The role of the CIO is a tough one, and success doesn't come easily. For whatever reasons, the average CIO lasts only a few years in post.
Many other C-level managers would argue that their functional areas are also hard to handle, but the role of the CIO has unique characteristics which make it more challenging than most:
As a CIO you need to master a wide array of technical topics, and you need to maintain this level of competence in a rapidly changing IT environment.
But more importantly, as a CIO you also need to employ softer skills from other disciplines, including organisational development and the management of change and innovation.
- You must excel in communication too; of course, this isn't a skill that's specific to technology, but the complexity of modern technologies demands a particularly strong level of verbal and written skills.
- You must be able to communicate and dissect complex technical issues in an easily-understood way
- You must communicate with an audience who are not particular willing to listen, since they are pre-conditioned by poor communication from IT staff in the past.
- It's also critical that you engage with business leaders in their language. In practice, that usually requires a strong knowledge of accounting concepts such as opex, capex and cashflow.
- You need superb networking capabilities. Because IT is generally seen as a support function, there is only limited opportunity for you to sit on the board, but that doesn't mean you can't contribute to strategic thinking, or exert no influence. Actually, the opposite is true. Since CIOs are usually not part of the inner management circle, you have to work even harder to understand your multiple stakeholders, and you must use your networking skills shrewdly in order to influence decisions.
All businesses are hotbeds of political intrigue, and a CIO who ignores the politics will eventually become a victim of them. So, communication and engagement skills are key.
The IT leadership journey
With all these challenges, it's a big step up from IT manager to CIO and that raises the question of whether the average IT manager a good candidate for the CIO role.
IT professionals are stereotyped as conscientious and detail-minded, often mastering a narrow area of expertise during the early stages of their careers, and these attributes are often displayed by more introverted and less sociable people than the average.
By contrast, the CIO role involves working much more closely and more frequently with others.
At the same time, an IT manager's role in the IT department is often shielded from the business, and this limited exposure can mean that, when the IT manager aspires to the CIO role, he or she may be seen as lacking in business acumen.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.