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Executive Director vs. CEO: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

The top positions in many organizations are typically the CEO and executive director. Both of these roles are responsible for leading and managing the company, but there are key differences between the two. In this article, we compare and contrast the job titles CEO and executive director, and we provide information on what you can do to pursue either role.

What is an Executive Director?

An Executive Director is responsible for the overall management of an organization. They develop and implement strategies to meet the organization’s goals and objectives. They also oversee the day-to-day operations of the organization and ensure that all programs and services are running smoothly. Executive Directors report to the Board of Directors and work closely with other senior managers to ensure that the organization is run efficiently and effectively. They also represent the organization to external stakeholders, such as donors, partners, and the media.

What is a CEO?

A CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is the highest-ranking executive in a company. They’re responsible for making major decisions that will impact the company’s direction and bottom line. CEOs develop and implement strategies to grow the company and achieve its financial and operational goals. They also oversee the company’s day-to-day operations and ensure that all departments are functioning properly. CEOs typically report to the company’s Board of Directors. In larger companies, the CEO may have a team of Vice Presidents or other executives who report to them.

Executive Director vs. CEO

Here are the main differences between an executive director and a CEO.

Job Duties

A CEO is the highest-level employee in an organization, so their job duties are focused on maintaining a high level of organizational performance. Their daily tasks may include creating and implementing company-wide strategy, managing external relationships, such as with investors or clients, and making major business decisions that affect the entire company.

Executive directors work more closely with lower-level employees to ensure departmental success. They’re responsible for overseeing specific departments, which often means they provide support and make minor decisions while the CEO provides direction overall.

Job Requirements

The job requirements for an executive director and CEO can vary depending on the organization. However, most executive directors and CEOs have a bachelor’s degree in business administration or a related field. Additionally, many organizations prefer candidates who have a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or a related field. Some organizations also require candidates to have several years of experience in a leadership role before they can be considered for the position of executive director or CEO.

Work Environment

Executive directors and CEOs typically work in different environments. Executive directors often work in an office setting, while CEOs may travel to visit their company’s locations or meet with clients. They also spend time working on projects at home or in the office.

Executive directors usually have a more structured schedule than CEOs because they oversee multiple departments within a company. This means that executive directors may have regular hours and take vacation days when needed. CEOs may have irregular schedules depending on the needs of their companies.


Both executive directors and CEOs are responsible for developing and implementing strategies that will help their organizations achieve their goals. They also both need to be excellent communicators, as they often interact with a variety of stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, board members and the media.

However, there are some key differences in the skills each position requires. For example, a CEO needs to have strong financial management skills to oversee an organization’s budget and make decisions about where to allocate resources. An executive director, on the other hand, may not need to be as financially savvy, as they typically work within the budget set by the CEO or board of directors.

Another difference is that a CEO is usually more focused on the big picture and long-term planning, while an executive director is more likely to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. This means that a CEO needs to have strong strategic planning skills, while an executive director needs to be more detail-oriented and organized.


The average salary for an executive director is $94,335 per year, while the average salary for a CEO is $283,371 per year. The salary for both positions can vary depending on the size of the company, the industry in which the company operates and the location of the company.


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