CIOs respond to our question: What is the single most important competency critical to the CIO role?


For the last few months, I have been on a hunt for the Top Ten Competencies of the Modern CIO. I am trying to stay away from attributes like “communication” and “leadership” because we've been talking about those skills for a while, and they apply to any executive role, not just the CIO.

What about “Using Technology to Challenge the Fundamentals of Your Business” and “Telling a Compelling Story about IT”?  What about “Building Strategic Alliances” and “Developing Blended Executives”?

I did not relish the idea of sitting here in my office in snowy Boston brainstorming the rest of the list by myself, so last week in The Heller Report, I turned to you, our thoughtful and generous readers, and asked, What is the single most important (nuanced) competency that you believe is critical to the CIO role?

As always, we received large and varied stream of responses. Here they are, as promised! Feel free to add yours using the Comments section below.

Q: What is the single most important (nuanced) competency that you believe is critical to the CIO role?

Something needs to be said for Courage. This is something I try to teach my direct reports. I tell them it is important, I want to see them demonstrate it, and I demonstrate it on their behalf when needed. It is willingness to burn some political capital, even when the political capital bucket is low, for something you know is right, but may not be able to convince others is right.  


Stand and Deliver: be willing to take a stand, to stand up and stand out, when corporate politics or practices would gut our ability to deliver on strategic objectives of the corporation.  

Be a Weather Reporter: a) Leverage the right charts for the right story, b) pull data from all verticals and the outside world to provide advisories, understand patterns and threats  c) Be the one person that everyone should pay attention to because it will affect them in some way.

The single most important competency for the modern CIO is that of Caring. And what I mean is, caring to invest of oneself in the lives and success of others.

The Modern CIO needs to drive professional development and growth within the entire enterprise – not just within his/her own department.

A sense of calm in the eye of the storm. Our current world is filled with disruptive forces, many of which are from external parties seeking to harm our organizations, but many of which are within our walls. Each day we come across people we work with who have nefarious intentions. As threats to our business unfold, the technology leader must be level-headed. Cool as a cucumber under pressure.

The ability to envision how IT can be used to propel the business forward, and successfully executing that vision.  That is, "see, sell, execute" as a combined key competency.

Agility is something we as CIOs need to develop in today’s ultra agile world. We have to be agile in thinking, action and adoption.


Enable the business to succeed through the use of technology and our innovative application of selective technologies.

Think strategically about the enterprise's products, customers, products, markets and competition, and understand how to translate strategic thinking into execution.

The ability to influence.

Tech chops - an actual content or experience-based understanding of the tech stack.

Be a VUCA Master. VUCA stands for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. VUCA Master's job to convert these to Vision, Understanding, Clarity, Agility.

Successful CIOs have to have a basic knowledge of all facets of the IT sphere, and in depth knowledge of the business, and how IT can enable each critical business function.

Recruiting, retention, and development of IT capabilities (people) up and down the organization from direct reports (VP's of IT) down to new joiners.

Continual development, articulation, and refinement of the IT Strategy and Enterprise Architecture - set it, communicate, live it and breathe it.

Simplicity: information technology is very complex and IT professionals thrive in its complexity. However, as an IT leader, it is critical that technology meets the goals and needs of the business through systems that are simple and easy to manage, maintain and explain.

The ability to discuss IT in business terms, or talk the language of the business.

Orchestrating the Enterprise Technology Blueprint and enabling Self Service capabilities.

The creativity to solve problems and the ability to adapt fast to a changing business environment.

Turning Data into Commercially-Focused Insights: This goes beyond gathering data and turning it into information, extracting meaning and insights. It is about asking how these insights can be used to drive the business forward in terms of growth and profitability, improve the customer experience and branch into new products and services.

Connecting the bits (dots) is a critical skill for today's CIO. The bits are more than bytes, the bits include:

the capacity of the staff and organization for change
the resources available (financial or staff)
the industry we serve
the long term effect on short term decisions
the political situation

The ability to see the long term direction of the business and marshal the power of technology to help the organization get there.

The ability to get the top P&L leaders supporting the big IT initiatives. I have seen failure when, although the CEO is championing the change, it eventually fails because the line-of-business leaders don't actively support it. I have seen success when the CIO focuses on working with the P&L leaders as the main job.

Leadership and vision so that your CEO trusts your judgement and decisions.

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