Leadership

10 key soft skills vital for today's CIOs

CIOs need more than a strong technical background. Good people skills and business acumen are crucial to their success.
businesswoman_iStock_000008647291Small.jpg
By the time most IT professionals reach the level of CIO, they’ve already learned that it is people—not technology—that usually derail both projects and careers. But most CIOs also come from technical disciplines where specific outcomes are expected and scientific methods are employed. Getting to know the people side of the business is anything but scientific! Here are ten key “soft skills” that should be in every CIO’s toolkit today:

1. Collaboration

IT is a project-based discipline. Especially in a large project, people from different business areas must come together and agree on how the project is to be done, and what its goals are. When stakes are high, it’s the CIO who gets involved. He is expected to provide leadership and to foster a collaborative environment. This means getting to know the people on the project, as well as the politics that surround it.

2. Negotiation

In joint business-IT projects, or in contracts and collaborations with vendors, the CIO now leads the way in acute negotiation skills that obtain the best deals for IT and for the business. Negotiating is give and take. This means that CIOs themselves must be personally malleable in the process—with an understanding that no one is likely to get everything that they want.

3. Team-building

Team-building within IT begins by selecting the right managers at the level immediately beneath CIO who can be relied to carry out the responsibilities that they are charged with. These managers must understand both the technology and the people and team-building processes, because it is ultimately these managers (and those lead persons beneath them) who will cement the team-building culture at the staff level. However, neither managers nor staff will be capable team players if they don’t see their CIO leading by example by exhibiting team-oriented behavior.

4. Organizational development

There was a time when organizational development was almost exclusively an HR issue!—But no more. As IT infrastructure becomes more integrated, as applications routinely cross hardware and software boundaries, and as IT itself becomes more service-oriented, CIOs are finding that they must break down IT silos and even restructure IT altogether. Often, staff is fearful and resistant to change, so the CIO becomes an organizational developer and a change agent. Doing organizational development is not an easy job. Some CIOs are even taking courses to build out skills they never imagined they would require.

5. Vendor management

The growth of cloud-based solutions and the continued use of outsourcing make it imperative for IT to negotiate and then manage contracts with vendors. In addition, many end business areas are forging contracts with technology providers—only to turn over contract management to IT. There has never been a stronger need for vendor management skills in IT than now. These skills begin with the CIO.

6. Business transformation

A majority of enterprise CEOs feel that technology is the primary change agent that will continue to make their organizations competitive, They are calling upon their CIOs to lead the charge in business (and business process) transformation because they see technology as the enabler. Unfortunately, many CIOs grew up with the technology, but not with the organizational and business process transformation skills. CIOs are developing these skills in their frontline managers, but they are also finding that they have to develop the same skills in themselves.

7. Board presence

For many years, CIOs have been buried underneath CFOs or CEOs who attended board meetings and mentioned technology initiatives as a single bullet on their monthly or quarterly board reports. However, this is changing as technology grows in strategic importance. Suddenly, CIOs are finding themselves in boardrooms. This makes it important for every CIO to hone his boardroom skills, and to get to know the members of the board.

8. Presentation skills

With increasing visibility in the boardroom, with key business executives, and even in with full IT staff, every CIO today should develop his presentation skills. Strong presentation skills have always been presumed for most other C-Level executives, while the CIO has been able to hide himself in the “engine room”—but that’s no longer the case.

9. Written and verbal skills

CIOs are also expected to express themselves well in verbal and written communications with many other stakeholders. These stakeholders may not know (or care) how well the CIO knows C++, or the internals of a UNIX box. Instead, he will be judged on how well he expresses himself in a memo, a report, or even in a hallway conversation.

10. The sixth sense

Great CIOs (and also great organization and project managers) understand that there’s a lot more that goes on in a day’s work than work! IT is a high risk discipline where the blame can quickly fall to the CIO, even when it should be elsewhere. Because of this, CIOs who achieve longevity in their positions are adept at “sensing” when projects (and politics) begin to go wrong. They take immediate, corrective action to get things back on course.

About

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

2 comments
porrastony
porrastony

From a New Fan. I intend to share this story, as well as some of your other writings, with friends and colleagues. Thanks for this article, Mr. Tony Porras.

MarkKyte
MarkKyte

Great tips... Its a challenge to find people climbing the IT corporate ladder with many of those skills, especially great presentation skills. It was one of the reasons I established the http://www.publicspeakingskillsuniversity.com and made a FREE public speaking course available.