Operations managers work in every industry, from sales to manufacturing to finance. These senior managers are experts in how organizations function. Their primary goal is always to ensure that those organizations run smoothly.
It sounds simple, but in reality, it’s anything but. Operations managers must understand how every employee and every department contributes both to the day-to-day working of the organization and to profitability. They need to be able to identify and correct areas of inefficiency. It’s a multifaceted job that involves:
Given all that, it should come as no surprise that the median salary for operations managers is relatively high—even for those without master’s degrees. In fact, 49 percent of operations managers launch careers with bachelor’s degrees and never go on to earn advanced degrees, because degree type doesn’t seem to affect income as much in this field as it does in many others. Operations management salaries do vary greatly, however, based on the employing industry. We’ll dig into that below.
In this article about how much does an operations manager make, we cover:
All operations managers are responsible for making sure companies can meet their goals using a reasonable amount of resources. Notice that we didn’t say the minimum amount of resources: successful operations managers never cut corners that shouldn’t be cut or let go of essential personnel just to save a few dollars. In fact, it usually falls to the operations manager to figure out how to stay under budget without sacrificing employee engagement, customer satisfaction, or product quality.
Operations managers also oversee the daily operations of organizations. This can involve:
The exact responsibilities of an operations manager depend on where they work. You’ll find operations managers in the business world, in government agencies, in tech, and in many other fields. Comparing the work of an operations manager in logistics with an operations manager in retail would be like comparing apples and oranges—and the median salary of each reflects how different the role can be in different industries, as you’ll see below.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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Operations managers in some fields may need specialty degrees, but in general, most operations managers launch their careers with degrees like the:
There’s no one must-have degree for operations managers, nor any specific degree that will guarantee a higher salary. Experience tends to matter more than the highest level of education in this role. However, earning an advanced degree certainly can’t hurt if your goal is to become an operations manager, and it may help you negotiate for higher wages. You’ll also need one if your goal is to advance to a chief operations officer position.
Many operations managers earn degrees like the Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Operations Management or the Master of Science in Management (MSM) with concentrations in operations management, production management, organizational leadership, human resource management, or supply chain management. There are also dedicated Master of Science in Operations Management programs at schools like The University of Alabama, University of Arkansas, and Kettering University.
The reason there aren’t more MS in Operations Management programs may be because it’s such a broad discipline. Coursework in general operations management degree programs might cover everything from contract administration to distribution management to quality control management to information systems management to health facility management. This could also explain why operations managers tend to advance via experience versus advancing via education.
Every organization has processes and policies, so there are operations managers in every sector. Hotels may seem at first glance to have very different operations management needs than manufacturers have. However, the general principles of planning, scheduling, procurement, and employee oversight apply to many industries. That’s why there are so many kinds of operations manager careers, like:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Organizations of all sizes and types hire operations managers because they all face issues related to cost control, quality, efficiency, and demand.
Across industries, operations managers earn somewhere between $65,000 and $98,000 annually. The big discrepancy in reported salaries likely results from the differences in day-to-day responsibilities from one industry to another.
In non-manufacturing environments, for example, operations managers may spend the majority of their time dealing with staffing issues and developing company policies that reduce costs. Operations managers who work for companies in manufacturing, scientific research, or tech may have to do data analysis, track regulatory compliance, and take responsibility for staff and end-product safety—and chances are they’ll get paid more. Let’s break it down further.
Business operations managers earn a median salary of about $96,000 per year, according to US News & World Report, making them some of the highest-earners in operations management. Their job is to help every department meet its goals and reduce waste. They’re generally involved in budget tracking, hiring, contract negotiations, project management, workflow development, and strategic planning. Many business operations managers have MBAs. Eric Schaudt, manager of operations programs, material planning, and analysis at Northrop Grumman, describes the role of business operations this way: “Operations really is the heart of most companies, because the operations department actually gets the job that the company needs to get done, done.”
Field operations managers earn about $67,000 and, as you might guess, they are responsible for managing any and all operations that take place in the field. This can involve marketing and merchandising, on-location training, and even oversight of construction projects, depending on the industry. Field operations managers tend to have a lot of autonomy because they spend more time away from the central office than other types of operations managers.
Retail operations managers help store managers and assistant store managers find ways to increase profitability. They typically work for large national retailers with many locations and may split their time between a central office and individual retail locations, where they assess inventory levels, displays, promotions, schedules, and customer satisfaction. On average, retail operations management professionals earn about $83,000 per year.
This is one of the best-paying positions in operations management—possibly because the demand for supply chain managers and logistics managers is so high that there aren’t enough applicants to fill most open positions. That makes supply chain management one of the best careers around. Employers and hiring managers are often willing to pay supply chain operations managers well over $100,000 for their ability to oversee and optimize every point on the supply chain.
Hotel operations managers earn the lowest total compensation—between $40,000 and $67,000—of all the operations management professionals profiled in this article. That may be because hotel operations (which include oversight of public-facing human resources, housekeeping, security, food services, maintenance, renovations, and finance) isn’t as technical as operations in other fields. Even so, handling the day-to-day operations of a hotel or resort is a big job. It includes not only managing personnel but also developing customer service standards, optimizing internal processes, finding opportunities to cut costs, and planning events.
Security operations managers are responsible for overseeing security personnel and all activities related to the protection of a company’s assets and resources. They develop and implement security policies and processes and recruit, train, and supervise security officers. A security operations manager may also oversee the installation of security systems, conduct drills, develop processes for securing entrances and exits, and design emergency response plans. Salary estimates suggest that the average annual salary for security operations managers is about $74,000, though some sources report that these professionals can earn salaries closer to $99,000.
The salary range above is so wide because the average base salary for operations managers differs not only by title but also by industry and location. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks wages for operations managers in different fields; it has found that the highest-earning operations managers work in:
An operations manager’s salary may also be dependent on where in the country they work. According to salary data published by ZipRecruiter, operations managers tend to earn the most money in:
That said, the best way to determine how much you can earn in this career given your work experience, location, educational background, and skills is to study job listings for operations managers posted by companies in your area. Regional salary trends can be very different from the national salary average.
Operations managers can earn a lot, but you need to know that this isn’t a 9 to 5 gig. Even if the company you work for isn’t open for business around the clock, operational processes related to maintenance, billing, and administration are at work 24/7. You’ll probably avoid the worksite most nights when you become an operations manager, but when things go sideways, your phone will be the first one to ring—regardless of what time it is.
In a post on LinkedIn, Megan Knapp summed up the realities of working in operations management this way:
The hours are long. Really, really long.
The hours are weird. Really, really weird.
The personalities are strong. Really, really strong.
There is little room for error. Really, really little.
The numbers are important. Really, really important.
The mistakes can affect safety. Really, really affect safety.
The good results, however, are satisfying. Really, really satisfying.
She added that operations managers’ responsibilities go beyond overseeing employees and developing better processes. In this role, you’ll wear a lot of hats. Still, the starting salaries in operations management are good, and the highest-paying jobs pay well over six figures. For some, the compensation will never be enough to make up for the hours, the potential for conflict, and the stress. If you love operations, however, the base salary—however high—will probably never be as rewarding as simply doing a job well.
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