by Charlotte Trueman, Cristina Lago

5 qualities that make a good CIO

Jan 08, 2019
IT LeadershipIT Skills

You have the job: you are the CIO. But which skills do you need to excel at it?

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Credit: Thinkstock

Being a successful CIO is about much more than simply getting the job done. It’s about managing your team properly, implementing and taking responsibility for an organisation-wide IT strategy and driving meaningful business growth, to name but a few tasks now under the remit of the Chief Information Officer.

While some skills are essential for job success as a CIO, as the role continues to evolve, so do some of the qualities needed to ensure longevity in the role.

The modern CIO must now take on a more strategic business role than that of their technologically-driven predecessors, meaning the characteristics traditionally favoured in a CIO haven’t necessarily remained the same.

While there are some essential technical and managerial skills that you must possess in order to get the job, there are a number of other qualities that will elevate you from a good CIO to a great CIO.

These characteristics, if properly honed, are likely to foster both respect and admiration amongst colleagues, stakeholders and peers.

And although there is no limit to the skills that a CIO can possess, below we have listed the “five golden qualities” that we believe you should master if you want to achieve professional success in your field.


There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein which says, “the leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity… out of discord, harmony… and out of difficulty, opportunity”.

You are probably thinking that this sentence belongs to a motivational poster rather than a CIO feature on leadership skills.

However, if you examine it closer, the three key concepts in the Nobel Prize’s piece of wisdom – simplicity, harmony and opportunity – couldn’t be more relevant for any manager who wishes to excel in their role.

Good leaders are defined and judged by their results, not their attributes. Sometimes we place too much weight in being overly charismatic and outspoken but when less than half of global professionals trust their bosses, it might be time to invest in core values that will produce positive results for your organisation and staff.

And yet, developing an emphatic and trustworthy management style is not an easy endeavour and you will need all resources at hand, as well as sincere commitment, to become a thriving leader.

Cushman & Wakefield – a global commercial real estate firm – CIO, Kelly Olsen, explained in an interview with sister title CIO UK how she has developed her management and leadership skills through a variety of exercises.

“I have taken part in some external activities to develop my skills in this area and have in the past used a mentor,” she said. “I also read a lot and I am a fan of authentic leadership styles. In Spring 2017 I took part in a woman only leadership forum for the first time; this is about developing oneself as a better leader.”

Some go even further an advocate for what is called the ‘transformational leadership’ model.

Far from being something new, the concept of transformational leadership was coined in 1973 by American sociologist James V Downtown.

In this model leaders encourage, inspire and motivate employees to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of their organisation.

But don’t despair if you still haven’t got there. After all, great leaders start off as great followers.

Business drive

Business drive is an essential quality for CIOs to guarantee the continued success and growth of their enterprise.

It means that you need to always keep a curious eye on trends, developments, new models and ideas.

CIOs today are expected to be business leaders, not just the IT-focused professional. You need to come with visionary plans and goals that can make your organisation thrive.

While remaining focused on technology is still a necessity of the job, CIOs are now being challenged to use IT strategies and solutions to drive business innovation and transformation.

Strategic business is now an essential part of the CIO role and in order to be successful at it you need to embrace it without hesitation.

Toyota CIO and VP Albert Ma told CIO UK that he has seen IT become much more of “the business” in driving success within his organisation.

“We have seen a shift from back-office activities like process improvement and optimised efficiencies, to more customer-facing, revenue-generating capabilities,” he said. “Our executives really understand this and we’re working together to see how we can drive business outcomes through the use of IT.”

IT has become influential and proactive in the workplace due to smart CIOs presenting a business plan of how tech can help organisations drive against their competitors. In recent years, skills of leadership and networking alongside CEOs have become more important.

Being effective when presenting to the boardroom can give talented CIOs a push towards joining the C-Suite.

Willingness to learn

Being a CIO can be stressful.

After the CEO, they probably have more responsibilities than anyone else in an organisation; taking charge of the company-wide technology strategy whilst simultaneously driving business change and delivering growth.

Unsurprisingly then, things don’t always run as smoothly as one might hope.

Much like their job, a successful CIO is one that is willing to evolve alongside the role. The tech landscape is forever changing and as a Chief Information Officer, you need to be able to keep up-to-date of these emerging technologies.

There’s always going to be another IT challenge around the corner however, failure to keep pace will mean you won’t be prepared to manage the risk and could leave your organisation vulnerable.

A willingness to keep growing and learning is a must for any successful leader. There’s never any shame in admitting professional weaknesses, it’s what you do to overcome them that separates the good from the great.

Speak to colleagues who you feel do possess skills you lack and ask for help and advice. Take a course, read a book, attend a seminar, whatever works best for you. Continued professional development is vital in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world.

Communication skills

There are probably not many jobs today that don’t require good communication skills. A CIO, however, needs to be able to master them.

Failing to listen, acknowledge and respect colleagues can have catastrophic consequences in your position.

Playing the blame game, it’s not only counterproductive, it could damage your reputation and trustworthiness among your team.

Being able to communicate the change you want to see is essential to make stakeholders realise that is worth investing in. Listening is an underrated skill which once achieved can bring you endless benefits.

“A CIO’s ability to forge new connections is vital to solving problems in a quickly moving technology-enabled workplace,” says Peter Bendor-Samuel, CIO and contributor to

“And the communication skills a CIO demonstrates help the IT team understand the value of thinking in a more connected way with the business. This is crucial because business stakeholders — who have the funding purse these days — are tired of IT telling them what technologies to use.”

“Instead of IT telling them up front which technologies will meet their needs, they prefer that the IT team listen to them about the technology that they believe will support their needs and deliver value”, Bendor-Samuel adds.

Although you might be an IT expert with a vast amount of technical and expert knowledge, your customers or board members might not.

At school, our best teachers were those who were able to explain to us the most difficult concept in the simplest terms.

In the UK, National Health Service (NHS) Blood and Transplant Chief Digital Officer Aaron Powell experiments with language to improve communication with his team.

He worked closely with the least technical board member at the organisation, an eminent haematologist who struggled with IT, and framed their new strategy together so she could explain it to the board.

“That’s what enables us to move forward,” he says. “When the last technical people can actually understand it.”

Technologically adept

When it comes to the Chief Information Officer, it’s always been an unwritten rule that whoever holds the mantle will be tech savvy.

However, as the role of the CIO has evolved, it’s no longer a job reserved for just those who have a professional background in IT.

Today, it’s not unheard of for a team of tech professionals to be led by someone that isn’t technically inclined; the need for a CIO to be business savvy has become increasingly important in recent years.

Furthermore, in larger organisations, the modern C-Suite team now often contains a Chief Technology Officer or a Chief Data Officer whose technology scope is more defined than that of the CIO.

However, a CIO that is technologically adept is one that is always going to stand out from the crowd; using IT strategies and solutions to drive business innovation and transformation.

In Asia where the role of the CIO is somewhat narrower, 62% of CIOs have a degree in Information Technology, Computer Science or a related field. Furthermore, 78% of CIOs from the region report that they have only ever worked in IT.

Straddling the line between business and technology isn’t without its challenges but, the CIO who can embrace both responsibilities and bring a sense of balance to the role is one who will create value within the company and become one of the key driving forces behind business success.