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Achieving Success in Your Operations Career: How to Build a Rewarding Professional Path

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Operations managers are a critical role within organizations, and demand for them is growing. Job openings for operations managers have increased by 33.92% since 2004, and current projections anticipate an additional 282,000 jobs will be added in this sector by 2029.

In short, if you’re considering a career in operations, there are ample job opportunities available, with a variety of pathways to advance and grow your career over time. In this article, we’ll explore the education and skills employers look for in operations professionals, as well as common advancement opportunities to help you plot out your career path in this dynamic industry.

Understanding the role of an operations professional

In short, an operations professional helps to ensure that an organization runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. They do this by overseeing and improving the day-to-day systems and processes in the business, working with leadership to execute business strategies and determine the best way to make use of the team and budget.

Operations is similar in many ways to supply chain management but with a different focus. Whereas supply chain managers focus on how the organization interacts with suppliers, distributors, and other individuals and groups outside the company, operations is focused on coordinating the activities within a business. For example, where a supply chain manager might oversee the purchase and transportation of materials to a factory, an operations professional is in charge of how those materials are distributed and used to produce goods within the facility.

The specific job responsibilities of an operations professional can vary depending on what industry they’re in and the size and mission of the company they work for. Some of the typical things people in operations might do on a day-to-day basis include:

  • Overseeing the production of products
  • Conducting quality control and assurance
  • Directing the storage and distribution of finished products
  • Managing resource distribution and access within an organization
  • Preparing project budgets and ensuring they’re followed
  • Analyzing financial data to create budgets, reduce costs, and improve profits
  • Coordinating and overseeing various departments within a business to ensure they hit key milestones and meet their team and company goals
  • Communicating with staff and maintaining personnel documentation
  • Designing and running training or professional development programs for staff
  • Creating and conducting performance evaluations
  • Developing the organization’s policies and procedures and ensuring that they’re followed
  • Analyzing and making changes to existing policies to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of organizations
  • Planning and overseeing transitions and changes, like the implementation of new technology or systems
  • Collaborating with leadership to develop and implement business strategies

Operations managers work in a variety of industries, from manufacturing and construction businesses to sectors like healthcare, retail, and transportation. If a business has complex projects, multiple teams and departments, or other internal parts that need to be coordinated, an operations professional can help ensure they achieve the right outcomes to drive business growth and maximize productivity.

Key skills for operations professionals

The specific technical skills and knowledge you’ll need to thrive in business operations depends on the industry and role that you hold. However, there are some transferable skills that operations professionals at all levels need in order to thrive in their position. Let’s review some of these core skills and why they’re so valuable for employees in operations.


Operations managers have to communicate with just about everyone else in the organization, from entry-level workers in factories and production facilities to executive-level leaders. This makes interpersonal skills an integral part of job success. To thrive in operations, you need both a strong active listening ability and the ability to clearly express sometimes complex or technical ideas to customers, colleagues, or leaders within the organization.


Even when you’re not the one making decisions as an operations professional, you are often responsible for ensuring the decisions made by others are carried out. This often means taking the lead on tasks or key stages of larger projects to ensure all the steps are being followed in the correct order. The ability to think and communicate like a leader, even when your job title isn’t that of a leadership role, is very beneficial.

Collaboration and teamwork

Along with leading the various teams within their organization, operations managers are often responsible for coordinating their efforts and ensuring they work well together. A collaborative mindset and strong team-building skills make professionals more effective at carrying out these functions.

Project management

Another aspect of coordinating multiple teams is ensuring they’re directing their efforts at the right tasks to meet the organization’s objectives. Operations managers are often responsible for assigning and scheduling tasks within the teams they oversee, and need to be able to track and manage complex projects to ensure they’re being completed on time and within budget constraints.

Business strategy

Strategic planning means being able to analyze data then use that information to make effective judgments and decisions. That’s at the heart of everything operations professionals do, putting an understanding of business strategy and an ability to think strategically near the top of the list of skills that operations managers need.


Working in operations usually means you’ll be coordinating multiple areas of the business to make sure they’re all working together to achieve the right results. To do that, you need the ability to focus on multiple things at the same time. People who are skilled multitaskers are often the most effective operations professionals because they’re able to juggle and balance the needs of multiple departments within the organization without getting overwhelmed or missing key details.

Education and professional development to grow an operations career

The majority of operations managers hold at least a bachelor’s degree. According to Zippia, 68% of current operations professionals hold a bachelor’s, while 16% hold a master’s degree. Only 2% of current operations professionals have entered the field with a high school diploma as their highest education.

As far as what degree you should earn to build a career in business operations, the most common bachelor’s degree options are business administration, business management, accounting, or a related field of study.

At the graduate level, the most common degree is a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). A graduate degree isn’t a requirement to get started in an operations career, but it is something businesses commonly look for in operations executives and other upper-level leaders. If your goals include advancing to a director or c-suite role, getting a graduate degree can help you to achieve that objective more quickly.

In addition to degrees, many professionals in operations get professional certifications to expand and verify their skills. Some of the most popular certifications that employers look for when hiring operations management professionals include:

  • Certified Manager (CM) – Offered by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers, this certification includes three core sections: management essentials, planning and organizing, and leading and controlling. This big-picture certification verifies that professionals have the skills to effectively lead and manage complex projects in an organization.
  • Program Management Professional (PgMP) – Obtained through the Project Management Institute, this certification verifies a professional’s ability to coordinate and manage multiple projects and provide program leadership. It is designed for current professionals, and you need to have 48 months of project management experience to be eligible.
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) – For operations professionals in the technology or IT sectors, ITIL certification from Axelos verifies you can drive success for digital organizations. It contains three modules: Practice Manager, Managing Professional, and Strategic Leader. The test topics cover all aspects of creating, delivering, and supporting a digital or IT strategy within an organization to drive stakeholder value.
  • Six Sigma Certification – This global certification focuses on quality control and analyzing processes and outcomes to reduce waste and errors. There are six color-coded levels. The lowest, White Belt, provides an overview of the Six Sigma methodology, while the highest Master Black Belt certification is for experts and leaders who direct large-scale initiatives.

Entry-level roles in operations

Most employers of operations managers look for candidates to have professional experience on their resume. There are a few ways a person new to the operations career path can start building this experience.

One option is to pursue an operations internship. This can be an ideal route for recent graduates or other early-career workers to gain experience and develop the skills they’ll need to thrive as a business operations manager. Interns in operations usually work closely with a range of professionals in these roles, learning about key concepts like supply chain management, process improvement, project management, and quality control.

The day-to-day tasks of an intern will often be similar to those in entry-level roles, and can include conducting process audits, helping analyze data, or taking part in activities like inventory management or process improvement. An internship often provides more learning opportunities beyond these duties, however, along with providing a chance to network and build relationships with other professionals. This can make an internship the ideal way to gain exposure to the industry and the field of operations management in general.

Another way to gain this experience is to take an entry-level role in an area related to operations. These can include jobs in the HR department, a role as a customer service representative or retail manager, or a position as a business operations analyst, just to name a few options.

When you’re choosing which entry-level role will be the best choice, consider your ultimate career goals. Think about what industry or sector you ideally want to work in and which areas of operations management interest you the most. Analyzing your strengths and weaknesses can help, too. Choosing a role where you can practice or develop skills you’re lacking will ensure you’re ready to take on positions with more responsibility when one becomes available.

Advancement opportunities for operations managers

Operations is a large and diverse field and there are many paths professionals can take to grow their career. Let’s look at some of the most common advancement opportunities in the operations career path and the skill sets needed to excel in them.

Operations coordinator

Average salary: $52,229 per year

Operations coordinators manage the day-to-day operations of a business. They often handle administrative tasks, like preparing financial reports and ordering supplies and equipment. They may also be involved in planning events and helping to develop or carry out project management strategies. This requires strong organization, analytical, and problem solving skills, in addition to the ability to multitask on multiple projects at the same time and maintain communication with other departments and teams.

Operations analyst

Average salary: $61,504 per year

If you want to focus on the strategic, data-driven side of operations management, a role as an analyst could be a good fit. These professionals collect data about the company’s workflow and processes and use this information to identify areas for improvement. This may include creating and implementing new projects that will improve the efficiency of the organization. Analytical, problem-solving and communication skills are important in this role, and it also helps to have a background in mathematics or engineering.

Operations supervisor

Average salary: $62,844 per year

An operations supervisor oversees a particular department or team within an organization. While they’re also often involved in building the company strategy, their primary role is to manage the team they supervise, establishing the goals and procedures they’ll follow and ensuring they’re completing their tasks correctly and on time. Leadership and communication are core skills for this role, along with an understanding of business strategy.

Project manager

Average salary: $78,563 per year

This role is similar to an operations supervisor, but instead of overseeing a specific team or department they take charge of projects from start to finish. This often means coordinating the activities of multiple areas within the business, delegating tasks to them and monitoring their progress to see the project through to a successful completion. Success in this role requires strong organization, communication, and leadership skills, along with critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

Director of operations

Average salary: $98,459 per year

Above the operations supervisors and individual project managers in many organizations is the director of operations, who coordinates the activities of the manufacturing, sales, and other departments in the company. They often work with executive leadership to develop operations strategies, then serve as the go-between of leadership and individual teams to ensure those strategies are carried out effectively. Leadership and communication skills are key in this role, as are strong problem solving, strategic planning, and decision-making skills and an in-depth understanding of the business and its goals.

Chief operating officer (COO)

Average salary: $146,937 per year

The top rung of the operations career ladder is the chief operating officer, or COO. As a member of the executive board, this role reports directly to the CEO and works with other executives to create the budget, initiatives, and strategies for the business, then delegates tasks to the appropriate department supervisors or managers. This role requires a high level of business acumen and COOs often hold an MBA or similar advanced degree in addition to having several years of experience in operations roles. Among the skills required are strategic thinking, leadership, financial management, communication, and decision-making.

FAQs about operations career paths

How much do operations managers make?

Salaries for operations managers can vary widely depending on the individual’s years of experience and the level of the role within the company’s leadership structure. While the median salary is around $71,000 per year, reported individual salaries range from around $47,000 per year on the low end to $100,000 per year or higher for professionals with more experience.

What is the difference between operations management and supply chain management?

These are related career paths that share a lot of core skills. The main difference comes down to the role’s focus. Where supply chain managers are mainly focused on coordinating external business activities, operations managers are focused on internal processes. In both cases, the role requires strong communications, leadership, strategic planning, and analytical skills, as well as high business acumen and industry knowledge. This means that supply chain roles can be good preparation for a career in operations or vice versa.

What is the difference between an operations manager and a general manager?

Both of these positions oversee the internal functions of a business. However, the general manager typically has a broader focus, coordinating all of the activities and team members within a business or a specific location of it. The operations manager is focused specifically on production and the tasks and teams related to it.

How long do I need to work an entry-level role in operations before moving up to management positions?

This answer to this question will likely be different for each individual. Those who earn an MBA or other advanced degree may take on a supervisor or manager role immediately after graduation, while others may spend several years working in individual contributor positions before transitioning into management positions. As an average, most organizations look for operations managers to have 3-5 years of experience in their field.