re an early-stage healthcare startup or an established consumer enterprise business, we can help you source high-quality candidates and land the perfect hire to help drive growth and unlock even more of what’s possible.


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