How to Become a Top Executive
General and operations managers coordinate the work of their staff.
Although education and training vary widely by position and industry, many top executives have at least a bachelor’s degree and a considerable amount of work experience.
Many top executives have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. College presidents and school superintendents typically have a doctoral degree in the field in which they originally taught or in education administration. Top executives in the public sector often have a degree in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts. Top executives of large corporations often have a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Top executives who are promoted from lower level managerial or supervisory positions within their own firm often can substitute experience for education. In industries such as retail trade or transportation, for example, people without a college degree may work their way up to higher levels within the company and become executives or general managers.
Top executives must have related work experience. Top executives in some companies are promoted from within their organization. However, other companies may prefer to hire from outside the organization.
Chief executives typically need extensive managerial experience. Executives also are expected to have experience 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 advance to higher level managerial or executive positions. Company training programs, executive development programs, and certification can often benefit managers or executives hoping to advance. Chief executive officers often become a member of the board of directors.
Many top executives advance within their own firm, moving up from lower level managerial or supervisory positions.
Top executives may complete a certification program through the Institute of Certified Professional Managers to earn the Certified Manager (CM) credential. To become a CM, candidates must meet education and experience requirements and pass three exams. Although not mandatory, certification can show management competency and potential leadership skills. Certification also can help those seeking advancement or can give jobseekers a competitive edge.
Communication skills. Top executives must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. They must effectively discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct subordinates, and explain their policies and decisions to those within and outside the organization.
Decision-making skills. Top executives need decision-making skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily.
Leadership skills. Top executives must be able to lead a successful organization by coordinating policies, people, and resources.
Management skills. Top executives must organize and direct the operations of an organization. For example, they must manage business plans, employees, and budgets.
Problem-solving skills. Top executives need problem-solving skills after identifying issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and effectively carry out solutions.
Time-management skills. Top executives must be able to do many tasks at the same time, typically under their own direction, to ensure that their work gets done and that they meet their goals.