Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Executives

top executives image
Top executives are the highest level of management at an organization and often work closely with other executives and managers.
Quick Facts: Top Executives
2019 Median Pay $104,690 per year
$50.33 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2019 2,774,300
Job Outlook, 2019-29 4% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 115,000

Summary

What Top Executives Do

Top executives plan strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals.

Work Environment

Top executives work in nearly every industry, for both small and large organizations. They often have irregular schedules, which may include working evenings and weekends. Travel is common, particularly for chief executives.

How to Become a Top Executive

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

Pay

The median annual wage for chief executives was $184,460 in May 2019.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $100,780 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for top executives.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of top executives with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about top executives by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Top Executives Do

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.

Duties

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

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

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.

Education

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

Top Executives

Median annual wages, May 2019

Chief executives

$184,460

Management occupations

$105,660

Top executives

$103,230

General and operations managers

$100,780

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for chief executives was $184,460 in May 2019. 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 $62,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $100,780 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2019, 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 166,410
Government 110,230

In May 2019, 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 $140,840
Manufacturing 118,180
Wholesale trade 104,880
Construction 102,270
Retail trade 73,190

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

Top Executives

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

General and operations managers

6%

Management occupations

5%

Top executives

4%

Total, all occupations

4%

Chief executives

-10%

 

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

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

Occupational Title

Top executives

SOC Code
Employment, 20192,774,300
Projected Employment, 20292,889,300
Percent Change, 2019-294
Numeric Change, 2019-29115,000
Employment by Industry
Occupational Title

Chief executives

SOC Code11-1011
Employment, 2019287,900
Projected Employment, 2029259,100
Percent Change, 2019-29-10
Numeric Change, 2019-29-28,700
Employment by IndustryGet data
Occupational Title

General and operations managers

SOC Code11-1021
Employment, 20192,486,400
Projected Employment, 20292,630,200
Percent Change, 2019-296
Numeric Change, 2019-29143,800
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of top executives.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2019 MEDIAN PAY
Administrative services managers

Administrative Services Managers

Administrative services managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities that help an organization run efficiently.

Bachelor's degree $96,940
Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers plan programs to generate interest in products or services.

Bachelor's degree $135,900
Architectural and engineering managers

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Bachelor's degree $144,830
Computer and information systems managers

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization.

Bachelor's degree $146,360
Construction managers

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.

Bachelor's degree $95,260
Financial managers

Financial Managers

Financial managers create financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

Bachelor's degree $129,890
Human resources managers

Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers plan, coordinate, and direct the administrative functions of an organization.

Bachelor's degree $116,720
Industrial production managers

Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants.

Bachelor's degree $105,480
Medical and health services managers

Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers.

Bachelor's degree $100,980
Sales managers

Sales Managers

Sales managers direct organizations' sales teams.

Bachelor's degree $126,640

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Top Executives,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm (visited September 21, 2020).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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