BBC director-general Mark Thompson is to "step down" from the role this autumn.
Mr Thompson announced the move in an email to staff at the corporation after a meeting with BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.
He said: "This morning I told Lord Patten that I believe that an appropriate time for me to hand over to a successor and to step down as director-general of the BBC would be the autumn of this year, once the Olympics and the rest of the amazing summer of 2012 are over."
Mr Thompson said he had discussed his leaving date with Lord Patten last year and said he wanted his successor to "have time to really get their feet under the table" before the next review of the BBC charter which will take place before the end of 2016.
He told staff the corporation had "weathered a series of lively storms" during his almost eight years in the top job and was "so much stronger than the BBC I inherited back in 2004".
Mr Thompson said: "Trust and approval are at record highs, our services are in brilliant creative form and we've demonstrated beyond contradiction that the BBC can be just as much of a leader and innovator in the digital age as we once were in the analogue one."
He joined the BBC as a trainee in 1979 and worked on programmes including Watchdog, Newsnight and Panorama before leaving the corporation to become chief executive of Channel 4 from 2002 to 2004.
Lord Patten said Mr Thompson had been "an outstanding Director-General".
He said: "He took over during a traumatic period in the corporation's history and subsequently enhanced its reputation for creativity and quality, while setting the course for the BBC's digital future. I will miss him on both a personal and professional level and I wish him the very best of luck for the future. The trust will shortly begin the process of recruiting a successor."
His time in the top job has seen the BBC hit by scandals including Sachsgate, which saw a public outcry over obscene messages left by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on Andrew Sachs' answerphone, and Crowngate - which saw then BBC1 controller Peter Fincham resign after misleading footage appearing to show the Queen storming out of a photoshoot was used in a trailer.