The Role of the CEO in IT Strategy and Implementation: One Association Leader Shares His Wisdom

The CEO’s job is not to understand everything about technology—but to build a strong culture around accountability, transparency, and continuous learning.

In 2013, Peter Sondergaard, SVP of Gartner Research, said in a presentation, “Every company is a technology company.”

Now, nearly a decade later, Sondergaard’s quote has become a mantra for the digital age, underscoring the fact that no organization—or association, for that matter—can achieve its business objectives without the power of technology.

Just ask ASIS CEO Peter J. O’Neil, a longtime leader in the association space who has served in several executive volunteer leadership positions, including CEO of AIHA, a professional society representing 10,000 occupational and environmental health and safety professionals across the globe.

“Technology is a problem-solver and business enabler, so it’s part of my responsibility to know enough about IT to be dangerous in my industry—to push on my team, poke at ideas, and make sure they’re right for the enterprise I serve,” O’Neil said.

Partner Up to Make More Informed Decisions

Investments in IT can be substantial, he said, so it’s important not to fall victim to shiny object syndrome: The tendency to focus too much attention on the new and now.

“The folks who work with me know I routinely ask what problem we are trying to solve, whether we are taking full advantage of the systems we’ve already implemented, and what happens if we do or don’t act,” O’Neil said. “Through a partnership between IT, executive leadership, and finance, we can be sure that any big-ticket IT investments are the right ones.”

Association leaders can have a firm grasp on why IT initiatives bolster their associations’ mission, vision, and business objectives without necessarily knowing the “how” in terms of technical details and implementation.

“It’s not the CEO’s job to understand everything about technology,” O’Neil said. “They must hire the right staff and empower them. But in my experience, the only way that’s worked is that we have built a solid culture around accountability, and the CEO sets that tone.”

Many organizations leverage the Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed (RACI) matrix to ensure effective communication and streamline workflows by defining project roles and responsibilities. O’Neil advises that associations take a RACI(E) approach instead, with the E representing engagement.

“In associations, there are often engaged stakeholders that sit outside in standard RACI matrix—groups that may be impacted by a project but not involved in it,” he said.

That said, associations should focus on fostering a culture of continuous learning rather than a “gotcha culture” focused on catching employees doing something wrong. O’Neil wants the teams he leads to be able to admit mistakes without being embarrassed or afraid.

Reject Fear of the Unknown

“I’ve generally never been afraid of what I don’t know because if I don’t know something, I try to find it out,” O’Neil said. “My hope is that people aren’t afraid of technology, and they’re in a culture where it’s not shameful to say, ‘I don’t understand,’ no matter what level they’ve reached in their organization.”

On the flip side, O’Neil said it is incumbent on IT teams to understand the business of their associations.

“I have run across IT folks sometimes who just want to ‘be IT,’ and my response is, ‘You can’t work here if that’s what you want, because I need you to understand just enough to be dangerous in terms of membership, certifications, and so forth,’” he said.

“I’m not asking them to be experts, but it’s a two-way street,” he continued. “I want my activity owners to understand data and IT better. But, on the other hand, I need my IT owners to understand the association management space enough to be business enablers. And I think that’s an essential point to make.”

DelCor works closely with associations and nonprofits to offer outsourced IT support, CIO services, technology assessments, and digital workplace consulting. For more information on DelCor’s digital workplace consulting services and association technology solutions, visit While you’re there, be sure to check out Reboot IT, a podcast exploring all things association and nonprofit tech!

(Handout photo)