CEO vs Chairman (With Definitions and Key Differences)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 November 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.

The chief executive officer (CEO) and chairman, or chairperson, are both high-level professionals within organisations. Though they both have similar responsibilities, the two roles have many differences. If you're planning your career, learning more about the CEO and chairperson positions can help you determine which role is a good goal for you. In this article, we compare CEO vs chairman, detail aspects you can consider when choosing a career, list important qualifications and offer helpful tips for pursuing a career in business.

CEO vs chairman

These are some primary differences between a CEO vs a chairman:

Definition

CEO stands for chief executive officer, and the term refers to the person at the top of the leadership hierarchy within an organisation. A CEO has many other professionals under their leadership but doesn't answer to other executives themselves. CEOs are the primary decision-makers for an organisation.

A chairperson is the leader of a board of directors, which is the committee that governs a company. All public companies have boards of directors and chairpeople to lead them. Though the chairperson is the leader of the board of directors, they aren't responsible for leadership or management for others on the board.

Related: What Is the CEO Role in a Business?

Responsibilities

These are some responsibilities that CEOs manage:

  • Providing guidance and leadership to managers

  • Creating and implementing company-wide strategy

  • Writing and establishing policies and rules

  • Refining the company's mission statement and vision

  • Representing the organisation in public spaces

  • Assisting in the executive hiring process

  • Monitoring company revenue, profit and finances

  • Collaborating with the board of directors

These are some responsibilities that a chairperson manages:

  • Scheduling meetings and setting meeting agendas

  • Coordinating and counting votes for strategic policies

  • Assessing company performance and growth

  • Determining who fills the CEO and president roles

  • Leading board meetings and gathering information

Related: How to Become a CEO (With Tips and Skills)

Perspective

CEOs and chairpeople differ in their perspectives and positions. A chairperson operates with the board of directors, which assesses the company but doesn't operate within it or implement strategies. The CEO is within the company and experiences the daily operations and functions.

Ranking

A CEO and a chairperson are both high-ranking within a company, but they don't exist in the same hierarchical structure. The CEO is a high-level position within the company, and the chairperson is the leader of the board. Because the board exists outside the daily operations of the company, the chairperson and CEO have different ranking systems. The chairperson of the board takes part in deciding who is CEO, so that may place the chairperson higher than the CEO.

Related: CEO vs Managing Director: The Fundamental Differences

Reporting

Though the chairperson of the board is the leader of the board, other people on the board don't report to the chairperson. This means the chairperson doesn't have an active management role. The CEO does have an active leadership and management role, as all other positions in the company eventually report to the CEO.

Related: General Manager vs CEO: What Are the Key Differences?

Delegation

The CEO can delegate responsibilities to other executives and managers. For example, the CEO may delegate technology decisions and management to the chief technology officer (CTO) and their team. A chairperson can delegate responsibilities by creating smaller committees within the board.

Choosing a career

If you want to become a chief executive officer or a chairperson, you can compare these factors when deciding which role to take:

Experience

If you have more experience directly managing employees, providing high-level, practical leadership and being involved in the daily operations of a business, the role of CEO may be the better choice. If your experience is advisory, with little daily interaction in the operations of a company, chairing a board may be a better fit for you.

Related: What Is a Chief Operating Officer? (With Job Requirements)

Preferences

Your preferences can guide you to decide between being a CEO or chairperson. If you prefer to lead from a high level using parliamentary procedures, your mediation abilities and your long-range business insights, you may prefer the role of chairperson. If your preferences are for balancing strategy with execution, being involved in day-to-day business processes and interacting with all levels of employees in a company, you may decide that the chief executive officer is the better position to accept.

Related: What Does a Chairperson of the Board Do? (With Skills)

Goals

When choosing between the positions of chair and CEO, reexamine your goals to see which role better fits your plan for this phase of your career. Consider which position meets your personal financial objective. Evaluate if the responsibilities of CEO or chairperson are more likely to be professionally fulfilling. Ask yourself which of the positions most closely matches your personal goals as well.

Related: What Is the Role of a Board of Directors? (Plus FAQs)

CEO vs chairperson qualifications

While there is no defined road map for becoming a top-level leader, consider these areas of personal and professional development if you are interested in becoming a CEO or board chair:

Experience

CEOs and chairs often come from other senior corporate roles like a chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO), vice president (VP) or other top-level management positions. If you are currently below the level of upper management and wish to progress, plot out which management roles you can master before transitioning to one of these two senior titles. As you grow in your career, focus on positions that can help you lead an organisation. Good leaders understand all levels of their business and can come from any department or line of business.

Related: 15 Common Business Degrees to Consider for a Business Career

Skills

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, writing out which characteristics you possess. Then compare and contrast that list to the responsibilities listed above for each role. You may see a clear choice based on the abilities you already have or discover skills you need to advance to the level of CEO or chairperson. If you have an industry or company in mind that you'd like to lead, continually refine your skill set to include hard skills specific to that business. Excellent soft skills can also be useful as you progress toward your goal of being a senior leader.

Education

Formal education is not typically necessary for these positions, but earning a master's degree can help you separate yourself from other candidates. Seek people in your personal and professional networks who are working or have worked as executives. Their insight into the roles of CEO and chairperson may give you a better understanding of what steps you can take to proceed on your career path toward senior leadership.

Related: 18 Types of Business Careers (With Professional Fields)

Community involvement

What you do outside your workplace can also help you in your pursuit of CEO or chairperson roles. The ways in which you interact with the community can show a company that you have interests that extend beyond just doing your work. Look for ways to be involved in area nonprofits, arts organisations, volunteer groups, professional organisations and other associations active in promoting the good of the community.

Related: What Does Leadership Mean? (Benefits and Steps to Improve)

Tips for pursuing business careers

These are some helpful tips you can use to pursue a career in business:

  • Focus on time management. If you want to become a chairperson or a CEO, time management is an important skill. Both business roles often manage several appointments, tasks and responsibilities per day, which requires excellent time management to successfully navigate.

  • Define your career goals. Those who are just beginning their careers can benefit from defining clear career goals. Consider what role you want and when you want to earn that role.

  • Prioritise work-life balance. CEOs and chairpeople have many responsibilities, and the success of the company can often be attributed to these people. If you're in a role like this, creating a healthy work-life balance can help you avoid overworking or burning out.

  • Earn additional credentials. To become a CEO or chairperson, you often compete with many other candidates pursuing the same positions. Consider earning additional credentials like certifications and degrees to help separate yourself from other candidates.


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