Managing Director vs CEO: What Is the Difference?

The differences between a managing director and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) role can be challenging to understand. Both are high-ranking executives; however, they have several critical differences in their roles. A managing director is typically responsible for a single business unit, while the CEO is accountable for the entire organisation.

Non-profits develop their leadership structure based on several things, including the non-profit’s size, type of industry, geographical location, regulations, and other criteria. The leadership hierarchy should be arranged to provide the non-profit with solid direction and accountability, meaning non-profits sometimes have a managing director and a CEO.

To sort out any confusion surrounding managing director vs CEO, we will discuss the following:

  • The role of a managing director
  • The responsibilities of a managing director
  • The role of a CEO
  • The duties of a CEO
  • Differences between a CEO vs a managing director

What Is a Managing Director?

Not considering the C-suite, a managing director is the highest-ranking manager in the organisation. A qualified managing director typically has many years of experience managing staff and operations. A managing director is below the CEO in a corporate hierarchy. The person filling this role reports directly to the CEO and must fulfil the CEO’s orders and expectations.

What Are Managing Director Responsibilities?

CEOs count on managing directors to provide the status and scope of an organisation’s operations. Managing directors are responsible for the following:

  • Providing a top-level view of workflows, budgets and regulating expenses
  • Carrying out the business plan in the most efficient, cost-effective manner
  • Preparing the corporate and annual business plans
  • Monitoring the non-profit’s progress against the business plans
  • Research and development
  • Informing the C-suite about trends and advancements in technology
  • Offering guidance and advice to the board of directors
  • Ensuring the organisation complies with laws and regulations

Boards can expect managing directors to have a hands-on approach to all aspects of the non-profit’s operations.

What Is a CEO?

To best understand the position of managing director vs CEO, it is essential to know the roles and responsibilities of the chief executive officer. The non-profit CEO is the highest-ranking employee in the organisation. While the CEO does not report to other employees, they are accountable to the board of directors. The board is responsible for hiring a qualified CEO and firing them if they don’t fulfil their responsibilities.

CEOs are not intricately involved with a non-profit’s daily operations, unlike managing directors. CEOs also do not serve on the board of directors, although the board may allow the CEO to log into the board management system so they can collaborate more closely.

What Are CEO Responsibilities?

CEOs must have a clear vision of where the organisation is and where it needs to go. As the highest-ranking manager, CEOs must be receptive to new ideas and be invested in the non-profit’s culture, morale, public image, and profitability.

CEOs are responsible for the following:

  • Ensuring the operations are in keeping with the non-profit’s mission and vision
  • Overseeing the organisation’s operations
  • Directing the organisation’s agendas
  • Managing the organisation’s structure
  • Ensuring financial viability
  • Analysing the organisation’s business strategy
  • Overseeing compliance
  • Keeping the board informed of the status of operations.
  • Representing the non-profit publicly and serving as a spokesperson

As the face of the organisation, CEOs often travel for the non-profit, making calls on potential partners and interacting with clients and the public. Non-profit CEOs also develop public relations strategies to improve branding and expand the organisation’s base of customers and vendors.

Understanding the Differences Between CEO vs Managing Director

In larger non-profits, different employees may serve in the CEO and managing director roles. Smaller non-profits may not create multiple positions. Non-profits in the growth phase may assign the duties and responsibilities of the CEO and managing director to one individual temporarily and add either a managing director or CEO to their staff later on.

A CEO and the board craft a non-profit’s strategy according to the organisation’s mission and vision. The managing director is the individual who is responsible for bringing the plans to life and ensuring progress toward the non-profit’s goals.

Comparing the Managing Director to the chief executive Officer
 Managing DirectorCEO
PositionNot part of the C-suitePart of the C-suite
FunctionsDirectly manages operationsNot directly involved with day-to-day operations
RankingRanks under the CEORanks under the board, over the managing director
AccountabilityAccountable for daily operationsMust be able to report on day-to-day operations
Reports ToReports to the CEOReports to the board
Role with Public/MediaIs not a public-facing roleServes as a public spokesperson

Managing Director Vs. CEO: Make the Distinction Clear

The managing director is the driving force behind significant business operations. It’s essential for managing directors to be able to think critically, make good decisions, and be good problem-solvers, as they often work in high-pressure situations. Managing directors must also be able to keep up the overall morale within the organisation and represent the non-profit’s intended culture in all they say and do. It is critical for managing directors to communicate regularly with the CEO and share their concerns before any situation gets out of hand.

When considering the managing director vs CEO positions, the two roles are like partners rather than a boss and a subordinate. Each one helps the other in various ways.

Lastly, whether one or two people serve as the managing director and CEO, boards must ensure that the people in those roles understand their duties, responsibilities, and boundaries.

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