chief information security officer

A Chief Information Security Officer establishes the security strategy and ensures that the data assets are protected. They also oversee the operational and aspects of managing and protecting the organisation’s data. Most of CISO’s attention is towards developing an organisation’s information security policies along with a team of fellow executives. When it comes to managing teams, they manage computer analysts and information security specialists who work towards identifying and eliminating security threats. As per Payscale, the median salary of a chief information security officer exceeds $160,000 annually.

A CISO’s Role in an Organisation

Being at a strategically important level in an organisation, a chief information security officer essentially creates a strategy that resonates with the ever-increasing regulatory complexity. This involves outlining policies, security architecture, systems, and processes that keep cyber-threats under check and secure the data. 

Compliance and understanding risk management are the key roles of a CISO’s profile. They anticipate how the threat landscape is shaping up and the kind of cyber threats that could be faced by their organisation. A CISO will take a key role in identifying vulnerabilities and incident response in case of a data breach. 

What makes a good CISO

Gartner measures the effectiveness of CISOs by their ability to execute outcomes under the four given categories, i.e.:

  • Functional Leadership
  • Information Security Service Delivery 
  • Scaled Governance
  • Enterprise Responsiveness

When it comes to judging a chief information security officer by their performance, Gartner differentiates between the top-performing and bottom-performing CISOs based on the behaviours that they exhibit.


Top-performing CISOs demonstrate a high level of proactiveness while:

  • Staying abreast of evolving cyber-threats
  • Communicating emerging risks among teams and stakeholders
  • Having a formal succession plan ready

Meeting with Non-IT stakeholders 

Top-performing stakeholders meet with non-IT stakeholders to understand and address their concerns. These non-IT stakeholders include business unit leaders, CEOs, marketing heads, and sales heads. CISOs have forever had fruitful relationships with IT executives but the digital transformation in most of the industries have further democratised security decision making.

The idea here is to keep a close tab on the evolving risks across enterprise departments and develop relationships with the owners of those risk, usually the senior business leaders outside IT departments. 

Managing workplace stressors

Most of the top-performing chief information security officers manage security alerts well and do not feel overwhelmed or overburdened by the same. Also, they manage stakeholders expectations well, both realistic and unrealistic. 

The Key Skills of a Chief Information Security Officer

  • An inspirational leadership style
  • Collaborative and result-oriented approach
  • Strong communication skills modified as per the audience
  • Strong sense of urgency 
  • Multi-tasking
  • Strong knowledge in technology and security domains
  • Strong business acumen
  • Risk management instinct

Steps and Career Graph to Become a CISO

The field of information security is ever-evolving to challenge existing and emerging threats. This requires CISOs and other professionals to maintain and update their skills and knowledge regularly. Therefore, just like any career journey, continual learning and training is an integral part of a CISOs journey.

Prospective CISOs pursue their career goals over a period of time to ultimately bag themselves this title and position. It takes continuous learning and career advancement by developing relevant skills for each role in the information security hierarchy.

To start the journey to become a chief information security officer, begin with an undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology, or other related disciplines. With these degrees, you will become an entry-level computer, system, or network analyst and specialist where you detect and prevent cyber-threats. With enough valuable experience, you can advance to managerial roles. 

At mid-level management roles, you would mostly work as computer security professionals (security consultants, auditors, or engineers). Here you would need to develop better technical and interpersonal skills to be able to manage teams and people better. By now, you would need to start understanding the technical expertise and leadership skills needed to reach the CISO position. 

Next step would be to try and get into positions such as security architect, IT project manager, or security director. When in such positions you would experience blending the leadership and managerial skills with technical knowledge. You might also want to take up masters degrees or certifications in specific domains of information security to supplement and advance individual competencies. Some of the useful professional certifications to become a CISO would be in system security, ethical hacking, and computer security incident management among others. 

The future of CISO

The importance and criticality of data security are far from diminishing in the future. Most of the CISOs today believe that to attract customers in the future, the management and security of consumer data will become as important as product and service quality is today. 

The future of a CISO will see them interacting much more with the rest of the business to maintain high levels of data security. It will be an outward-looking role that will also involve considering aspects like ethics, consumer trust, and economic security. To learn more such concepts, join Stanford’s Cyber Security course and upskill today!



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