Decoding Executive Titles: The Difference Between Interim, Project, Part-Time & Fractional Executives

Decoding Executive Titles: The Difference Between Interim, Project, Part-Time & Fractional Executives

Interim, acting, project, contract, fractional. The array of titles can make your head spin. But they all point to a specialized type of executive that companies call on when they are going through transformation.

What is an interim executive and how does that differ from a part-time, project or fractional executive?

Let’s break it down:

What is an Interim Executive?

Interim executives typically engage for 1 month to 2 years. This title can cover a lot of use cases. But in all cases, the company needs some kind of change or upgrade.

The organization may have a leadership gap. Maybe they are not sure if they are on the right track, and they need an executive to create an operational roadmap and then execute and implement to ramp up growth.

Maybe it’s technology or security issues.

Maybe there’s a need for an effective leader to reposition the company, update the brand, and build out a best-practices sales team to bring it into the new digital era.

In all cases, executives across the C-suite can be drawn on for these types of assignments. There are interim CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, CMOs, and CSOs.

What is an Acting Executive?

Acting executive is another word for interim. This title typically denotes that an executive is stepping into a role for a short time while the permanent search takes place.

What is a Fractional Executive?

Fractional is a more specialized term used to describe a long-term engagement that does not occupy all of the executive’s time.

Fractional executives may work in C-level roles with 2-3 companies at the same time. These executives typically are brought in when the company does not need the full-time capacity of an executive.

This title is especially popular in C-level roles such as CFO, CIO, or CMO. It allows companies to get serious fire power for a fraction of the cost. The popularity of fractional executives is increasing as early stage companies realize they can now afford an experienced, outstanding executive without having to pay for a full-time executive, or pay benefits or other costs associated with full-time permanent hires.

In many cases, investors such as venture funds will insist that an early stage company, despite lack of significant revenue, retain a fractional CFO. Even if it’s only for a few hours a month, the fractional CFO can have a huge impact on strategy. And the fractional executive can oversee the work of a controller, bookkeeper, or other financial staff engaged in day-to-day accounting and financial tasks.

What is a Part-Time Executive?

Part-time executive is another label for fractional executives.

Executives who specialize in this typically are working with multiple clients at once. In all cases, they are serving in C-level roles with decision-making authority. This is not the same as consulting!

What is a Project Executive?

In many cases, interims (which still is the catch-all phrase for the specialty), will go into a company on a project basis.

Job title doesn’t always matter with a project executive. In many cases they work alongside an owner or the permanent executive team to accomplish a project or goal. Often that means the executive is stepping into a new role versus filling an open job in the company. This usually comes into play during one-time events. A full-time executive replacement may not even be made once the project executive exits the company.

These assignments have very clear deliverables and therefore an end date. Some examples when a part-time executive is the right answer:

  • A company opens a new division overseas and brings on a project-based operations executive to set up a manufacturing facility and hire the staff.
  • An organization going through a merger brings on an interim on a project basis to help with merger integration.
  • A CIO is hired to complete an ERP implementation, an outsourcing effort, or other technology upgrade.