Are technical skills important for a CISO? Absolutely, but they are not enough. The complexity of the role and its crucial importance within the company require a much broader set of skills, including a solid managerial skillset. This is the main reason why highly skilled technical experts, even those specialized in the field of cybersecurity, may not be suitable for effectively carrying out the role.
That’s why the equivalence “great technician = excellent CISO” is not necessarily valid. On the contrary, a great technician can unfortunately turn out to be a poor CISO. Let’s delve deeper and see some specific reasons why this statement holds true in the reality of many companies’ business life and the experience of many qualified professionals.
- Attention to Detail Overrides the Big Picture
- Limited Understanding of Risk Management
- Limited Proactiveness
- Poor Communication
- Lack of Managerial Experience (or Aptitude)
1. Attention to Detail Overrides the Big Picture
Let’s start with a critical aspect that applies to every field of scientific knowledge, of which computer science and related disciplines are excellent examples. The level of specialization in the field requires a mindset oriented towards understanding and analyzing every single detail.
This profession, whether applied to the development of computing infrastructures, network infrastructures, ML and AI algorithms, or large databases, requires the ability to handle complex technologies and verify their functioning with absolute precision and accuracy at every stage of the process. Because even a slight oversight can lead to a sometimes serious problem, as even the smallest error can cause tangible damage.
However, attention to detail, an extremely important quality not only in the field of computer science, must not overshadow the big picture. As we will see in the rest of the article, creating a secure digital environment relies on a plurality of factors, both technical and strategic, and is connected to hyper-specialized skills as well as leadership. It implies the integration of microanalysis and large-scale management, thus the ability to balance both levels.
2. Limited Understanding of Risk Management
What are the most significant cybersecurity threats? What are the attacks that can have the most serious consequences for the company? The ability to assign correct evaluations to potential threats and establish the order of intervention priorities is directly linked to risk management. It involves identifying, assessing, and managing the risks to which a company is potentially exposed in its regular operations.
In the field of cybersecurity, risk management involves identifying the risks related to information security, assessing the probability of these risks occurring, and evaluating their impact. Once the risks are identified and evaluated, the CISO is responsible for developing effective management plans, which may include defining security policies and protocols, implementing existing measures, providing training to personnel, and organizing monitoring activities to ensure compliance with the established measures.
It’s important to note that risk management, like other theoretical and managerial aspects of cybersecurity, is not a static process but a dynamic one. As threats evolve, related risks change, and risk management plans need to be adaptable and adjusted accordingly. A CISO must rigorously monitor the internal situation within the company and the external landscape of evolving cybersecurity threats.
Specialized training and professional experience in cybersecurity may not be sufficient to translate theoretical knowledge into practical operational actions required for effective risk management.
3. Limited Proactiveness
However, in the realm of cybersecurity, a strong ability for reactive problem-solving may not be enough. This can be inferred from what we discussed about risk management. The primary and most significant effect of effective risk management should be the limitation of the risk percentage, in other words, risk prevention. Taking a proactive approach means envisioning the worst-case future scenario and taking preemptive measures to prevent it from occurring.
Will a technician accustomed to brilliantly solving unexpected critical situations be equally adept at identifying and implementing the necessary preventive measures as a CISO? Will they be capable of ensuring compliance with those measures? A proactive approach to cybersecurity management involves thinking long-term and necessitates close and continuous collaboration between the CISO and the team of IT experts, as well as other departments within the company. This is where two additional major challenges come into play, further explaining why a highly skilled technician may be ineffective as a CISO.
4. Poor Communication
This is a challenge that affects various contexts and professions: poor communication skills. The ability to express oneself in a simple, clear, yet precise, authoritative, and empathetic manner, both in written and verbal communication, is highly sought-after in every professional field.
For a CISO, effective communication is even more critical. It involves conveying complex technical concepts, risks, and potential threats to different stakeholders within the organization, including top management, employees, and the IT department. Additionally, the CISO must collaborate with external parties, such as clients, partners, auditors, and regulatory bodies, to ensure compliance with industry standards and regulations.
A CISO’s communication skills must go beyond technical jargon. They need to be able to translate technical information into understandable terms for non-technical personnel, influence decision-making processes, and effectively advocate for cybersecurity measures and investments. A lack of effective communication can lead to misunderstandings, poor collaboration, and inadequate implementation of security measures.
5. Lack of Managerial Experience (or Aptitude)
Lastly, let’s address a fundamental aspect: managerial experience or aptitude. While technical skills and expertise are essential for a CISO, effective management capabilities are equally crucial. Managing a cybersecurity program requires strategic planning, resource allocation, team coordination, budget management, and performance evaluation.
A CISO needs to establish a vision for the organization’s cybersecurity, set clear goals, and develop strategies to achieve them. They should be able to prioritize tasks, manage projects, and make informed decisions based on a comprehensive understanding of the organization’s goals and risk appetite.
Without prior managerial experience or the necessary aptitude for leadership and coordination, a highly skilled technician may struggle to perform these managerial duties effectively. It takes a balance of technical expertise and managerial acumen to navigate the complexities of cybersecurity, align the security program with business objectives, and effectively communicate and collaborate with stakeholders across the organization.
In conclusion, technical skills alone are not sufficient for a technician to excel as a CISO. The role requires a broader skill set that encompasses a managerial mindset, risk management capabilities, proactiveness, effective communication, and managerial experience or aptitude. Organizations should carefully assess these factors when selecting individuals for the critical role of a CISO, ensuring they possess the necessary attributes to fulfill the responsibilities effectively and drive the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.