Chief Administrative Officer Careers: Salary & Job Description

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A chief administrative officer's mean annual salary is around $180,700. Is the salary worth the education and experience requirements? Read about job duties and see the pros and cons of becoming a chief administrative officer.
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The Pros and Cons of Being a Chief Administrative Officer

The chief administrative officer (CAO), like other top executives, helps to direct company-wide operations and see that proper policies and procedures are followed. Check out the pros and cons of being a chief administrative officer to decide if it's the right career for you.

Pros of Being a Chief Administrative Officer
Large salary (top executives averaged around $180,700 as of May 2014)*
Attractive compensation package (stock options, performance bonuses and other benefits)*
Opportunity to advance to chief executive officer (CEO) or a board position*
Chance to work in a variety of industries at both small and large businesses*

Cons of Being a Chief Administrative Officer
Job competition is extremely competitive*
Hours can be long (often including evenings and weekends)*
Pressure to succeed and strengthen your company is intense*
May have to travel extensively or possibly relocate*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Depending on the type and size of the organization, the CAO may hold different duties and may also be referred to as the senior or executive vice president. The overall operation of organizations, their employees and services often falls on the shoulders of the CAO. They must set long-term goals, appoint and direct department heads, oversee budgets and manage resources. They may head divisions such as human resources, finance and operations. CAOs also meet with board members to focus the organization's activities and promote economic development in their communities. Because of the wide range of responsibilities that these officers have, they often rely on senior-level staff members to assist them.

CAOs who work in government roles at the local level typically oversee services divisions to ensure they are being administered properly and that individuals and organizations receive the services they need in a timely and efficient manner. In nonprofit settings, the CAO may be responsible for leading fundraising efforts, building relationships with donors and securing grants. In any organization, the CAO may function as the face of the company to the local community, conducting outreach activities and promoting partnership and goodwill.

Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the mean annual salary for chief executives as of May 2014 was around $180,700 (www.bls.gov). Those who helped manage companies made on average $216,100, whereas those who worked in state and local government made mean annual salaries of approximately $115,300 and $107,910, respectively. As of September 2015, Salary.com reported that salaries made up only about 64% of top administrative executives' total compensation, while bonus earnings made up about 15%.

Career Skills and Requirements

Education Requirements

As of April 2012, about 70% of top administrative executives who reported to Salary.com held a bachelor's degree or higher. The BLS reported that most executives study business or a subject related to their field. Larger organizations often require CAOs to hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a master's degree in public administration or nonprofit management. Those seeking a top administrative position in academia, especially at the postsecondary level, often have a doctoral degree, while those who work in a hospital setting may need medical or science training.

Experience Requirements

Some CAO positions are filled by promoting the general managers or other supervisors from within an organization. In these cases, it's sometimes possible to substitute experience for education provided you've gained management and leadership experience. According to Salary.com, approximately half of CAOs reported had 15 or more years of experience in their respective fields.

What Are Employers Seeking?

Effective communication skills are vital for CAOs, since they must interact with everyone from members of their staff to board members and people outside the organization. Employers want an experienced leader who is decisive, knowledgeable in his or her particular industry and able to solve problems and manage operations on both the large and small scales. Read on to learn what actual employers were seeking in CAOs as of April 2012.

  • A fraternal benefit association in St. Louis, MO, is looking for a proven leader who has insurance knowledge to be its CAO. The ideal candidate has strong communication skills, nonprofit fundraising and management experience and the ability to increase membership numbers and build revenue.
  • A major university health system in California seeks a CAO for its neurological surgery department who has knowledge of university and health system policies and government regulations regarding research.
  • A leading communications company with an office in Philadelphia, PA, wants a chief administrative officer with at least a bachelor's degree, 10 years of experience and prior work as an executive for a law firm.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Skilled managers whose accomplishments and experience demonstrate strong leadership qualities should enjoy the best employment prospects. Having an advanced degree or a professional credential can also help you stand out among other qualified applicants. Management organizations like the Institute of Certified Professional Managers offer executives the opportunity to become Certified Managers (CMs) and demonstrate their competency as a leader and manager (www.icpm.biz). To become a CM, you must pass three certification exams and meet specific education and work experience qualifications.

Other Careers to Consider

Human Resources Director

If you enjoy personnel management, but you'd rather not have the responsibility of leading all aspects of a company, you could consider becoming a human resources director. In this occupation, you are responsible for recruitment, hiring and firing, training programs, evaluation, compensation, benefits and employee relations. A bachelor's degree and significant work experience are required, and many human resources directors also have a master's degree in human resources, business or a related field. The median salary for human resources directors was almost $141,000 per year, according to Salary.com in April 2012.

Financial Manager

On the other hand, if the financial management side of being a CAO appeals to you, you could pursue a career as a treasurer or controller for an organization. Your day-to-day responsibilities could include preparing financial and tax statements, directing staff in financial matters, conducting audits to make sure your organization complies with regulatory requirements and monitoring investment accounts. At minimum, you usually need a bachelor's degree and prior financial experience as an accountant or analyst. Based on BLS data for financial managers in May 2011, you could expect a mean annual salary of around $120,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

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    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration
      • Master of Business Administration: Business Analytics Specialization
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    2. Northcentral University

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      • PhD in Business Admin - Management
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    Master's
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    3. Johns Hopkins University

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    Master's
      • MA in Public Management
      • Master of Science in Government Analytics
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    4. Virginia College

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    Associate's
      • Associate's - Business Admin
    Certificate
      • Certification - Business Administration
      • Diploma Program - Business Administration
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    5. American University

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    Master's
      • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
      • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation
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    6. Georgetown University

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      • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate
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    7. Baker College Online

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      • Business Administration - DBA (Doctorate)
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      • Business Administration - Accelerated Program - Bachelor
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      • Business Administration - Associate
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    8. Colorado State University Global

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      • Undergraduate Certificate - Project Management
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    9. Kaplan University

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    Master's
      • M.S. in Management
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      • BSBA in Management
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      • AASBA in Business
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      • Executive Leader Graduate Certificate
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    10. Keiser University

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      • Grad Business Certificate - Management and Leadership

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Business Administration: Business Analytics Specialization

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management
  • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
  • Master of Business Admin - General Business
  • Master of Business Admin - Accelerated General MBA

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • MA in Public Management
  • Master of Science in Government Analytics

What is your highest level of education?

Virginia College

  • Associate's - Business Admin
  • Certification - Business Administration
  • Diploma Program - Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

American University

  • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
  • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation

What is your highest level of education?

Georgetown University

  • Master of Professional Studies in Real Estate
  • Master of Professional Studies in Sports Industry Management
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Baker College Online

  • Business Administration - DBA (Doctorate)
  • General Business (MBA)
  • Business Administration - Accelerated Program - Bachelor
  • Business Administration - Associate

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Management
  • BS - Business Management
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Project Management

What is your highest level of education?