Before you set out to join the ranks of top management, it's helpful to understand more about what it takes to fill these high-level positions
If your career goals include rising to a top position in your industry, it's important to know as much as possible about top management and how those upper-echelon managers impact their company's success. That knowledge can help you to better prepare for career advancement and navigate even the most complex corporate hierarchies.
In this post, we'll define top management, look at some of the different roles that are often included in that management category, and examine those high-level managers' traits and responsibilities.
What is top management?
Top management typically includes all of the senior-level leaders and managers holding positions of authority and responsibility within an organization. These high-level managers have varying degrees of responsibility for setting the company's direction and goals and making decisions that help to ensure that those objectives can be met. As a group, these employees exercise control over everything from resource allocation to strategic planning and implementation.
When it comes to determining which positions in a given company qualify as part of top management, there are few hard and fast rules. However, the top managers in any business are responsible for things like:
Creating and maintaining the company's vision
Managing company finances
Developing goals and plans to achieve them
Overseeing daily operations
Hiring, training, and developing talent
Establishing and upholding the company culture
Communicating expectations to shareholders
Maintaining productive customer relations
Crafting effective strategies for growth
Obviously, all of these responsibilities and areas of authority are crucial to any organization's success. When a company's high-level managers have the right skills and experience, they can provide the sound leadership and effective decision-making needed to help their organization to achieve long-term sustainable success.
Some examples of top management positions
As you might expect, the exact composition of any top management group will always depend on the organizational structure of the company. As a result, different companies may use different job titles for various top management positions. Some common examples of positions that are often considered as part of a company's senior management include:
Chief Executive Officer
The CEO position is the highest of the C-level management roles. Chief Executive Officers are commonly considered to be top managers, with a wide range of authority and responsibility. They are tasked with developing company policies, goals, and strategies, and have broad decision-making power.
Chief Financial Officer
The Chief Financial Officer of any company is responsible for the organization's finances. Their authority and decision-making power can include everything from financial analysis and strategic planning to budgeting, reporting, and general accounting. CFOs are an integral part of high-level management, due to their critical role in ensuring that company finances are healthy and sufficient to meet their enterprises' needs.
Chief Operating Officer
COOs play a vital role in their company's day-to-day operational success. Their responsibilities include overseeing activities across departments, as well as critical marketing, sales, and other operational functions. The COO's decision-making directly impacts all company procedures and processes, affecting efficiency, customer relationship strategies, and productivity.
Chief Technology Officer
CTOs are vitally important in a modern economy, with responsibilities that touch every aspect of a company's use of technology. These executives have the authority to craft and implement their companies' technology strategies and make key decisions about things like tech infrastructure, IT security, and aligning capabilities with customer needs.
Chief Human Resources Officer
The CHRO role in larger companies is an important one, as these executives are responsible for creating and implementing strategies that properly manage human resources. Those strategies can focus on everything from hiring and training new employees to retention policies, career development plans, and more. In addition, they help to shape the corporate culture, promote the company's values, and ensure adherence to laws and regulations governing the workplace.
Company Presidents and Vice Presidents
Depending on the size of the organization, Presidents and Vice Presidents may also be considered top management. In many organizations, the company President may report to the CEO and be directly responsible for overseeing operations. Alternatively, the President might also hold the CEO title. The exact nature of the role and its responsibilities can vary from company to company.
For larger companies, company owners can include both the founder of the enterprise and any shareholders. Those owners are often heavily involved in most aspects of the decision-making process in the early years of an enterprise, while shareholders may be responsible for appointing other members of top management. For smaller companies, owners are often the primary decision-maker.
Board of Directors
Sometimes, members of a company's Board may also qualify as top management, if the company's organizational structure empowers them with important planning and hiring responsibilities. Since Board members are directly accountable to shareholders, they are often responsible for evaluating C-level executives' performance, as well as providing oversight of the company's operations.
In smaller companies, where Departmental or Divisional Heads are given significant power to develop strategies and make other critical decisions, those personnel may also qualify as top management. As a general rule, however, Department Heads are typically considered a level below.
Traits and skills that help top managers to succeed
As you might expect, top management roles require a variety of high-level characteristics and skills. If your career goals involve obtaining one of these top positions, it's important to understand the types of traits and abilities you'll need to master to enjoy true success in your chosen role.
Top managers fill vital leadership roles in their organizations, so it's only natural to expect them to have superior leadership abilities. These skills can include things like the ability to effectively delegate, a talent for motivating others, and the ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances. Some of these skills can be learned quickly, while others need to be honed over time.
While financial responsibilities tend to be the province of Chief Financial Officers, all high-level managers should have some degree of financial acumen. This knowledge of finance can help top management to make better decisions when developing plans, analyzing risk, and executing strategies.
Problem solving skills are essential for management at any level, but particularly relevant for higher-level managers whose decisions can have massive implications for their company. The top managers must be able to break down complex challenges, identify the best possible solutions, and then make the decision that offers the most value for the business.
Top management personnel also need to possess strong interpersonal skills, to enable them to effectively interact with their peers, subordinates, clients, and other shareholders and stakeholders. These skills can include important abilities like conflict resolution and traits like emotional intelligence.
All top managers have some involvement with strategy, so being able to think in a strategic way is absolutely vital if you want to succeed in these roles. These top management executives are responsible for analyzing their industry and its place within the economy, evaluating the competitive environment, identifying risks, and finding potential opportunities for financial benefit. Their strategic thinking skills can help them to use that information to make the best plans for growth and profitability.
To be an effective top manager, you need superior communication skills. In addition to great verbal and writing abilities, you'll also need excellent active listening skills and the ability to effectively use positive feedback and constructive criticism.
Resilience is one of the most underappreciated skills, but one that all leaders should possess. That's true for top management as well, since setbacks and failures are just part of life. To be a great executive, you'll need to be able to bounce back from disappointments, learn from bad experiences, and continue to work toward your company's goals.
Focus on the company
Top management personnel need to be focused on the success of their organization at all times. There may be times when personal interests and career goals conflict with the company's best interests - at least in the short term. When those types of conflicts arise, committed high-level managers are able to set aside their own preferences and prioritize the needs of their company. This ability to focus on the good of the organization can help top managers to identify opportunities that others might miss.
The sky's the limit!
If your dream career includes a possible position in top management, developing a proper understanding of the roles available is a vital first step to making that dream come true. With the right combination of education, skill development, and experience, you can ensure that you reach your goals.
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