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"Diversify your career. Do other things. Go run businesses. Move to an emerging market and run the business there."
Michel Savoie
EMEIA IT Transformation Leader, IT Advisory practice, EY

In the view of today's CIOs, sheer hard work and motivation was the number one ingredient in their rise to the top. Nearly 9 out of 10 argue that this was the key to their success.

Nevertheless, while this is likely to be an essential part of how any C-suite candidate got to where they did, the CIO role comes with an important caveat: beyond the dedication and long hours, prospective candidates need to try and ensure that this time is not simply spent on operational firefighting.

To succeed, this has to be overcome, to be able to dedicate more time to fostering the relationships they need to grow, and to participate in more strategic discussions. Those who don't manage to overcome this risk get caught in the helpdesk trap: merely the go-to person for humdrum operational issues.

Attributes CIOs strongly believe were needed to get them where they are today

(Percentage of respondents who have chosen 8, 9 or 10 on a scale from 1 = not needed at all to 10 = absolutely needed)

Mastering the juggling act

Another major skillset that emerges from this study is the need to manage complex situations — especially major IT transformation projects. About 74% of CIOs rate project and change management skills as crucial for their role.

This ability spans both day-to-day project management and the underlying politics and requires CIOs to assume responsibility for tough projects that not everyone would necessarily be bought into.

A role model CIO?

The CIOs and C-suite executives we interviewed for this report all had insights to share on what constitutes the essential ingredients of a leading CIO. These are:

  • A well-rounded skillset, with a clear balance of both technology skills and soft skills
  • Confident, with a proven ability to communicate well at an executive level
  • Strong experience of initiating and delivering change management projects
  • A clear ability to translate financial information into meaningful insights
  • Exposure to the rest of the business, with experience elsewhere in the organization; ideally also wider experience of the overall industry
  • Strong vendor management skills, with good contractual and negotiating skills
  • Wide experience of different cultures and working environments and conversant in more than one language
  • A solid appreciation of wider talent management issues, including succession planning, skills and talent development and diversity

CIOs, seize the initiative

Topping the list of things that CIOs ought to do to gain promotion is to network and build relationships (72%).

Naturally, this assumes that the operational basics are all taken care of. Until CIOs can move out of fire-fighting mode on the operational front, there is little prospect of the door opening to more strategic work.

Sticking one's hand up for the big projects – and then delivering them – holds the biggest potential for gaining the most reward and recognition, but also the biggest risks.

The question for CIOs is whether they've got the courage to stand up and take on the challenge.

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