What Does a Director of Operations Do? And How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A director of operations oversees the day to day operations of a company. Discover the main duties of an operation director and what skills and education you’ll need to become one.

[Featured image] A director of operations is at their desk talking to an employee.

A director of operations leads and models expectations for each department within a company so that all departments can work together to create a successful, organized, and efficient business. As a result, a director of operations may work with a marketing manager to assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns against the company’s marketing goals or discuss budgeting and forecasting with the financial department manager. 

In this article, you'll learn more about what a director of operations does, who they oversee, and how to become one. At the end, you'll also learn common career trajectories for operations directors and explore suggested courses that can help you gain job-relevant skills today.

If you're ready to advance the skills you'll need for this career path, consider enrolling in Operations Management: Organization and Analysis, a course from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What is a director of operations?  

A director of operations is an executive who is in charge of managing the day-to-day operations of a company, which may include a wide range of tasks depending on the industry and size of the business. Typically, though, the director of operations is involved in improving efficiency, setting budgets, and implementing employee policies. 

Within a corporate hierarchy, the director of operations reports to the chief executive officer (CEO) and is an executive-level position, working with senior-level management and C-suite positions. Operations directors can be found in private, public, non-profit, or government sectors and job titles may differ depending on the industry.

Director of operations job description: Duties and responsibilities

The responsibility of the director of operations is to ensure that the company's overall goals, objectives, and mission are carried out through daily operations and customer interactions. Core duties and responsibilities may include:


  • Improving the cost efficiency of certain business operations through resource allocation


  • Creating and overseeing employee evaluation metrics and methods 

  • Conducting budget reviews and reporting findings

  • Implementing, reviewing, and modifying company policies and procedures 

  • Supporting the HR department in staff management, hiring, termination, and disciplinary actions 

  • Helping department managers set goals, manage employees, and improve efficiency 

  • Ensuring company operations meet financial goals and objectives

  • Identifying more cost-efficient ways to do business, setting and executing department and company-wide budgets, and forecasting efforts 

Read more: Operations Manager: 2024 Career Guide

Who does a director of operations manage?

A director of operations manages the company’s senior-level management, often those who lead individual departments or are responsible for a division. Such roles can include the marketing manager, office manager, sales manager, HR department manager, and manager of the financial department (also called a controller).

Each department manager reports to the director of operations to provide feedback and ask for support when needed. It’s important that managers see the operations director as someone who supports their efforts. A key responsibility for this role is to maintain consistency across all departments and that the company vision is carried out through the daily operations of all divisions. 

COO vs. Director of operations

The title of chief operations officer (COO) and director of operations are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the same position, but these roles also have subtle (but important) differences. C-suite executive positions like COO, CFO, and CEO usually lead larger companies and corporations. Smaller companies may not have those titles, so the duties of company operations management fall on the director of operations, who essentially has the same tasks and responsibilities as a COO at a larger company on a smaller scale. 

Larger companies may also have both a COO and a director of operations, but their scope of management and oversight usually differs. For example, a company that already has a COO may hire a director of operations to oversee a specific procedure that needs more attention and focus, but the COO would be the more senior position. 


How to become a Director of Operations

The essential skills of a director of operations center around being a good leader, communicator, and problem solver. Technical skills are also important and differ by industry. Experience, training, and education will help you build these relevant skills. 

1. Earn your degree.

To become a director of operations, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, such as business administration or business management. According to Zippia, 70 percent of directors of business operations have a bachelor's degree, and 20 percent have a master's. Earning a master’s in business administration (MBA) degree may be required since a director of operations is a C-suite business management position. You’ll learn relevant skills through your MBA coursework, including business ethics, business analytics, decision-making in business, operations management, and leadership. 

The University of Illinois's iMBA program might be a good fit for you, if you're considering getting an advanced degree. Inside, you can build leadership skills, increase your earning potential, and prepare for an ever-changing business landscape.

2. Gain professional experience.

Relevant professional experience is a requirement to work as a director of operations, ideally in business management positions, but experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same industry. Employers will likely seek candidates with extensive leadership experience of 10 years or more. Relevant professional experience may include positions in lower-level management. Operations directors may also work up from less senior positions within the company. 

3. Consider certification.

Professional certifications are available for careers in business operations, including director of operations. The certification you choose may vary according to the industry you work in and your responsibilities. A few common certifications for director of operations include: 

As an operations director, certifications can positively affect your salary, improve your job prospects, and enhance your business management skills. 

Read more: How to List Certifications on Your Resume: Guide + Examples

4. Hone your skills.

A director of operations must be comfortable making decisions, possess leadership abilities, and be an effective communicator. If you're hoping to one day become a director of operations, here's how you can expect to use these job-critical skills in the role:

  • Decision-making: A director of operations must be able to make smart and efficient decisions when faced with scenarios that affect the company’s overall goals and objectives. Making the best choices that positively affect a company can include financial, staffing, or operational decisions like inventory management and cost. You may also use decision-making skills when tracking performance metrics regarding sales, customer service, employees, or a company's software system. 

  • Leadership: A director of operations leads managers within a company and other employees. Leadership often requires the ability to empathize, motivate, and guide. Having strong leadership skills is key in this executive management position. 

  • Communication: A director of operations will bring together different people and roles to work toward one common goal. As a result, communicating the needs of managers to key decision-makers in the company is an essential skill, as is informing new policies and procedures created by executives to the managers that implement them. 

Read more: What Is Effective Communication? Skills for Work, School, and Life

To focus specifically on leadership skills, consider taking the specialization, Leading People and Teams, from the University of Michigan.

5. Master business processes.

To effectively perform their duties, a director of operations must thoroughly understand business processes. Common business processes a director of operations must understand include:

These processes vary by industry, but in general, are processes most businesses need to manage to ensure a smooth operation. Operations directors need an understanding of a company’s products or services, from production to purchasing, in order to perform their duties to the highest possible standard.

For more ideas on processes in operations, watch this video, "Thinking About Work as a Process."

Typical career trajectory

The typical career trajectory of a director of operations includes several years in entry-level business management positions. Some common management positions that directors of operations may hold early in their career include:


Another possible career path for this role may be working as a business operations manager at a small start-up company. Sometimes smaller companies will have fewer roles and divisions to manage, so you might find fewer requirements. These positions can give you the experience you need to catapult your career as a director of operations.  It’s possible to work toward your MBA while in an entry-level management position to satisfy the experiential and educational requirements when you’re ready to apply for a director of operations position.

Advance your skills with Coursera

A director of operations must pair a deep knowledge of business with effective leadership, managerial, and communication abilities. If you're interested in furthering your professional career, you may consider taking a cost-effective, flexible course through Coursera. Completing online courses can boost your resume and help you build essential skills for director of operations positions. 

In the Operations Management: Organization and Analysis course from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, you will learn about the role of operations and how it's connected to other business functions. When you're ready to go deeper, consider taking the full Value Chain Management Specialization.

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