What Does a Chief Product Officer Do? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover what you'll need to launch a career as a chief product officer, including experience, certifications, and education.

[Featured image] A chief product officer is wearing a pink shirt and holding a white folder

What is a chief product officer?

Chief product officer (CPO) is an executive position that organizations have been adding to their C-level teams. The person in this position focuses on driving business growth through strategic product development, innovation, marketing, and more. This position reflects a shift in corporate structure and highlights an increased need for customer-centric approaches.

Getting a position as CPO requires a certain level of training, skills, and experience in leadership and the product development field. While no set career path exists, many people in this position work their way up from a successful career as a product manager, product developer, or related role, having gained the relevant qualifications and leadership capabilities.

With a C-level salary and excellent job outlook, working up to a CPO is a popular choice for the most ambitious in the field.

Read more: Product Manager vs. Project Manager: What’s the Difference?

How chief product officers bring value to a company 

A chief product officer brings value to a company in several key ways:

  • Mentoring people in positions below their level.

  • Shaping project performance

  • Ensuring the projects align with company goals and focus on customers.

A company focusing on product development benefits from the CPO's expertise and specific attention to business needs. 

CPO vs. CTO

While there may be some similarities between a chief technology officer (CTO) and a CPO, they have different priorities. CPOs are typically more focused on guiding and improving a product for a positive business outcome. This role requires more interaction and engagement with stakeholders.

CTOs may oversee the company's product team but typically look at the technology side rather than the business side. A CTO may spend more time learning about the technology that the product needs to succeed rather than the business outcomes.

Placeholder

CPO job description

A chief product officer leads the product department and controls product strategies and goals. To be a great CPO, you’ll need excellent product development knowledge. Typical day-to-day duties for CPOs may include:

  • Ensuring product development runs smoothly

  • Aligning with the company's vision and mission

  • Creating great products that fit company goals

  • Leading in procurement, manufacturing, distribution

  • Overseeing products post-launch to ensure they’re profitable

  • Create product strategy, including creating roadmaps, setting KPIs, and monitoring development. 

  • Coordinate the efforts of several departments to achieve the best products and the steps to launch and promote them. 

  • Use product analytics data to ensure the products are meeting customer needs. 

Some CPOs take on marketing and product development, while in larger companies, these might come under the chief marketing officer (CMO) or chief technology officer (CTO). 

Essential skills for a CPO  

Working as a chief product officer requires several years of experience honing your technical, workplace, and leadership skills. Essential skills for the role include the following:

  • Ability to collaborate and manage a team

  • Creativity

  • Detail-oriented

  • Effective decision-making

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Leadership ability

  • Knowledge of data analysis and product management 

  • High level of engagement with customers

  • Interpersonal skills

  • Strategic vision 

Salary and job outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that executive-level roles earn an average of $246,440 annually [1]. However, this varies considerably across positions and industries. According to Glassdoor, the average US salary for a chief product officer is $409,252 [2].

The job outlook for top executives as a whole is expected to grow 3 percent from 2022 to 2032 [3]. While the BLS does not have statistics for CPOs specifically, as it’s a relatively new position, product development is a growing field. Therefore, the need for managers will increase. 

How to become a chief product officer 

Becoming a CPO typically results from making strategic career moves, getting relevant experience, and earning credentials related to this field. In addition, it takes the right skills to understand the development of products and lead teams. Let's explore some potential requirements:

Get a degree.  

The minimum educational requirement for a chief product officer job is a bachelor’s degree. According to Zippia, 48 percent of chief product officers have a bachelor’s degree, and 17 percent have an associate [4]. A bachelor’s degree is ideal in a relevant subject like:

Many employers may prefer an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree.

Complete training or certifications. 

CPOs will typically have a great deal of experience and education in their field. No specific criteria for training or certifications exist for the role. However, you may benefit from training courses and certifications and distinguish yourself in the job market.

Some relevant certificates that you might consider:

Read more: What Is a Certified Product Manager (and How Do I Become One)?

Gain relevant experience. 

Experience is essential when trying to progress to the role of chief product officer. In many cases, ten or more years of product experience may be a requirement, including high-level experience to demonstrate leadership abilities. Since a CPO is a C-suite level position, typical roles before becoming a CPO are usually managerial-level jobs like the following:

*All average annual US salary is sourced from Glassdoor (December 2023)

  • Brand manager: $106,673

  • Unit manager: $94,132

  • Sales and marketing manager: $112,764

  • Product marketing manager: $160,831

  • Project manager: $99,462

  • Product developer: $122,070

These roles can lead to more senior positions and later into C-suite levels.

Read more: A Guide to Product Development Jobs: Roles, Skill, Salaries

CPO career paths

Moving from chief product officer means taking on more leadership responsibility and possibly moving away from the direct processes. The next steps include chief executive officer (CEO) of the company and vice president of product. Taking on a CPO role also puts you in a favorable position to transition into other C-level roles.

Explore career options with Coursera

If you are interested in a career as a chief product officer, gaining as much experience and developing leadership skills in the field is essential. Consider taking a short course in product management, such as Product Management Essentials delivered by The University of Maryland, or a leadership course, such as Strategic Leadership and Management by the University of Illinois on Coursera.

Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages 2021: Chief Executive, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes111011.htm.” Accessed December 21, 2023.  

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.