Female chief information officer examines computer servers while referencing a tablet computer.

The chief information officer (CIO) is the most senior technology executive in an organization. Tasked with overseeing information and technology strategies for the company, the CIO takes on a leadership role alongside other C-level executives. Often, the CIO reports to the chief executive officer or, in some cases, the chief financial officer.

CIOs exist in government, charities, nonprofit organizations, and across all types of businesses. Though the specific responsibilities and skills required for these positions can vary depending on the company, there are important characteristics that are common to this position regardless of the organization.

Job Responsibilities

CIOs are more concerned with strategy and leadership than IT directors or other computer and IT managers. The main responsibility of a CIO is to assess and carry out the major technological goals of the company.

In larger organizations, IT directors and managers often report to CIOs, enabling executives to focus on long-term or big-picture issues. Some CIOs may even focus solely on a company’s business aspects, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), removing them from playing a role in technological strategies and decision. That is more common when a CIO and chief technology officer are both present at the same company.

In smaller organizations, it is more common for CIOs to handle the day-to-day activities of the IT department. Executives may have direct contact with IT professionals, oversee installations and maintenance of computer hardware of software, determine personnel needs, and negotiate contracts with vendors.

Important Skills

Aspiring CIOs need to have a wide range of skills to excel as top-level executives and help companies meet complex, evolving technological demands. Additionally, these leaders must build relationships with other executives and managers while responding to pressure.

“The average person who joins an IT department certainly does not have the makeup to be a CIO, just as the average person in finance does not have the makeup to be a CFO.”

-Peter High, president of Metis Strategy, a business and IT strategy firm

InformationWeek conducted an interview with Peter High, who has authored books on IT and serves as the president of consulting firm Metis Strategy. He shared six must-have skills for prospective CIOs.

  1. Business Acumen: Technical skills are simply the base requirement for CIOs. Business acumen and expertise are also required. They’re what separate the leaders from the rest of the pack. An MBA and real-world business experience can help aspiring CIOs understand how technology impacts a company’s bottom line.
  1. Flexible Tech Skills: “There’s no one technical skill that’s necessary to become a CIO,” High said. “Besides, if I were to attempt to define it today, in two or three years, it would probably no longer be relevant.”
  1. Relationship-building Prowess: Even though project management skills are needed in IT, higher-level managers must also be able to build relationships. This sentiment was reflected in a poll of senior and mid-level IT executives, which found CIOs with the highest salaries made building relationships with top executives more of a priority than managing IT projects.
  1. Personality Fit: Developing the right relationships requires some qualities common to extroverts and a sense of drive. 
  1. Communication: A critical skill is being able to translate high-tech concepts into business principles that HR managers and others can understand. It’s more difficult than it may sound.
  2. A Taste of Different Departments: After developing a strong foundation of tech skills and business acumen, the final step is becoming more aware of an organization’s different departments. The CIO serves as the glue between HR, finance and other departments, due to the central role that technology plays in business.

Salary Expectations and Career Outlook

The median annual wage for computer and information systems managers is $139,220, according to the BLS. The highest 10 percent earn more than $208,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $83,860.

CIOs are grouped together with all computer and information systems managers. Because CIOs represent the most senior level of this occupational group, official salary expectations are toward the upper end of the scale. According to Robert Half’s Salary Guide for Technology Professionals, CIO salaries range from $170,500 to $287,000. Cash bonuses and equity awards can increase overall pay packages.

Employment of computer and information systems managers is projected to grow 12 percent by 2026, according to the BLS, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Part of this demand stems from an increased interest by firms to transition their operations to digital platforms. More managers and executives are needed to help implement these goals. Another aspect is the need to enhance cybersecurity, which is a considerable trend for all businesses. Cyberattacks targeting businesses nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, but the need for security is especially prominent in industries like retail, which store extensive financial information of consumers.

The future of the CIO role is bright, according to ZDNet. “Enterprises continue to be bombarded by more technology than ever before. In an age of technological uncertainty, CIOs provide a degree of IT leadership certainty.”

How to Become a Chief Information Officer

Many CIO positions require a graduate degree. The BLS extends this educational expectation to most computer and information systems managers. CIOs are at the highest end of the occupational spectrum. Obtaining an MBA is common in this field.

Work experience is also vital. C-level professionals in this industry may need more than 15 years of experience in IT. Smaller or newer companies may require less experience than larger or more established ones.

The right level of education and experience can help you pursue the wide range of skills needed to become a CIO. Husson University’s online MBA, with a concentration in data analytics, will help you learn how to collect, organize, and analyze information in order to improve organizational performance. In this fully online program, you’ll study essential professional materials and processes including data exploration and visualization, advanced computer programming, innovative methods of database design, and more. Husson is an ideal choice if you’re looking to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become a CIO.