14 Skills of Successful Association IT Leaders

I get questions like these all the time: What should I expect from my CIO and IT leadership team?” or “What makes association CIO and IT leaders successful?”

In a digital world where technology is the backbone of business continuity, it’s no wonder association CEOs and executive directors want to know what makes leading technology and digital business advisors so successful.

Chief Information Officer (CIOs) and senior information technology (IT) leaders are the connecting rods between business stakeholders and IT functions. Today they sit at the executive table as essential business-IT advisors and “translators”. These senior technology executives are integral strategic players driving business vision and IT strategy with amazing fluency.

So what’s the ideal profile of a top tech leader? Who can add real value to your organization?

Here are some thoughts from several decades of experience building and operating ‘World Class’ IT operations in partnership with CXOs across multiple industries.

People, Process & Tech Management

CIOs and IT "chiefs-in-charge" understand the need for harmony between people, processes, and technology. The journey towards organizational transformation and continuous improvement depends on the alignment and balance of “the big 3” – people management, process improvement, and technology management.

The People, Process, and Technology framework make up three distinct yet interdependent categories within a comprehensive operational strategy.

Really, all of the IT leadership qualities below fall into one or more of these categories. But for the sake of simplicity, we put them at the top of the list of “skills” characterizing successful association CIOs and IT directors.

Association IT executive skills for people, process, and tech management

Skill #1 - People Management

Without the right talent, you won't make it, especially considering the sky-high attrition rate in IT. That's why you need badass tech leaders and decision-makers with a nice blend of social, communication, and business skills beyond the techie stuff.

CIOs and other senior tech gurus are in charge of recruiting, hiring, motivating, developing, re-training and retaining talent. They should also "benchmark" people with complementary skillsets within their own team and across the organization.

A good professional stature is also necessary to interact on a peer-to-peer level with their C-Suite colleagues. Put simply, senior IT execs and business advisors need superstar interpersonal and communication skills.

Skill #2 - Process Management

Distinguished IT directors and CIOs are capable of building out world-class IT processes that enable the efficient execution of work. These tech executives are champions of the systematic digital transformation journey, taking a tangible and pragmatic approach to continuous business efficiency improvement.

Related: A through Z of SOPs - How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

Process management initiatives include things like: automating manual tasks and streamlining workflow through digitization; removing bottlenecks through effective governance; promoting clear, comprehensive, and proactive communication; and crystallizing organizational transparency.

efficient IT processes with great IT leadership and CIO execs

Skill #3 - Technology Management

High-performing association IT leaders weaponize the power of technology for value creation. Your CIO and IT director should have a solid understanding of the latest technologies and how to introduce new innovations to your organizational ecosystem to unleash a digitally-enabled future.

This includes identifying new internal and external technology investments, determining the best method of procurement (internal development, startup acquisition, or third party), and building proof-points for ROI.

The 'Soft' Skills of Association IT Leaders

Here are some of the "soft" skills of executive IT gurus that can propel your organization’s success:

  • Change management and translation
  • Influencing and relationship-building
  • Communication and documentation
  • Business acumen
  • Strategic thinking
  • Personal leadership qualities like candor, vision, teamwork, etc.
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Intellect
  • Style flexibility
  • Problem-solving & decision-making expertise

Most of these boss-level leadership skills are learned over time through trial and error – others must be taught. The not-so-secret sauce to developing new qualities and learned behaviors is to seek mentorship from trusted leaders with great track records in those areas.

Skills of Association IT leaders and CIOs

Skill #4 - Influencing Business Leaders

Top association IT leaders need to know how to frame problems so other C-suite execs can understand. This IT/business leadership skill is super important for driving constructive transformation and business success.

These IT visionaries are key business advisors and thought leaders for their organization and its stakeholders. Naturally, they must be skilled translators capable of straddling business and technical worlds and navigating C-suite dynamics seemingly effortlessly.

Beyond communicating effectively with other senior executives, IT directors also need to get in sync with desired organizational outcomes. Transparency is clutch here. It supports accountability, shared commitment, and collaboration.

As Jack Welch once said, “Trust happens when leaders are transparent.” Similarly, senior IT pros that prioritize transparency inadvertently improve levels of trust within stakeholder relationships, and that improved trust reverberates throughout the organization alongside operational improvements towards shared business goals.

Skill #5 - Building a Compelling Brand & Driving Results

The best internal IT directors and techies in leadership are strong brand ambassadors. They harness the game-changing power of brand stories to inform your entire business community about initiatives within your industry and verticals.

These visionary, forward-looking leaders have an entrepreneurial spirit. They light a fire under the IT department and throughout the entire organization. They know how to drive results through compelling vision and storytelling. And they know the benefits of communicating goal achievement and new IT initiatives at a regular cadence.

Providing clearer vision changes how people think and behave. And it influences how your organization operates and “embodies” your mission. The ideal result is an irresistible brand that consistently tackles strategic objectives and furthers stakeholder outcomes.

This broadening perspective of business and technology encourages big-picture understanding and better decision-making. The result of this growth mindset or strategic planning is less disruption, ROI achievement, and consistent value delivery.

Skill #6 - Developing Others & Cross-Company Mentorship

Know how a sports coach needs a solid bench of skilled players to step into key positions at any time? Well, technology leaders need a deep lineup of trained employees to assume critical roles on short notice.

High-performing IT leaders build a bench of future technology bosses and kickass IT execs. This foresight and strategic leadership ensure IT initiatives are in sync with the pressing needs and long-term goals of your organization.

Association IT and CIO leadership development competencies, qualities, and traits

Locking down software programmers, developers, data analysts, etc. is mission-critical. But unfortunately, it's a full-blown candidate's market for techies today. IT pros who are on top of the latest tech trends and digital practices are in high demand - especially those with the latest cyber/IT security best practices and cloud computing expertise.

Attracting, engaging, and retaining tech talent requires resourcefulness, creativity, and a strong approach to onboarding and long-boarding. Look for CIO candidates and prospective digital tech execs who can reimagine and retool IT acquisition, retention, and succession planning. Integral here are programs like upskilling, cross-training, reskilling, cross-company mentorship, centralizing processes, and initiatives gleaned from benchmarking best practices.

At a high level, association IT leaders should be capable of spearheading staffing and leadership development initiatives that connect across levels and siloed departmental decisions. Creating and operationalizing a truly end-to-end "talent roadmap" is vital for team comradery, productivity, and business continuity.

Skill #7 - Communication

Leading IT directors, technology executives, and business advisors have strong communication and relationship-building skills including the ability to:

  • conduct one-on-one meetings with internal peers, business partners, and other stakeholders.
  • participate in town hall meetings or other large group meetings.
  • write effective documentation.
  • speak on behalf of the organization before external audiences.

Most importantly, senior IT executives should be rockstars in communicating the best use of new technology to meet stakeholder goals. The ideal tech exec is also a natural storyteller with bilingual proficiency in business and tech speak.

Skill #8 - IT Business Alignment

CIOs and IT directors should create synergies between business strategy and technology initiatives. This means understanding and communicating the "why" behind both.

This includes creating a roadmap that is concise and detailed. Tech execs should present clear examples of how new initiatives will improve operations. They also need to garner executive sponsorship for new projects and create short-term wins to build momentum for larger innovation.

IT Business Alignment Skills of Associations Tech Executive

New business initiatives powered through IT leadership may include new non-dues revenue streams or using predictive modeling for member value and marketing ROI.

To better match investment and returns, technology executives should enlist the appropriate stakeholders. They may also engage business partners and staff on ROI calculations and anticipated benefits for IT projects and initiatives.

Skill #9 - Influencing Others

CIOs and IT directors must be able to influence and inspire non-techie people to be effective partners with internal departments.

Leading movers and shakers inspire stakeholders of all levels organization-wide, stretching far beyond the IT department. Badass tech execs know how to get people to share the strategic vision, engage in more strategic thinking, and contribute to the organization’s mission and financial success.

These people of action use their IT savviness and business acumen to mold competencies around their direct reports. By breaking down internal barriers, this cross-silo leadership empowers a coherent organization that thinks beyond short-term gains.

The ability to influence others

Great technology executives know how to garner support for and participation in new governance policies, adoption strategies, implementation roadmaps, and iterative development towards phased ROI.

The 'Hard' Skills of Association IT Leaders

There are tons of technical skills that build strong internal IT organizations. But below are the five core, must-have technical competencies for a successful and sustainable association. If your IT director/tech exec has mastered these, then you're in for a treat, regardless of organization size or industry.

Skill #10 - IT Strategy & Governance

Kickass CIOs and IT directors are skilled at creating and operationalizing a powerful, high-level business vision. This strategic vision should enable the organization’s business priorities.

IT chiefs need to think about real dollars, actual business impacts, and anticipated returns. This goes for all technology initiatives and IT projects the organization undertakes to progress towards this vision.

Actually, one of the most important roles of executive IT/business advisors is developing an IT culture that supports the business. This entails creating, articulating, and regularly updating a strategic plan and governance framework. This plan should guide intelligent decisions about your organization’s time, investments, and digital transformation journey.

Supporting this strategic plan requires proper cost calculations, budgeting, business impact evaluations, continuity plans, change management, resourcing, alignment with corporate strategy, and organization-wide buy-in. KPIs and proof of concept should confirm ROI and technical capability before large-scale deployment.

Accuracy builds stakeholder trust in the IT department. So you want your CIO, tech leaders, and business advisors to be big on iterative development to show positive ROI. ROI projections, the business vision, and value streams should be updated accordingly as initiatives unfold. Accounting for concurrent business-led technology deployments that may impact anticipated revenue and spending is also important.

IT strategy and governance skills and qualities for tech leaders

Skill #11 - IT Operations & Execution

IT directors and CIOs must be capable of deploying a world-class operational team that can effectively execute against the business and IT strategy. Investing in the right technology platforms, workforce productivity, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) is necessary to support business goals.

IT pros should be able to diagnose and mature your organization’s core IT capabilities, operations, and execution. This will help your organization save time and money today and in the long term while furthering stakeholder outcomes.

Read More: A through Z of SOPs - How to Write Standard Operating Procedures

Skill #12 - Security & Risk Management

High-performing IT executives know how and when to present new security initiatives. They must lead these projects (from a bird's eye view) to ensure your systems, applications, data, devices, and information assets remain protected from a range of potential backlash. At the same time, you want an IT leader that continuously selects and invests in new tools, policies, and processes to drive high ROI and compliance with evolving legislation.

Managing risk associated with resource protection is also key. Tech-savvy skills of association IT leaders may be nice for establishing appropriate controls throughout the entire risk management life cycle.

Skill #13 - Infrastructure Management

CIOs and IT directors should lead the management of all internal technology infrastructure (e.g., cloud services, data centers, devices).

High potential CIOs and IT leaders are the designed “systems integrator”. This person envisions and maps the critical connections between emergent technology and organizational impact.

infrastructure management skills of association IT leaders

Think, for example, about how hybrid and distributed workplaces are becoming the norm. Our IT leaders should be advocating for and embracing technologies conducive to remote productivity.

Skill #14 - Application Management

Your CIO and IT business advisor is often the person who defines the application stack for an association. Applications can be anything from a website to a mobile app to an API.

The role of a technology executive is to understand the entire tech stack. And how it serves a business need or a user need. This is why the CIO should be involved in procuring a new application for the enterprise.

A savvy CIO and tech leader helps organizations avoid technical debt. The accumulation of legacy systems, for instance, is far from optimal in terms of efficiency and security. Such technology problems are breeding grounds for risk that can easily be overlooked by directors who lack a tech-oriented background.

Wrap IT Up - Soft & Hard Skills of Association IT Leaders

Those were the primary soft and hard skills, qualities, and competencies to expect from a solid CIO or IT director. It's a complicated profile and it takes work to find the right person to fill these shoes.

Great CIOs and IT directors have always been hard to find. This is even more true as we emerge from the pandemic and navigate the 'Great Resignation'.

One solution might be a Virtual CIO. A Virtual or Interim CIO is an IT executive who provides leadership and direction for an organization's technology infrastructure and operations, usually on a temporary or interim basis.

At Cimatri, we have a long track record of providing CIO services (rated ‘Word-Class’) to our association clients. Let us know if we can help your association or nonprofit develop the right IT core competencies.

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