How Do I Become an Executive Director of Operations?

Jan Fletcher
Jan Fletcher
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

You may become an executive director of operations by obtaining educational and career preparation in managing the operations of a business or nonprofit organization. Preparing for this career path generally involves completion of a degree in business management with a focus on internal organizational operations. Some achieve this position through years of hands-on experience in operations management. Although it varies, this job usually involves supervision of facilities, processes, and day-to-day management of workflow. A person who works in this job may be referred to as a chief operating officer (COO); however, in other cases, the executive director of operations works under the direction of the COO.

Although some job positions directing operations are on a small scale, such as running a three-person nonprofit operation, many involve extensive experience in overseeing and running large-scale operations on a day-to-day basis. Unless you have obtained experience and acumen, through operating a sizable family business for example, an academic degree is usually required for this position. Degrees commonly sought by those aspiring to become an executive director of operations include business management or facilities management. The latter is particularly suitable if you are directing operations for a business or nonprofit with significant property or facilities that need oversight.

Hands-on experience can often prove immensely valuable in preparing for this career, particularly if it is in facilities management involving physical plant operations. If you are enrolled in a degreed program to prepare for this career, internships and even field experience are often provided to help students reap the benefits of hands-on training. To prepare for later promotion to the position of executive director of operations, a new hire will likely spend a few weeks or even months learning the maintenance and operations schedules, as well as the supervisory skills necessary to ensure a lean, smoothly-functioning facility.

If the business is more service-oriented, the executive director may focus on fulfillment of orders and service contracts, rather than production activities. For these types of businesses, having experience in customer service would be good preparation for an executive director of operations. In service and production businesses, becoming an executive director of operations will likely involve a well-developed understanding of essential human resource management techniques. Any operations manager or executive needs a productive workforce to operate a plant. As a result, courses and hands-on experience in managing people are also valuable preparation for a COO position.

The main determinant in whether this position would be more likely classified as a COO or as an executive director of operations who reports to the COO is the scale of the operation. In larger enterprises or nonprofits, a hierarchical arrangement that divides the responsibility is frequently used. A COO may supervise executive directors of operations over departments or divisions within the company. Such a scenario allows for maximum career development opportunities for those who want to become an executive director of operations.

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