From Healthcare COO to CEO – and Back?

The role of chief operating officer varies from industry to industry and organization to organization. For some COOs, responsibilities are primarily procedural. Increasingly, the line between COO and CEO can blur, in that the COO can have a more strategic role with responsibilities such as assessing new revenue streams; developing a future vision for the organization; and working to build relationships between physicians, staff, community and government leaders, and others.

Donna Padilla

Donna Padilla

Because of these changing responsibilities, Witt/Kieffer’s Donna Padilla sees a greater connection between the roles of COO and CEO in many organizations. In a recent article for Health System Management, titled “The Healthcare COO Role: Stopping Point or Stepping Stone?”, Padilla argues that while the role of COO “is not always viewed as a stepping stone to the chief executive position,” many of these operational leaders are more than qualified to take the top spot.

As an executive recruiter who has led many searches for both COOs and CEOs, Padilla sees trends in COO job specifications that suggest this position is becoming more closely aligned with the CEO role – and the experience and responsibility that comes with it. She writes, “In the healthcare CEO recruitments conducted by my firm in the past three years, approximately two-thirds of placements had previous experience as a chief operating officer or equivalent.” What is even more interesting, she says, is that more than one-third of COOs placed by the firm had past experience as a CEO, supporting the notion that the COO has evolved into a more significant senior role.

What does this mean for future COOs? Although traditional operations will remain a fundamental priority for this position, it will be important for those in this role to determine – and act on – their organization’s future needs. They must develop strong strategic thinking, influence change, and promote an environment of trust and teamwork. Be ready to challenge the “traditional” job description; “push the boundaries of what you can do,” Padilla writes.

Padilla admits that the role of chief operating officer “is not going to be well-defined any time soon.” She does expect many organizations to follow this trend, however, and ask their COOs to play larger strategic and visionary roles.

Read the article in full here.

By Lauren Corso, Communications Assistant

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