The Great CIO Juggling Act

A recent analysis of online job listings suggests that organizations expect their chief information officer to be able to deftly handle a million things. Perhaps employers should be looking for a master delegator rather than master juggler.

Reading job listings for tech-related leadership jobs can often give one a sense of whiplash. Why’s that? Simply put, they seem to be looking for someone who can do a little bit of everything.

The role is growing in importance, something underlined by an executive order President Trump made this month to give C-level tech executives broad authority at federal agencies. A good chief information officer (CIO) or chief technical officer (CTO) is hard to find, so even the federal government wants a leg up.

But the CIO position is a complicated role to fill. Recently, the job site Indeed aggregated its CIO job listings over a one-year period and found these tended to be the most in-demand skills and characteristics for the position:

  1. Project management
  2. Agile
  3. Enterprise software development
  4. Budgeting
  5. Recruiting
  6. Business intelligence (BI)
  7. SAP
  8. VMware
  9. Data warehouse
  10. SharePoint

It’s an interesting list, right? It seems to speak to a leader who’s a master multitasker. It implies that employers not only want CIOs to lead; they push them to have deep knowledge of specific pieces of software, to know about specific management approaches that can drive both their department and the organization as a whole, and to have a handle on things like recruiting.

There are a ton of hard and soft skills in that concoction, and together, they speak to a uniquely qualified kind of leader. For associations in particular, some of the specifics are likely to not exactly be the same. Maybe netFORUM or Aptify show up in the listing instead of SharePoint. And maybe there’s a harder lean on web infrastructure when your goal is communicating with membership. But 10 to 1, if you’ve written a job listing for a senior IT role, it probably includes most of these buzzwords.

Paul Wolfe, Indeed’s senior vice president and head of global human resources, told TechTarget recently that the mix reflected the importance of the role.

“More businesses are embracing digital,” Wolfe said. “As a result, CIOs have been tasked with developing the strategies and initiatives needed to successfully implement the digital transformation within their organizations. Given that responsibility, it comes as no surprise that we are seeing a mixture of leadership, business, and technology skills being reflected in the job postings for the role on Indeed.”

Of course, these job listings, in aggregate, have two problems: They ask for too much, and not enough. They seem to seek CIOs who can do everything rather than encouraging those leaders to be great delegators, and they appear to attend too little to shifting trends in technology. If you’re asking about an exec’s knowledge of SharePoint, your organization is perhaps not thinking in terms of whether SharePoint is serving your needs. Meanwhile, maybe blockchain isn’t yet among the top 10 priorities for hiring organizations (though some listings bring it up), but certainly things like mobile technology and cloud-based software should be, right?

In a recent interview with CIO Dive, Zoom Chief Information Officer Harry Moseley put the role of the CIO into slightly more realistic terms. “I ultimately believe at the end of the day that a CIO is really the CEO of a technology company,” he said.

That’s a great way of framing the issue that CIOs and CTOs face—because we certainly don’t ask our CEOs to be experts at every single thing that an organization does, just that they be both aware of it and able to manage it adeptly.

This is the point that CIO’s Sharon Florentine made when analyzing the Indeed findings. She noted that the CIO role is less about having the skill set and more about knowing what’s needed to keep the trains running. Mark Weatherbee, who serves as vice president of IT for Goodwill Industries Northern New England, told Florentine that it comes down to the people the CIO hires.

“It’s more about knowing how to hire the right talent to work with those technologies,” Weatherbee told the magazine. “When a CIO takes a new job, they inherit many enterprise systems—SAP, Oracle, UltiPro—and they need to hire the right, skilled people to manage those systems.”

And because of the cloud’s ability to streamline many tasks in the CIO’s wheelhouse, so much of this role has shifted from simply keeping all hands on deck all the time. The technology is at a point where it can be, for example, handed off to a vendor, who can do the hard work of managing it—while the CIO focuses on managing the relationship.

To put this all another way, the modern CIO needs a mix of hard skills and soft skills, but because of the size of the ask, the soft skills matter more than ever—and that’s what you should hire for.

Your IT executive can only juggle so much. Let them hand off the more complicated parts.

(MariaVu/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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