What Is a Chief Administrative Officer?

Research what it takes to become a chief administrative officer. Learn about the duties of this job, the education requirements and the salary range to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Business degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Chief Administrative Officer?

A chief administrative officer (CAO)--also known as chief operating officer (COO), top administrative executive or vice president of administration--provides the overall direction to an organization through planning, policy-making and coordinating a variety of activities. They create goals, policies and procedures as well as manage the finances of the organization. They take care of contracts and agreements and find ways to keep costs down. Chief administrative officers also try to find ways to improve the organization.

The following chart provides an overview of the education, job outlook and average salary in this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree at minimum; many hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Education Field of Study Business administration, law, communication, economics, finance, leadership, organizational theory, operation management, information systems, human relations, marketing
Key Responsibilities Keep the organization profitable and in alignment with its policies and goals; ensure that all operations run smoothly; provide leadership for personnel; prepare and oversee budgets; use good judgment in negotiating business deals
Job Growth (2018-28) -5% for all types of chief executives*
Mean Annual Salary (2018) $200,140 for all chief executives*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are These Titles Other Than Chief Administrative Officer?

Executive titles are often interchangeable because every company creates its own hierarchy and positions. The chief administrative officer position may also be referred to as the chief operating officer, top administrative executive or vice president of administration. In most cases the job duties are the same.

What Would My Duties Be?

As one of the top administrative positions in a company, you'll oversee the daily activities of employees and operations. You may be in charge of hiring or firing employees, completing performance evaluations, developing policies, negotiating contracts and delegating tasks. Depending on the size of the company, you may supervise and delegate jobs to the heads of departments. You'll likely meet with the CEO at least once a week to report on the happenings of the company. In this instance, you may be the middle-man or -woman between the department heads and the CEO.

What Should I Study in School?

Salary.com states that 40% of polled CAOs held a bachelor's degree, while 30% held a master's degree, as of February 2017. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests earning a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration (www.bls.gov). However, your degree choices will depend on your field of interest and prospective employers' needs, since CAOs often advance into the position after acquiring experience in a specific industry or company. To give yourself more options, you'll want to take a program heavy in business classes.

Courses should teach you accounting, project management, human relations, marketing and organizational theory. Other helpful topics include statistics, finance, operations management, economics and entrepreneurship. You'll also want to develop your decision-making, problem-solving, communication and writing skills.

How Much Can I Make?

The BLS reported that all types of top executives, including business executives, would see an employment decline of 5 percent for the period between 2018 and 2028. However, job prospects would depend on the industry you choose. For example, the expected demand for healthcare workers will create openings for executives in that field. Other industries may see a loss in the number of job openings, as overall demand for those services decreases. The BLS pointed to the manufacturing industry as one segment that would see a reduced need for executives.

In May 2018, the average annual salary for chief executives in general was $185,850, according to the BLS. PayScale.com reported in November 2019 that most chief administrative officers, the 10th to 90th percentiles, earned a base annual salary between $64,000 and $222,000. When bonuses and profit sharing options were factored into the salaries, PayScale.com reported salary ranges between $49,473 and $234,981.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several other career options that are similar to a chief administrative officer that also require a bachelor's degree. One option is an administrative service manager. In this position, you would keep up facilities and oversee various activities including recordkeeping and office procedures. Financial management is another option. Financial managers take care of the finances in a company, through keeping up with reports, investing and other strategies to focus on long-term growth. Sales managers are also similar to chief administrative officers. They focus on the sales of an organization with the use of data, goal setting and training.

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