by Maryfran Johnson

CIOs Getting Better at People Skills

Jan 02, 20133 mins

Our annual checkup on the state of the CIO shows improvement in the leadership skills required to achieve great things for business peers and external customers, says Maryfran Johnson

We start every year at this magazine by taking the pulse of this profession. Our State of the CIO research surveys 500+ CIOs and IT leaders on everything about their jobs, including budgets, business priorities, salaries, job tenure and levels of influence within the C-suite.

For 12 years now, we’ve been tracking (and cheering on) the arduous but rewarding journey so many of you have made in elevating IT from cost center to business enabler to strategic partner.

In last year’s State of the CIO research, for example, we found your strategic influence was improving (a bit) but was still disconnected from competitive business issues. In 2011, with the recession abating, your attention was turned to innovation, staff productivity and business-process efficiency.

It takes a lot of heart to be a great CIO–and a lot of leadership skills to make change happen as relentlessly as it does in a world gone digital. Technology is easy, CIOs will tell you, but people are hard.

Which is why you might be surprised to learn that this year’s research shows that CIOs have made a welcome breakthrough in the last place you’d expect: the people factor. The majority of the 563 IT leaders we surveyed are making a concerted effort to market IT value and get their staffers out there, face-to-face with their business peers.

CIOs are elevating their teams’ relationship with business people “by delegating more, developing leadership and cross-functional skills among their IT staff, and turning their attention to customers,” writes Senior Editor Kim S. Nash in our cover story (“More CIOs Are Gaining Stature As Business Strategists”).

At WD-40 Company, VP of IT Bob Hoagland started sending his people to other departments’ meetings, which was a little weird for everyone at first. (Why is that IT guy hanging around?) In one of the meetings, an applications manager heard a marketing colleague talking about the agony of juggling data from 175 spreadsheets. The IT staffer whipped up a Web-based application that solved her problem. (Thus delivering the Holy Grail of Marketing: Something you never knew you always wanted.)

“The more people are involved with each other, the more ownership they will take for building relationships,” Hoagland wisely observes.

Our story details many other smart moves CIOs are making to raise IT’s status as a business partner and a friendly source of innovative ideas. We’d love to hear what you’re doing at your company, too. What people factors will you work on in 2013?