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The Roles of “C-Suite” Executives in Healthcare

A Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) is among the top executives in the healthcare setup and reports to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The traditional roles of a CSO have included the development of visions and strategy, leading the strategic planning process, guiding strategic initiatives, and advising on cost-reduction measures. Among these roles, the strategic planning role is the most fundamental that defines healthcare CSOs. As a strategic planner, the CSO initiates and spearheads negotiations about plans that give an organization a competitive advantage and make it ready to maneuver foreseeable challenges. Birshan et al. (2015) reported that CSOs have traditionally performed these roles by conducting periodic strategic planning. The approach implies that after every cycle, a CSO would analyze the company’s performance, challenges, strengths, potential opportunities, and growth areas and integrate them into a strategic plan. The plan, complete with targets, will be given another cycle for implementation before the next strategy is unveiled.

The CSO’s role, like other executives, has been evolving due to changes in the market. Healthcare needs are not as stagnant or slowly changing as they were. Emerging needs and technological trends imply that healthcare organizations face a continuous need to reform and adapt to the changes in the market. Failure to adapt to such changes implies that an organization is rendered redundant or less competitive than related entities that adapt to market needs. Since the CSO is the executive expected to maintain competitiveness, it implies that their roles have also evolved and no longer rely on periodic strategic planning. Birshan et al. (2015) explain that currently, CSOs are continuous strategic planners who initiate frequent planning and reallocation of resources throughout the year, unlike in the previous culture where such changes were periodical.

For CSO to perform such a daunting task continuously, they need to develop skills and strengths that comfortably sets them in the driving seat. Birshan et al. (2015) explain that the new demands have evolved CSO into experts in broad areas. For instance, a CSO can excel as an architect, visionary, surveyor, mobilizer, or fund manager. An architect concentrates on shifts in the market. Such shifts can be technological or needs, which are expected to impact the organization’s performance significantly. After identifying such shifts, an architect CSO analyzes the company’s resources identifies areas that bring competitive advantage, and channels more resources to maximize such strengths. In addition, Birshan et al. (2015) explore surveyor CSOs who are trending experts, mobilizers who are team-building experts, and fund managers whose fundamental role is to optimize corporate portfolios.

Lastly, the prioritizing role has become critical for CSOs, thus demanding that they develop abilities to timely identify gaps or highly beneficial areas and prioritize them regarding resource allocation. Since the planning role has become a continuous activity, the prioritizing and resource allocation process has also become a frequent endeavor, implying that critical decisions must be made to reallocate resources from areas that fall behind in priority and assign them to emerging priority areas. This process is critical but delicate since misallocation or late reallocation may adversely impact the organization.

CSOs in Comparison with Other Executives

Healthcare organizations are also run by other executives, such as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), who heads the team. Others are the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Chief Quality Officer (CQO), and Chief Operating Officer (COO). The CEO makes major organizational decisions by overseeing operations, strategies, and goals initiated and implemented by other executives. Besides making these critical decisions, the CEO is the organization’s image. Unlike the CSO and other executives who perform their roles without much limelight and public interest, the CEO is considered an organizations image whose fundamental role is to create a brand that relates to the target market. Among such roles is to ensure diversity and inclusion in the organization (Cox & Lancefield, 2021). Diversity and inclusion are sensitive areas in the current market. Thus, public misconceptions may hurt the performance of the company. The CEO averts such incidences by creating a culture that embodies diverse personalities and groups to attract a large customer base. Both the CEO and CSO must be bold in communicating their plans and strategies to bring other executives on board to deliver common goals (Galvin, 2019). However, the CEO must take control of the whole process, ensuring that the success and image of the organization are prioritized.

Other executives, such as the CMO, CQO, and COO, have specific dockets they lead. Unlike the CSO and CEO, whose roles overlap other executives, CMO and CQO’s roles have boundaries and are limited to specified dockets. For instance, a CMO leads clinical care and other functions such as operations, policies, and standards, which impact clinical outcomes (Myers et al., 2022). On the other hand, the CQO is responsible for the planning, execution, and administrating of systems designed to maintain quality and improve processes. Like a CMO, a CQO is specifically interested in a single docket (quality) and not broad goals as CEOs and CSOs. Lastly, unlike other executives, the COO role is not limited to specific dockets or specialties. Mostly, a COO deputizes the CEO but may take up other key roles as an executor, change agent, or mentor to the organization. By deputizing the CEO, COOs are also viewed as heirs to the organization and thus rely on CEO’s communication and decision-making directives to execute their duties (Bennett & Miles, 2006). The reliance on the CEO implies that COOs are less independent than CSOs.


Bennett, N., & Miles, S. A. (2006, May 1). Second in command: The misunderstood role of the Chief Operating Officer. Harvard Business Review.

Birshan, M., Gibbs, E., & Strovink, K. (2015, May 14). What makes a great Chief Strategy Officer. Harvard Business Review.

Cox, G., & Lancefield, D. (2021, May 19). 5 strategies to infuse D&I into your organization. Harvard Business Review.

Galvin, R. S. (2019, May 29). To improve your company’s health care, get the CEO involved. Harvard Business Review.

Myers, C. G., Polsky, D., & Desai, S. (2022). The growing role of Chief Medical Officers in major corporations. JAMA Health Forum3(7), e222194.


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