The five essential ingredients for being a great CIO - how many do you have?

The qualities shared by real IT leaders...

CIOs must get out and spend time with the consumer and avoid getting stuck in a back-office black hole

CIOs must get out and spend time with the consumer and avoid getting stuck in a back-office black holePhoto: Shutterstock

It's tough to take a place at the executive top table, so knowing which features will make you stand out from your peers as an IT leader is essential. Mark Samuels reports.

What makes a great CIO? And how can such leaders encourage the best perception of IT across the business, as well as foster the right type of behaviour among the technology team? spoke to five IT leaders with five different perspectives.

1. Put commercial issues first and IT second

Success is not defined by how you interact with the business but how you become part of it, according to Steve Jeffree, operations director and group CIO at the Law Society.

"The future for the CIO who acts in a standalone manner is very limited," he says, referring to his own additional annexation of the operations director role at the Law Society in March 2009.

Not that he believes all peers take a similarly business-focused view, however. "There's a lot of debate about how we, as CIOs, should understand the business and there is a sense that IT, the leadership role, should be set apart from other executive roles. It's all very defensive. I can influence the organisation much more as an operations director than I ever could as a CIO," he says.

For other CIOs looking to get closer to the business, Jeffree has clear advice: "Be brave and be able to demonstrate that you can participate in business decision-making. Understand your executive colleagues, their functions and concentrate on showing that you have a commercial focus first and an IT focus second," he says.

2. Spend time with the consumer

Mark Settle, CIO at BMC Software, says a successful CIO has to have the right relationships with colleagues in order to engage with the business as it grows.

"Every organisation is different in terms of personalities and the executive team, and the mix between the demand for innovation and the requirements for survival. The CIO has to be pretty flexible," says Settle, who also recognises that effective business partnerships are not just built on an understanding of the requirements of senior peers.

Settle believes a lot of IT organisations get trapped in a...