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Reaching the C-suite and taking up an executive position is a goal for many aspiring leaders. But if you’re in your early career, how do you get started? If you’re in middle management, what key skills should you be looking to develop? Business leadership roles require a suite of capabilities. To be successful, you’ll need to develop certain essential soft skills over and above your technical competence. And it’s worth doing. Companies are becoming much more technology focused. In 2022, nearly a third of companies turned between 40% and 60% of their business processes digital. So the scope for highly skilled technology leaders is unlikely to diminish any time soon. Here at F4S, we’ve got all the tools you need to start building your competence in crucial CTO soft skills. In this article, we’ll explore the role more fully. We’ll look in depth at the skills you need (and how we can support you in building them), and discuss the future global outlook for the CTO role

What do chief technology officers do?

Chief technology officers (CTOs) are members of a business’ executive. They are responsible for developing the business’ customer-facing technology strategy. They are also accountable for its implementation. 

CTOs need to combine their technical expertise with strong business acumen. They need to work with other C-suite members to develop solutions that secure the business’ future viability.

Chief technology officers can be found in both the public and private sectors. They work across all industries. Core responsibilities include:

  • Identifying technology trends that could optimize the customer experience and procuring effective solutions
  • Developing successful vendor partnerships 
  • Aligning the company’s technology products and services with business goals
  • Increasing business revenue through the delivery of innovative technology to customers
  • Providing executive leadership to product design, development, and engineering teams

What are the skills needed to become a chief technology officer?

Once you reach the C-suite, it’s your soft skills that differentiate you from the competition. Formal education and technical skills support progression to senior management. But, at the executive level, stellar soft skills are what make good leaders great. Let’s look at four essential soft skills for CTOs.

Systems thinking

All executive leaders are measured against their business impact. CTOs need to increase business revenue through effective delivery of cutting-edge technology solutions. To do this, they need to understand the business’ aspirations. They need to interrogate technological trends. And they need to align procurement and implementation decisions with wider organizational strategy.

Systems thinking is a way of understanding complexity by viewing a system as a whole rather than trying to make sense of its distinct parts. It understands that all aspects of a system are interconnected. The most effective decision-making appreciates these connections. It understands that any particular outcome may be affected by numerous factors.  

This skill helps CTOs understand the wider implication of their decision-making. They can appreciate that their chosen technology solution might affect other departments. For example, the ability of procurement to enter preferred-supplier relationships. Or how successfully marketing teams engage potential customers. Systems thinking allows CTOs to make decisions with the interest of the whole business in mind.

Collaboration and interpersonal skills

CTOs have to wear a number of hats. They need to be able to collaborate with, and occasionally influence, their executive colleagues. For example, they may champion a particular technology solution. But they’ll need to work with other teams to effectively procure and implement the product. For example, those led by the chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO). 

They also need to create a strategy and vision to inspire cross-functional stakeholders. Making successful product and services decisions will need input from a variety of departments. These departments may include finance, sales and marketing, operations, and product development.

CTOs also need to have good interpersonal skills. They need to negotiate effective vendor partnerships. Rapport-building and excellent communication skills help create productive business relationships with external suppliers.

Leadership skills

As a member of the senior executive, CTOs need to understand, communicate, and champion the organization’s mission and vision. They need to inspire all employees to high performance in support of wider business objectives. CTOs need to act as role models and help to create a work environment aligned with the organizational culture.

CTOs will also have leadership and management responsibilities at a department level. They will need to create effective action plans to enable their staff to deliver on the technology strategy. 

CTOs will need to delegate tasks effectively and set standards for high performance. They will also need to motivate the technology team and reward great work. They’ll need to help the team understand how their specific output contributes to the overall business success. CTOs will also need to offer positive and developmental feedback to their direct reports. 

Innovative mindset

A key responsibility of CTOs is to keep the business competitive through technology. CTOs need to be early adopters of any influential technology trends impacting their industry. They need to search for systems and process innovation to help put their business ahead of its competitors.

CTOs need to have a well-developed sense of risk. They need to know when to push the boundaries and when an off-the-shelf solution is more appropriate. To support this, CTOs will need to lean on their technical know-how. The best CTOs combine business acumen, a thirst for innovation, and a deep knowledge of technology fundamentals.

Develop these important chief technology officer skills

As a business leader, building effective relationships is critically important. You’ll need to motivate your team and manage stakeholders. Plus, you’ll need to influence the adoption of innovative technology solutions. These types of soft skills are crucial for your success as a senior executive.  

Here at Fingerprint for Success, we know a few things about developing soft skills. Using people analytics tools, we’ve been studying these types of skills for over 20 years. Through our research, we’ve identified the attitudes and motivations needed to succeed.

Take our assessment today to discover how your motivations relate to these essential CTO skills. After the assessment, you’ll receive personalized insights. 

Coach Marlee will also help you identify any blind spots. You can then set a personal development goal and use F4S’ free coaching to increase your performance and excel in your career.

Collaboration & interpersonal skills

Collaboration involves a willingness to work and learn as a team, achieve common goals, and form meaningful bonds.

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Systems and strategic thinking

Strategic thinking involves understanding how things are connected, setting targets, identifying priorities and having the resilience to follow through on your goals.

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How long does it take to become a chief technology officer?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is it varies! Becoming a chief technology officer is dependent on several factors. These can include industry, company size, recruitment focus, and frequency of personnel changes. But what education and experience can best prepare you for the role? Let’s take a look.

What higher education is required?

There’s no specific higher education required to become a chief technology officer. Executive recruitment is usually highly focused on prior experience above formal education. Competition for senior executive positions can be fierce, however. Recruiting teams may require a certain level of education to reduce the size of the applicant pool. 

Advanced degree qualifications may help prepare senior leaders for executive positions. A Master’s in Business Administration is common among CTOs.  As well as technical skill, all C-level executive members will need to act in the best interest of the business and its future. To support effective decision-making, they need a deep understanding of business operations. They’ll also need a working knowledge of corporate strategy and finance.

Higher education will help future CTOs gain the early-career and middle-management positions that precede executive leadership. For example, software engineers usually require a technology-focused bachelor’s degree. Common bachelor’s degrees include computer engineering, electrical engineering, or computer science.

What licenses, certifications, or post-grad degrees should be followed?

As well as the MBA mentioned above, other post-graduate education may be useful. For example, a Master's-level degree in information technology, software development, or cyber security. Technical post-graduate degrees can make you more competitive for a CTO role. This is especially true if your undergraduate degree wasn’t technical. 

CTOs are particularly interested in how technology products and services impact customers. Marketing-related post-graduate education or training can also be beneficial. This helps future CTOs appreciate the customer journey more completely. Project management qualifications may also be useful. 

Professional certifications and industry accreditation can also help you get ahead. ITIL certifications are listed as desirable on many CTO job descriptions. This certification is internationally recognized. It is a measure of expertise in IT service management. ITIL v4 is the latest version of the certification. It has four levels, from foundation to master.

What career path is typically undertaken?

CTOs need to rely on their technical knowledge when building an effective technology strategy. Typically, this means CTOs start their career journey as technical specialists. These roles include web developers, computer scientists, or software engineers. 

Specialists interested in pursuing managerial roles will likely apply for team leader roles. They can then move onward into middle management. They may continue to broaden their technical knowledge with specific certifications. Cybersecurity management is a common example. 

Middle managers will also look to build their knowledge of business operations and strategy. This may include pursuing formal education, such as an MBA. They may also pursue on-the-job training, including mentoring by more senior leaders. Coaching may help support them in developing the necessary soft skills essential for success as a CTO.

After growing their technical skills, business knowledge, and industry experience, they may decide to apply for a CTO role. This may be within their current company, or they may look for an external role. Starting with a role in a medium-sized business helps new CTOs build their experience. They can then tackle roles in larger, more complex organizations.

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What are the career opportunities and outlook for chief technology officers?

The Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests the job outlook for top executives is 6% over the next decade. 2Over the next ten years, an average of 318,100 openings for top executives is expected each year. Top executive roles include CTO positions and also other C-suite posts. These may include the chief executive officer and chief information officer.

Over the short to medium term, the growth of the technology industry is unlikely to slow significantly. Job growth for the middle management roles that feed CTO positions is much higher than average. The BLS indicates that the outlook for computer and information system managers will be 16% over the next decade.3 

This growth may make competition for CTO posts even more fierce. Investment in further education and professional certification is likely to be important. Developing the essential soft skills needed as a CTO can help propel you ahead of other candidates.

Where can chief technology officers work?

Chief technology officers can be employed in both the public and private sectors. Most customer attraction and retention strategies include a technology-driven component. From digital marketing strategies to customer information management, the CTO needs to evaluate and adopt effective products and services.

Of course, not all businesses can justify a CTO role. Startups and small to medium-sized enterprises may not have the resources or requirements to support a tech lead. This role may also look different in a company without a traditional hierarchical structure. Flat organizations attempt to boost productivity by reducing management layers. This may result in a requirement for technical expertise without traditional leadership responsibilities. 

Werner Vogels is a classic CTO case study. Currently the VP and CTO of Amazon, Vogels joined the company in 2004 as Director of Systems Research. After initially studying radiology, Vogels obtained a degree in computer science. He pursued a career in computer science research and went on to obtain his Ph.D. 

Vogels built up his leadership and business administration skills when he co-founded a company in 1997. He held VP and CTO positions within that company before he joined Amazon seven years later. He was made CTO at Amazon in 2005.

How much can chief technology officers earn?

The average salary for CTOs is highly dependent on the market and specific organization. The median salary for a CTO in the US is US$274,200.4 As with many executive positions, it is common for a CTO to also earn an annual bonus. This can be significant. The average annual salary + bonus package for CTOs in the US is $329,100.5

This is mirrored in some other developed markets. In Germany, the median salary is €253,340 (US$270,496). 6However, CTOs tend to earn less in the UK, where the average base salary is £95,362 (US$115,089). 7This is also the case in Australia, where the median salary is AUD$164,290 (US$111,462).8

In emerging markets, such as India, the average CTO salary is ₹3,327,747 (US$40,175).9 This may reflect the lower overall cost of living in India compared to countries such as the US or Australia.

Frequently asked questions

How do I write a chief of technology officer job description?

When writing any job description, it’s important to focus on both the technical and soft skills required. Consider what technical qualifications and experience you need from candidates. These may include technology-related undergraduate and post-graduate education or industry certifications. Business-related degrees or post-graduate education may also be useful.

Equally as important, reflect on what soft skills are required. CTOs hold an executive position, which means they need to contribute to the financial success and leadership of the business. 

Business acumen and systems thinking skills help CTOs understand the wider impact of their decisions. Collaboration and interpersonal skills are essential for effective stakeholder management. Leadership skills are important for motivating staff and building a productive workplace culture. An innovation mindset helps CTOs identify and evaluate technology trends.

How do I become a chief information security officer?

Like the CTO, a chief information security officer (CISO) is also an executive-level position. Their key responsibility is implementing and maintaining an information security program. An information security program protects an organization’s hardware and software from threats.

CISOs may share a similar background and career pathway to CTOs. You’ll likely need to pursue some level of technology-related higher education. Additionally, specific information security or cyber security certifications will make you more competitive.

Like CTOs, CISOs also need relevant soft skills. For executive positions, strong interpersonal and leadership skills are crucial. You’ll also need good analytical skills. These will help you identify and classify potential risks to the organization’s infrastructure. Effective decision-making skills will help you determine what measures to put in place to mitigate such risks. You can expect to find all these requirements, and more, in a CISO job description. 

What are the qualifications needed to become a chief technology officer?

Chief technology officers need a blend of both technical and soft skills. Technical qualifications and relevant higher education are critical for the early-career and middle-management positions that feed CTO roles. At the executive level, business administration and soft skills are essential. Some crucial soft skills include systems thinking, collaboration, and interpersonal skills. Effective leadership skills and an innovative mindset are also extremely important.

How do I become a chief medical information officer?

The chief medical information officer (CMIO) is an executive-level role. CMIOs work within healthcare organizations. They’re responsible for the planning, design, and implementation of technology within healthcare. It is a relatively new job within the industry.

The technical skills required are different from the CTO role. CMIOs tend to have a background in healthcare. Often they are medical doctors who then specialize in health informatics. It may not be a full-time role. Only 38% of CMIOs surveyed said they worked in that role full-time. Many still saw patients part-time.

To become a chief medical information officer, you’ll first need to train as a medical doctor. Postgraduate education or certification in a health informatics field is a usual next step. For example, Stanford University in the US offers a Master’s degree in biomedical informatics.

You’ll also need to develop some essential soft skills. Like other technology executives, you’ll need strong leadership and interpersonal skills. Effective decision-making and analytical skills are also important. These will help you determine the business’ technology requirements and choose appropriate solutions. Good communication and collaboration skills will make system implementation and adoption easier. 

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  1. Info-Tech Research Group. (2022) ‘Tech Trends 2023’. Available at: Info-Tech Research Group https://www.infotech.com/research/ss/tech-trends-2023 (Dec. 2023)
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022) ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook: Top Executives’. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm (Dec. 2023)
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022) ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Systems Managers’. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm#tab-6 
  4. Salary.com. (2022) ‘Salary calculator: CTO’. Available at: https://www.salary.com/research/salary/alternate/cto-salary
  5. Salary.com. (2022) ‘Salary calculator: CTO’. Available at: https://www.salary.com/tools/salary-calculator/cto?type=bonus
  6. Salary.com. (2022) ‘Salary calculator: CTO - Germany’. Available at: https://www.salary.com/research/de-salary/alternate/cto-salary/de
  7. Payscale.com. (2022) ‘Average Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Salary in United Kingdom’. Available at: https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Job=Chief_Technology_Officer_(CTO)/Salary 
  8. Payscale.com. (2022) ‘Average Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Salary in Australia’. Available at: https://www.payscale.com/research/AU/Job=Chief_Technology_Officer_(CTO)/Salary
  9. Payscale.com. (2022) ‘Average Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Salary in India’. Available at: https://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Job=Chief_Technology_Officer_(CTO)/Salary 
  10. Modern Healthcare. (2007) ‘What does a chief medical information officer do?’. Available at: https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20070730/INFO/70730007/what-does-a-chief-medical-information-officer-do
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