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. 

Learn more about what a director of operations does, who they oversee, and how to become one. Additionally, discover common career trajectories for operations directors and explore suggested courses to help you gain job-relevant skills today.

What is a director of operations?  

A director of operations is an executive in charge of managing a company's day-to-day operations. Depending on the industry and size of the business, this may include a wide range of tasks. 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 that works 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 director of operations’ responsibility is to ensure the company's overall goals, objectives, and mission are carried out through daily operations and customer interactions. A director of operations’ 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 

Who does the director of operations report to?

The director of operations typically reports to the CEO in an executive-level position, working with senior-level management and C-suite positions. A director of operations reports information to the CEO on matters such as:

  • Employee performance

  • Budgeting concerns

  • Suggestions for new company policies and procedures

  • Updates on sales performance

  • Other company performance metrics and markers 

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. Managers must see the operations director as someone who supports their efforts. 

Key responsibilities for this role include maintaining consistency across all departments and ensuring all divisions carry out the company vision through daily operations. 

Director of operations vs. chief operations officer (COO)

Organizations often use the titles director of operations and chief operations officer (COO) interchangeably, but these roles have differences. One title may be used over the other based on the size of a company. 

C-suite executive positions like COO, CFO, and CEO usually lead larger companies and corporations. Smaller companies may not have those titles, so operations management falls to the director of operations, who essentially has the same tasks and responsibilities as a COO at a larger company but on a smaller scale. 

Larger companies may also have both a COO and a director of operations, the main difference being the scope of management and oversight. For example, a company with 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 can help you build these relevant skills. 

Earn your degree.

To become a director of operations, you need at least a bachelor’s degree or college diploma in business or a related field, such as business administration or business management. Some jobs may require a master's degree or Master of Business Administration (MBA). Even if it's unnecessary, a master's degree can make you a stronger candidate for a job and will be an asset to your resume. 

Your MBA coursework can help you learn relevant skills, including business ethics, business analytics, business decision-making, operations management, and leadership. 

Gain professional experience.

Ideally, professional experience in business management positions is required to work as a director of operations. However, your experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same industry. 

Employers will likely seek candidates with at least five to seven years of experience. Relevant professional experience may include time spent in lower-level management positions. Operations directors may also work up from less senior positions within the company. 

Consider certification.

Professional Certificates 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 a director of operations include 

  • Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP)

  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

  • Certified Manager Certification (CM)

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

Develop decision-making skills.

A director of operations should be able to make intelligent 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 sales, customer service, employees, or a company's software system performance metrics. 

Be a leader.

A director of operations leads managers and other employees within a company. This position is unique because it requires managing granular tasks and projects within departments while also focusing on the overall company goals. 

Leadership often requires the ability to empathize, motivate, and guide. Having strong leadership skills is vital in this executive management position. 

Have effective communication.

A successful operations director must be an effective communicator. The role is the liaison between managers and executives and the management team and employees. Communicating managers' needs to key decision-makers in the company is an essential skill, as is informing managers who implement new policies and procedures created by executives. 

Communication in this role centers around building relationships, maintaining trust and respect, and creating a team mentality to uphold daily business operations.

A director of operations will bring together different people and roles to work toward one common goal. This role will carry out multiple communication mediums, from emails to business meetings. 

Develop business acumen.

Business acumen refers to the ability to make intelligent business decisions. It’s the knowledge taught and learned through professional experience in business management. 

Business acumen skills are industry-specific or general business knowledge, such as budget planning, profitability improvement, or understanding sound business strategies.

Understand business processes.  

Key business skills essential to your role as a director of operations include understanding business processes. Common business processes include:

  • Sales and marketing

  • Invoicing

  • Product development

  • Customer experience

  • Order processing

These processes vary by industry, but most businesses need them managed to ensure a smooth operation. director of operations need an understanding of a company’s products or services, from production to purchasing.

Typical career trajectory

The typical career trajectory of a director of operations includes several years in entry-level business management positions. Operations directors can work in private, public, nonprofit, or government sectors, and their job titles may differ depending on the industry. 

Starting work in your desired industry or a similar one after earning your undergraduate degree is useful. Working toward your MBA while in an entry-level management position is possible. Hence, you satisfy the experiential and educational requirements when ready to apply for a director of operations position. 

Since the director of operations is not entry-level, you can expect to work your way into this position through years of experience in other business management positions. Some common management positions a director of operations may hold early in their career include:

  • Human resources manager 

  • Office manager 

  • Marketing manager 

  • Analyst 

  • Project manager 

Another possible career path for this role may be working as a business operations manager at a small start-up company. Smaller companies sometimes 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. 

Gain job-relevant skills with Coursera.

To pursue a career as a director of operations, meet the educational requirements by enrolling in an undergraduate business degree program. Gain professional experience in management positions in business and work towards your MBA degree. Many director of operations positions require an MBA since they are executive-level management jobs. 

Certifications and other professional certificates are beneficial in this career, so consider gaining certification specific to the industry you want to work in as a director of operations. 

As a first step, enrol in a course that can help you learn the core skills you need as a director of operations. On Coursera, discover business management courses for beginners and advanced professionals. 

To learn more about the foundational skills you’ll need in this role, consider enrolling in the University of Pennsylvania’s Introduction in Operations Management. Completing online courses can boost your resume and help you build essential skills for Director of Operations positions. 

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