Five Skills You MUST Have If You Want to Be a CIO

Before reaching the big office, most CIOs have worked in the trenches for at least 10 years. They need ample business knowledge and a host of intangible skills to navigate the political landscape and align technology with their organization’s goals, so that experience is invaluable. And since it’s never too early to start gathering your experience (or your resume), here’s five ways to acquire the skills and competencies you’ll need to become the boss of IT.

Major Competency: Business Acumen

Sub-skills: Functional knowledge and terminology, financial analysis, P&L and budget management

Learn the role of each business function and its lingo by befriending employees from various departments. Since the CIO has to converse with the CFO, prepare by viewing online tutorials that teach you how to read P&L statements. Practice analyzing the information until you decipher the critical business levers, advises Dr. Richard Routh, director of the Institute for CIO Excellence, an executive training firm based in North Carolina.

“Identify critical business levers by understanding how money flows in and out of the company,” advices Routh. “Because CIOs must understand how applying even a little bit of pressure on a critical lever via technology, can dramatically increase output.”

Major Competency: Human Capital Management

Sub-skills: Talent evaluation, development, goal setting and performance management

Volunteer to serve on a selection committee or help HR screen candidates to acquire evaluation experience, suggests Dr. Jim Anderson, president of Blue Elephant Consulting, a Florida-based firm specializing in communication skills for IT professionals. Also offer to train and mentor new hires or interns to hone your goal setting and coaching skills. Then, once they’re successful you can take credit for their development.

Major Competency: Strategic Value Creation

Sub-skills: Revenue generation, strategic analysis, critical thinking, innovation, problem-solving and ROI justification

Study the Gartner Hype Cycle and evaluate emerging technology to build up your skills in strategic analysis and visionary and critical thinking. Spend time with customers and the marketing staff to immerse yourself in their problems until you start to recognize revenue-generating opportunities. Then, suggest solutions to bolster the top line by updating existing software, developing mobile apps, games or other incentives that create new customer buying habits or build loyalty.

Practice dollarizing your ideas before presenting them to your boss, says Routh, “Because CIOs must build consensus for major expenditures and projects by assessing their tangible and intangible benefits and securing executive buy-in.”

Major Competency: Leadership

Sub-skills: Consensus building, storytelling, communications and modeling

Leadership is the ability to influence others through your behavior and actions. Start by being a top performer and role model while gradually increasing your responsibilities. Next, bolster your communications skills by making presentations, suggests Anderson, because leaders speak with conviction and use stories to get others to embrace their ideas. Finally, become a recognized leader by representing IT on cross-functional teams or presenting project updates to company executives.

Major Competency: Political Savvy

Sub-skills: Networking, self-promotion, negotiating and empathy

The only way to become politically adept is by observing savvy professionals and emulating their behaviors. So seek mentors outside of IT. Use veterans as sounding boards when you encounter sticky situations, which will help build your network and promote your accomplishments. Finally, interacting with others will give you empathy, a must-have skill for aspiring CIOs.

“Political savvy comes from understanding other people’s perspectives and what the world is like outside IT,” says Routh. “You have to rub elbows with other business leaders to know what they’re all about.”

— Leslie Stevens