C-suite explained: your guide to current and future exec level roles

Have you ever had the role of CEO explained in plain terms? Or figured out the difference between a Chief Information Officer and a Chief Technology Officer? The C-suite might be the highest management level, but many people still don't fully understand who they are and what they do.

Here's everything you need to know about exec-level management, including their place in the business hierarchy and what each role does. We’ll also reveal which exciting new C-suite level positions you can expect to see in the future.

Related: Welcome to the C-suite: advice for your first C-level role

C-Suite meaning: what is it and where does it sit?


c-suite explained

C-suite Level

The executive level sits below the Board of Directors in the organisational chart and is known as the 'C-suite'. The C-suite takes its name from the letter 'C' in the word 'chief' — a word that usually features at the start of each role at the exec level. The C-suite is ‘upper management’ and therefore responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.

Board level

The Chairperson and Board of Directors (BoD) make key business decisions on significant issues like company mergers, investments, acquisitions, and senior management hiring. Members of the Board of Directors are elected by the company’s shareholders and are guided by the Chairperson. C-suite executives can also be part of the BoD.

According to the Standards for the Board outlined by the Institute of Directors, the board’s mission is: “to ensure the company's prosperity by collectively directing the company’s affairs, while meeting the appropriate interests of its shareholders and relevant stakeholders.”

Related: 3 must-have traits to fulfil the role of CEO today


7 top C-suite positions and their function


CEO – Chief Executive Officer

Let’s start at the top of the business hierarchy. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the head of the company. As the name suggests, they oversee all executives in the senior management team.

The CEO is responsible for establishing and maintaining company culture, and is tasked with directing the company towards achieving targets set by the Board of Directors. The CEO is the face of the company, and acts as a representation to the public, the shareholders, and the Board of Directors.

CMO – Chief Marketing Officer

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is responsible for all marketing and advertising within the company. They set and oversee marketing strategies and allocate advertising budgets. The CMO nurtures leads, develops the company sales funnel, and manages marketing channels, tools, and infrastructures.

CTO – Chief Technical Officer

The Chief Technical Officer or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) oversees the company’s technology architecture. They ensure company tech is aligned with its goals and priorities and are responsible for honing any systems/technology sold by the company. The CTO sits within the C-suite executive team, beneath the CEO.

CIO – Chief Information Officer

A Chief Information Officer (CIO) sits within the executive team and manages the company’s IT infrastructure. The CIO differs from a CTO in that they have a more internal focus — they ensure smooth business operations with appropriate IT systems and act as the face of the IT department.

CFO – Chief Financial Officer

A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) runs the company’s finances. Their responsibility as part of the executive management team is to guide the company in relation to its financial strengths and weaknesses. They oversee financial planning, cash flow, accounting, and all financial reporting.

CHRO – Chief Human Resources Officer

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) supports the business’ plans and strategies by acquiring, retaining, and safeguarding its talent. It’s their responsibility to build satisfactory remuneration and compensation packages and to guide career development and training for staff.

CCO – Chief Compliance Officer

A company’s ability to comply with regulatory requirements, laws, procedures, and policies rests with the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO). They are subject matter experts responsible for advising and guiding company actions. The CCO reports directly to both the Board of Directors and the CEO and liaises with regulators on behalf of the company.


The future of the C-suite


The pandemic has ushered in a new normal with regard to the world of work. Tech adoption and hybrid workplace models are growing, causing C-suite roles to evolve. Boards are opting to introduce new executive-level positions to meet the future of work head on.

CDO – Chief Digital Officer

Hiring for Chief Digital Officers is on the rise, with many considering the role to be an evolution of the Chief Information Officer. A CDO is responsible for the rapid deployment of digital transformation projects. They fuel business growth by identifying new opportunities in the shifting digital landscape and by supporting continued innovation in alignment with business goals.

CHO – Chief Happiness Officer

Billed as an HR officer with a specialism, Chief Happiness Officers (CHO) have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic and have seen significant overlap with the Director of Remote Work role.

CHOs are tasked with improving employee satisfaction and wellbeing, collecting employee feedback, and advising other C-suite executives on how to foster happiness and satisfaction within their teams.

CAO – Chief Automation Officer

According to the IBM Global AI Adoption Index, over a third (35%) of global companies have adopted artificial intelligence (AI) and rising. It’s no surprise then, that companies are looking to bring expert representation into their executive teams. 

A CAO will plan, implement, and manage AI initiatives to help push the business towards its goals. They’ll be responsible for increasing organisational efficiency and breaking down silos. Like the CHO, the CAO is another specialist executive role geared toward the future of work.


Contact our specialist executive search team for more information on upcoming C-suite roles and to find the right fit for existing executive vacancies.