What Does a Chief Product Officer Do? A Career Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Chief product officer is a C-level position. Learn the experience, chief product officer certifications, and education needed for this lucrative career choice.

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

Chief product officer (CPO) is an executive position created because of the increased products used in everyday life. It’s a relatively recent addition to the C-level team and focuses on business growth via products. 

An executive-level position 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 in product management, 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 by mentoring positions below their level. They help shape project performance, ensuring the projects align with company goals and focus on customers. A company focused on product development benefits from expertise and specific attention to business needs. 

CPO vs. CTO

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

CTOs may oversee some companies' product team but typically look at the technical 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.

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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

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that executive-level roles earn an average of $213,020 per year [1]. However, this varies considerably across positions and industries. According to Glassdoor, the average US salary for a chief product officer is $296,220 [2].

The job outlook for top executives as a whole is expected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031 [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 

An aspiring chief product officer requires a combination of experience, education, training, and certifications. In addition, it takes the right skills to understand the development of products and lead teams. 

Education 

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.

Training or certifications 

CPOs will typically have a great deal of experience in their field and an excellent level of education. No specific criteria for training or certifications exist for the role. However, you will likely attend many training courses and gain specific certifications that may help distinguish you in the job market.

Some relevant certificates that you might consider:

  • CPrO-C - Chief Product Officer- Certified 

  • Certified Product Marketing Manager - AIPMM

  • Project Management Professional - PMP

  • Program Management Professional - PgMP

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

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 (November 2022)

  • Brand manager: $77,555

  • Unit manager: $83,034

  • Sales and marketing manager: $110,730

  • Product marketing manager: $132,815

  • Project manager: $84,961

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

Possible career paths for a chief product officer

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 sidestep into other C-level roles.

Next steps 

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. You might 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.

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course

Product Management Essentials

Product management is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative jobs available today. Companies have awoken to the desperate need for product managers ...

4.6

(159 ratings)

7,904 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Customer Development, Product Development, Marketing, Product Management, Leadership

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specialization

Strategic Leadership and Management

Leadership and Business Skill for Immediate Impact. Apply practical strategies to becoming an effective organizational leader.

4.8

(5,765 ratings)

90,669 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 8 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Strategic Management, Negotiation, Leadership, Business Strategy, self-awareness, Ethical decision-making, Defining Leadership, Trust in relationships, Leadership Development, Develop team culture, Navigate growth and change in teams, Create space for DEIB, Facilitate psychological safety, Manage motivation and engagement, Organizational Structure, Knowledge of General Business Functions, Organization Design, Organizational Theory, Organizational Culture, Ethics, Decision-Making, Strategic Leadership, Organizational Change, Business Model, Strategic Thinking, Mergers And Acquisitions (M&A), Diversification, Global Strategy, Corporate Governance, Management

Article sources

1

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages 2021: Chief Executive, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes111011.htm.” Accessed October 27, 2022.  

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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.

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