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Tomorrow's CIO should master 4 skills today


Guest post by Kristin Burnham

The CIO has evolved: Gone are the days when tech execs were tasked solely with keeping the lights on and managing technology assets. Today, organizations expect CIO leadership to balance technology expertise with business acumen—an increasingly crucial combination of skills.


"More and more organizations are seeing the CIO role evolve from strictly managing technology to being very involved in strategic business decisions," says John Reed, senior executive director at IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. "Down the road, we'll see more expectations from organizations that CIOs have key roles in business decisions, strategic initiatives, and documented success stories."

CIOs, however, have expressed concerns that they don't have the skills necessary for their changing role. According to Deloitte's 2015 Global CIO Survey, just 9 percent of CIOs said they have all the skills they need to succeed. Three skills with the largest gaps included the ability to influence internal stakeholders, talent management, and technology vision and leadership, according to the report. "These gaps point to a general proficiency in 'managerial' skills, and a relative deficiency in 'leadership' skills for CIOs," the report said.

To prepare for and succeed in the evolving CIO role—and to remain relevant in the future—tech execs need to master four key skills over the next five years, experts say. Here's where to start.

1. Sharpen your business acumen

CIOs need to think outside the IT silo and gain a better understanding of how other departments function, the departments' roles, and how they all work together. "Organizations want to know that you understand holistically how the pieces fit," Reed says.

This starts with having regular conversations with your peers in other groups: marketing, public relations, accounting, and human resources, for example. Meet with them to understand their challenges, their business problems, their priorities, and how technology fits into the picture, Reed says. Start cultivating these relationships now.

2. Polish leadership skills

According to Deloitte's survey, 91 percent of CIOs acknowledged lacking at least one key leadership skill. The deficiency in those leadership skills is a problem. "It is rare to find business leaders who take big risks, have the ability to craft a long-term vision, and possess the dedication needed to manage the day-to-day operations. But that is exactly the expectation for today's CIOs," Deloitte reported. "Most importantly, CIOs need to have not only technology acumen, but also the courage and conviction to lead their organizations through change."

To improve their leadership skills, tech execs should invest more time in coaching, mentoring, and training their staff; and work to establish strong partnerships and deep engagement with C-suite leaders, employees, business peers, and external partners to wield influence as a business leader.

3. Improve your verbal and written skills

To excel in the next five years, CIOs need to take their communication skills from good to great, Reed says. This includes the ability to develop sophisticated presentations to key stakeholders with a minimum of technical jargon. "As CIOs communicate about these technologies, they need to talk less about the technology itself and more about the business solutions, impact, and value that the technology delivers," according to Deloitte.

Mike Brown, VP of global IT at ExxonMobil, told Deloitte that good communication bleeds into the CIO's leadership skills. "If you are leading a large global organization, you need to be able to be approachable," he said in the report. "If you're not an effective communicator and speaker, and you are not able to connect to people on multiple levels, you can't be a leader."

CIOs should attend corporate and external trainings to boost written and verbal communication skills, Reed adds. Another avenue: seek a mentor partnership to help you improve these skills.

4. Develop problem-solving prowess

By no means is it a new skill, Reed says, but having a strong, demonstrated track record in problem solving is increasingly important. "Organizations want you to be able to identify a business problem and a solution using technology to solve it," he says. "They want you to say, 'We've got business challenges: here's how we can create a solution, and here's the best solution to solve that problem.'" He advises that technology executives keep track of these wins and note the details on their resumes.

"In the past, it's always been a technology person who's climbed the ranks to the CIO role, but more organizations are reaching beyond the tech department to find people and groom them into the CIO role. It's a wide-open landscape," he says. "None of this should worry you, though, so long as you recognize the trends and are focused on enhancing your skills and development."

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