What makes a successful C-level executive and how you can become one

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4 Minutes Read

When you think of C-suite executives, what words come to mind? Powerful? Influential? Untouchable? The executive team as the highest-ranking decision makers of any organization (and that they make a pretty penny), but there’s a lot about these professionals that aren't talked about so that oftentimes you're left wondering what exactly they do.

If you're looking to learn a bit more about the C-suite as a whole, you've come to the right place. We're here to walk you through what a C-suite executive is, what they do, and how to become one. Plus, we'll include some additional fun facts on what makes a C-level manager successful.

What is a C-suite executive?

A C-suite executive is a member of senior management that is in charge of strategic planning and business strategy of an entire organization. The "C" in C-suite stands for Chief, and that's essentially what they are, chiefs or leaders of business units in a company.

In recent years, there's grown to be C-level position titles for virtually any leadership field. Of course, there's the well-known Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) but that's not all. Some companies can have a Chief Data Officer (CDO), Chief Digital Officer (also CDO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), and so on depending on how large the organization is. If you think that's a mouthful, try wrapping your head around their daily functions.

What do C-suite executives do?

These days, there are many types of C-suite titles, even including a Chief Flavor Officer. Who wouldn't want that job?

The day-to-day of professionals in C-level positions might look different depending on what's going on in the organization, and what their title is. Let's dive deeper into some of the different titles and their responsibilities:

Chief Executive Officer (CEO): CEOs are the highest ranking executive position of the company. It's their responsibility to make financial, operational, and strategic business decisions that will have a positive lasting impact on the organization as a whole. They're required to collaborate with the board of directors and other executives to establish short-term objectives and long term goals for the organization, not to mention implement them as well.


Chief Financial Officer (CFO): CFOs are experienced in creating financial reports and financial planning. They are there to evaluate the company's financial strengths and weaknesses, and manage its financial actions.


Chief Operating Officer (COO): COOs typically report to the CEO and are in charge of managing a company's daily operations. They typically oversee all internal affairs.


Chief Information Officer (CIO): CIOs handle anything IT related. They oversee people, processes, and technologies within an organization.


Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): CMOs often have a strong marketing background and are in charge of planning and implementing all branding, advertising, and marketing initiatives of a business.


Chief Risk Officer (CRO): CROs are in charge of risk management. Their goal is to implement policies to manage and reduce any profitability risks.


Chief Security Officer (CSO): CSOs are responsible for the safety and security of an organization, consisting of everything from assets, to data, and personnel. They protect the organization and develop safety protocols to prevent against malware and phishing.


Chief Revenue Officer (CRO): CROs manage all processes that drive revenue such as sales, marketing, customer support. They take on a customer-first mindset and make decisions that maximize profitability.

These top managers all have their own expertise, but come together to form the backbone of an organization. One thing is constant, they all have a high level of business acumen. After all, these senior executives are required to make strategic decisions that contribute to business goals.

How can you become a C-level manager?

There's no one correct path in order to become a C-level executive. But one thing is constant, schooling. Most top executives must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Many have continued on to receive their master's degree as well. When interviewing to become a C-level executive, this extra schooling acts as a competitive advantage against candidates in the hiring process. Plus, the extra schooling helps individuals develop the leadership skills that top management possesses.

Typically, senior leaders will work their way up the corporate ladder. As an example, before becoming a CEO, you might find that their previous titles were in the same category as Executive Director, Vice President, or even a board member at their current organization. In fact, it's more likely that someone is promoted to a C-level position internally as it's more expensive to hire externally.

What other qualities make C-level executives successful?

While not every CEO is the same, there are some core competencies they have as a constant. Some of the most well-known skills that successful CEOs possess are strong leadership skills, decision making capabilities, exceptional critical thinking abilities, and of course they are extremely proactive and reliable. Let's dive deeper into some of the additional qualities that make them so successful:

  • They are on top of their game

    As a member of the governance, C-level executives have big shoes to fill. Lots of change happens in the business world, both on an organizational level and beyond. So, having a healthy level of business acumen is definitely best for these leaders to make informed decisions to ensure success.

  • They are the backbone of business administration

    C-level executives are required to have the peak leadership skills in an organization - a CEO is THE leader of a company, after all. This means they must have well-rounded knowledge of all the functions that make up a business such as operations and finance, but, will also be proficient in digital transformation and implementing long term goals that will increase profit, boost ROI, and of course, align with the company's values and mission.
  • They make sure everyone is happy

    Successful C-level managers will look at the big picture when implementing business decisions. They take a hands-on approach towards considering the effect that decisions have on all stakeholders from employees, to shareholders, and the board of directors alike. While the general counsel (GC) is there to ensure legal standards are met, it's definitely wise for a CEO to make well-rounded decisions so that the GC doesn't need to get involved.
  • They know the organization, inside and out

    To be a successful C-level executive, they must have a solid grasp of the organization as a whole, how it operates, and where it's going. This means paying attention to everything from hiring to analytics and data science of the organization. They even need to keep an eye on trends in digital transformation such as new technologies and software the organization may need to invest in to ensure growth.

Let's face it, C-levels should be nothing short of the superheroes of an organization. However, it takes a village to operate, but that village will never be successful unless it has a strong C-level backbone.

Did you know we are experts in helping C-level executives thrive in their organization? We provide leadership and development training for mid-managers and executives, along with fractional CMO support to strengthen start-ups and small businesses - assisting them in reaching their peak potential. Interested in learning more? Set up your discovery call today to learn more about best practices for c-level leadership.

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Stephanie Milne

Stephanie is a digital marketer passionate about storytelling and content creation.

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